meditation on germs and used Kleenex

found-fiberI am perpetually picking up ‘garbage’ on my walks, as I know many of you do, too. Generally, I go for rusted scraps. This find may be Kleenex. I know. I know. Gross, right? But – it was so old, so weathered out of its original use (if, indeed, it had ever been used), that I didn’t allow germ-worries to interrupt my scavenging.

People who know me ask, “When have you EVER let worry about germs slow you down?”

grey-fiber-on-grassI have a long history of being rather casual about germs.

Perhaps it’s because my mother was a lapsed Christian Scientist. She wasn’t averse to doctors or anything. Nor did she instruct us on the powers of love or the mind. But she did seem to think Vick’s VapoRub and aspirin could cure most childhood illnesses. I don’t think I ever heard her say, ‘Put on a hat or you’ll get sick!’  Nor were we issued dire warnings about death-producing cramps when we jumped into the Woodlin Club pool right after eating lunch. Most of all, she did not instill the notion that germs were lurking everywhere, just waiting for the unsuspecting, unhygienic to stumble or swipe into their sick-producing path. On some of these things, she has been proven correct. Regarding germs, though, of course I now know better.

But here’s the thing. Even though I now wash my hands more and will avoid someone sneezing up a storm, I keep bumping into germ-protocols that surprise me. Still!  (To my credit, I’ve always been scrupulous about cutting boards, knives, and raw meat)

The first time this happened, I was about eight. On a really hot summer day, my friend Susan’s mother took us to Jumpin Jack’s along the Mohawk River for ice cream.  I remember being absolutely shocked when Susan’s mother prohibited her from eating the flat bottom of the cone. Why? Because it had rested momentarily on the counter. (As a side note, given that Susan’s house was the messiest (and perhaps the dirtiest) on our block, I found myself wondering how this strict concern fit with her mother’s rather lax approach to housekeeping) (and yes, eight year olds DO think this way). This was just the first of MANY shocks.

The Seinfeld episode on ‘double dipping’ was a revelation to me.

When it came time to parent (nursing for a total of 32 months, I was now hyper-attentive to keeping my hands clean), I found the joke about the ‘five second rule’ ridiculous. It was not a joke for us, but a natural response to fallen objects. The birth order jokes about pacifiers? You know how it goes — boiling for the first kid; wiping off for the second; just popping back into the mouth of the third… did not pertain because ‘popping it back in’ was where we started.

Years later, in an online craft venue — I was shocked again — reading about a potential buyer who would NEVER buy a handknit item, say, if it had been modeled on a person (with skin! that flakes! is redolent with oils!)

Shocked once more to learn that Martha Stewart NEVER sets her handbag on the floor. Furthermore, she buys purses with metal studs on the bottom to keep them slightly elevated from WHATEVER surface they rest on (really? public bathrooms, okay, but everywhere?!) Even though I take all of Martha Stewart’s ‘perfect’ lifestyle choices with a massive grain of salt, (given the minions she has to clean her toilets everyday, for instance, and prepare her much-touted, healthy fresh juices), I can’t help but look at my purse and wonder where it’s been.

Here’s the most recent example. Just a few weeks ago, in writing class I listened to a character sketch of a woman whose signature trait was vulgarity. I asked, curious, ‘what made her so uncouth?’  The example?  The casual (but apparently repulsive) habit of sitting on her shoeless foot. On furnishings. In a movie theatre, so close to other people.

Maybe it was a bare foot, but still. I do this ALL THE TIME. So, I have to wonder, “What ELSE am I doing that is considered repulsive and unhygienic? That I’m not even aware of?!!” (And, just so you know, I cannot sit in most adult-sized furnishings comfortably WITHOUT tucking one or both feet up and under my haunch).

So, I get it. Picking up a potentially USED piece of Kleenex off of Week’s Field is gross.

But I fell in love with it.


grey-stitchedIt is delicate. Friable. And even though it is so delicate, it reminds me of the metamorphic rock, gneiss. It could pass, in some views, as a section of an old topographical map.

I put batting behind it, then, after stitching, clipped some away. I like how the furriness of the batting (normally an annoying distraction) adds to the texture.

grey-house-and-moonsSince this backing print is thick – perhaps cotton duck? —  I machine stitched. The scrap is sewn on the WRONG side of the fabric to dull it down a bit, but photographed up against a window, the print comes through clearly. I added a sheer moon, and couldn’t resist slipping a little blue linen under the leaf-shaped ‘window’ in that sheer. Lo and behold! I had not seen or intended it – but there it is – another house!

found-house-up-closeThe light coming through the needles punches makes me happy. Here the house looks nearly charcoal-black because of the setting on my camera.

13 thoughts on “meditation on germs and used Kleenex

  1. perlhuhn52

    No honestly, I wouldn´t have picked it up. but what you made out of it …. awesome. That you can see the possibility in such a thing that´s great. Thats a special talent to look at things in an unusual way and to discover what could be.
    as to germs .. beside of public bathrooms and hotel beds .. i feel relaxed.

  2. deedeemallon

    Hi Doris, well then, you sound pretty relaxed… hotels give me the heebeegeebees, too… especially the bed spreads.

  3. Lisa Eaton

    I think it looks like a piece from a hornets nest, that lovely, fragile, work laden paper that they spit to build their many layered nest. That’s what I thought you had found. And as for germs, pishaw. My mother and your friend Susan’s mother must be housekeeping soul mates. Having been in my childhood home, I’m sure you know that our house would have certainly beat out Susan’s for the messiest one on the block, perhaps even the county. But the beauty of that mess is that we were, at the time at least, relatively blind to it, and we did some really, really fun and creative things at our house. Many of those creative things we did when I was a kid inform my choices now. I couldn’t be happier.

    In regards to pocketbooks and bathrooms, my current pocketbook (I’m so old, I call them pocketbooks. My mother had a pocketbook. My friends have ‘bags’ and purses. I use bags for groceries. My purse holds my money. There is a definite hierarchy) has a big magnet that holds down one of the flaps. An unanticipated benefit is that, in most bathrooms, I can just magnet it to the wall of the stall! I didn’t plan on that, but found out when I hung it from the door hook in the stall, and it was stuck with such strength when I went to take it down that I thought something was really wrong. Then I remembered the magnet. It was quite funny.

    I do love this piece you made, and that you used the found piece. I love the dwelling reference in it and letting in of light. It’s beautiful.

  4. dee

    if it WERE hornet’s paper, this train of thought about germs would not have arisen… I can see why you thought it was, though, Lisa… If you had handled it you would not have thought of wasps (is it spit that forms the paper?!!) To the touch it has a soft felt-like quality. Definitely not papery.

    Thank you for your reminiscences about your home! I’ll admit it was all the dogs I found offputting and not the mess… but I get your point. Sometime I’ll natter on about the differences between static and circulating clutter – mega-difference between the two!!

    The magnet discovery is beautiful! Ever since hearing an Oprah show about thieves reaching over the top of stalls and stealing people’s bags, I’ve wondered about using those hooks – but the magnet would function as a deterrent in that regard!

  5. saskia

    omg omg omg, this is absolutely amazingly wonderful! a kleenex transformed, truly transformed into art; the light shining through the holes makes me very happy as well;
    I love the whole germ story. like you I share a house with men, I don’t know about yours, but mine are non too worried about cleanliness of surfaces anywhere,(although I am relieved they take care of personal hygiene well enough) like you I have never been overly concerned about germs; I believe my men don’t really think about germs, perhaps because I don’t mention them; the task of dusting and mopping, when I can look away no more, falls upon my shoulders and I feel as long as we behave sensibly, we will come to no harm.

    1. deedeemallon

      Amen to cleaning when you no longer can look away!! My guys are clean too (tho one puts NOTHING away!), but would never wipe glops of toothpaste off the sink or scoop up a gathering ball of Jack’s fur that’s ready for its own zip code in the corner or wipe finger prints off the stair wall, where for some reason, one or both of them feel compelled to slap their hands on their way down the stairs.

  6. deanna7trees

    oh how i enjoyed this post. my mom was a cleanliness freak. you could eat off the floor in my house. it was a joke amongst my friends. she was always picking up after them when they visited. i can see the look on my mom’s face if she would have seen you pick up that tissue. i’m careful about germs and such but not fanatical. and my house is not dirty but dusty and a bit cluttered. you did a great job with that tissue. i must admit, i would not have picked it up but i’m so glad that you did.

    1. deedeemallon

      Hi Deanna, I hope I haven’t given the impression that my mother wasn’t a good housekeeper. She was. Just not crazed. Our houses were always charming and clean. But there were oddities. For instance, I did not share a house with boxes of Kleenex until I left home. Growing up, we used TP. I often saw my mother scoop up a small pile of dirt off of the kitchen floor with her hands. Not sure I saw a dust pan until my 20’s. Anyway, when i picked this scrap up, I really didn’t know WHAT it was.

  7. Anonymous

    I think we share a similar germ philosophy, Dee. In fact, I’m concerned about all the hoopla over anti-bacterial products. It’s hard to find dishsoap or hand soap that’s NOT anti-bacterial. But I digress…

    Your mention of pacifiers reminded me of this story I heard recently on NPR. A small study published in Pediatrics “…found that the 65 babies whose mother or father sucked on their pacifiers to cleanse them were significantly less likely to get eczema and asthma, two conditions caused by allergic reactions, than babies whose parents did not use the cleaning technique. ”

    Full story here:

    Love what you’ve done with the tissue. Finding beauty and possibility in the discarded is a gift.

    1. deedeemallon

      Hi Mary Ann… haven’t gone to link yet, but I will… thanks for sharing. I remember reading not long ago that having PETS improves children’s immune systems as well.

  8. dee

    Now I read the article and it is one of the many ways my mother has been proven correct… babies being raised ‘too clean’ kinda says it all, doesn’t it?


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