Mickie Turk
Mickie Turk
"They keep far better hours than we, that's all. They are a comment on our habits, a reminder that we are out of step-that is why we pay them ... so very very much."
-Agnes in Edward Albee's 1967 play, "A Delicate Balance," responding smartly to her husband's harangue over their dirty house and lack of early morning servants.

Forty-two years later, the act of hiring a housecleaner continues to reveal acres about social hierarchies and local conventions. Unlike Agnes' generation though, where only the leisure class could afford extra help, today it is working women from all socio-economic strata who hire the cleaners. The distance we've traveled in four short decades has even changed the relationship between the customer and cleaner, narrowing the social divide considerably. For one thing, we cleaners are not called the 'help' anymore.

Sixteen years ago I found new-construction cleaning to supplement my income. What started out as two jobs a month eventually grew into three permanent ones on the weekend. As a single parent raising a young daughter, the work was ideal because it didn't take much time and it paid weekly. Four years later, when a cleaning contractor offered to sell me her client list for a song, I jumped at the deal because I saw a chance to pursue my lifelong dream of filmmaking. Of course it meant I had to purchase my own liability and medical insurance, but gaining freedom from the 9-to-5 grind more than made up for it.

Cleaning is good, productive work, but what really matters to me are the people I meet, the relationships I form. Most important, decent wages and flexible hours allow me to follow my life's passions. On occasion over the past 10 years, I've taken breaks to develop and implement film projects, write screenplays, short stories and novels. Each time I returned to grateful and understanding customers who made it all possible.

To date I've retained a third of my original clientele and the rest I got through word of mouth. When I've been let go, it was usually due to financial or relocation considerations. I've been fired once or twice, too. Mostly by folks who used to have "servants." I know my customers appreciate what I do for them because they leave thank you notes, occasional baked goods, and generous end-of-the-year gifts. Some have become good and permanent friends.

I was in my 30s when I started and now have to ask myself, why in the heck am I still cleaning? I'm smart, resourceful, own multiple degrees, and am not hiding any deep, dark secrets-not now, anyway. So why do I continue to do punishing manual labor without the aid of health, vacation or pension benefits? Why don't I have a real job yet?

Because I am a dreamer.

When I dust, I develop plots for screenplays; as I vacuum, characters from a book start to chatter and argue; and while applying cleanser to the toilet bowl, I draft proposals for agents, hoping to capture their imagination with my pitches. While all around me a house or building gets scrubbed and purged, a mortgage payment makes it to the bank, and somewhere else, a new story begins.

Mickie Turk has made several narrative films and documentaries, including "Wayward Girls." She works creatively in photography and screenwriting, and is currently writing a mystery. She lives in Edina and enjoys travel.