Ironing It All Out

I have a lot going on. I know everybody says that, but in my case it’s true. For example, right now I am working on a six-part fictional series with a partner and writing a book about business and ideology. I develop online courses, teach three undergraduate classes, sing in a church choir (baritone), and write this blog. Just imagine what the blog would look like if I got more sleep.

The other day an online meeting was cancelled, and I had to decide what to work on in its place. I went through the list but soon got overwhelmed. For a moment I was paralyzed. So, what did I do? What any red-blooded, American male would do. I ironed.

I am not proud of this little secret of mine, which I haven’t shared with anyone until now. There’s just something about ironing that focuses my mind and calms me down. It could be the pressing of wrinkles in a shirt, the smooth gliding of the hot metal surface over polyester, cotton, or wool, or the gurgling and hissing of steam as it courses its way through the little apertures of the hot surface. Maybe it’s all of these, creating a sense of order and harmony. And who doesn’t love order and harmony? What bliss!

Forgive me for waxing poetic, but ironing has a rhythm to it, and more than a few times I have danced during the act. That’s a tricky thing to do, especially if you’ve just stepped out of the shower. So I would not recommend it if you are just beginning to explore the wonders of ironing as meditative practice. One must respect the iron and approach it with humility. Only then can you dance in the buff.

How many things in life allow you to lose yourself in the moment, freeing you from the drudgery of everyday life with its emphasis on efficiency and action? Not many. Technology in its many forms has taken over every aspect of our lives. So, the masses seek escape in music, professional sports, and social media. That these serve as apertures for the release of societal steam just like the ones in an iron doesn’t occur to most people, but that’s exactly what they do.

But ironing is not merely a way to unwind or kill time–not that either of these is a bad thing. It transcends time and space the way that sex and the liturgy are supposed to do. This may be difficult to believe when both sex and the liturgy are often performed as clumsily as high school productions of Bye Bye Birdie, but that’s beside the point. You wouldn’t fault the entire field of structural engineering because a particular bridge buckled and fell into the river, would you?

None of this should be confused with the word “iron” as used by the wider culture where it signifies strength, endurance, and resoluteness. After all, Iron Man did not get his name because he meditated over his trousers. This includes variants like “ironing out” and “ironing over,” which imply action and problem solving, sometimes in a forceful way.

Ironing, like preparing tea and other Zen practices, is all about ritual. The structure of the ritual comes close to prayer, which is why it requires time. Whenever I am rushed for time, it defeats the purpose of ironing (other than the obvious one).

The worst thing that could happen is to be rushed ironing a shirt. It does happen. Sure, a blue blazer can cover a multitude of sins, but just knowing I am in a wrinkled shirt undermines my confidence. And, you know, it’s a competitive world out there. I need all the confidence I can muster. You might say it’s a pressing issue.

Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. Feature photo by Tim Wright on Unsplash; ironing board by Filip Mroz on Unsplash. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance.


  1. Yes. I shall have to return to this practice so beloved in my 1960’s. Ironing is putting in order; smoothing out the wrinkles, unobserved, in my mind. The fire as well as mind require humility.

    In the 1960’s, ironing took place in the silent afternoons, kids at school, house empty, and “As the World Turns,” that quintessential daytime drama, for company. How many dreams and skirmishes were ironed out in those weekday reveries?

  2. On using an iron, you often most have the option to use starch. It is not a joke for some peope who have OCD tendencys, cases in fact to walk around with ironed and starched underware.

    1. Bernie, I never doubted for a moment your attention to detail. And, although I have never heard of somebody using starch, I can see how it might be a good thing. After all, there should be only one crease in a pair of tighty whities.

  3. Back in the Disco era, a male friend was appalled that I didn’t know how to iron. To teach me, he demonstrated on his favorite sparkly polyester shirt – and melted an iron-shaped hole in it. Much merriment – on my part – ensued. I took it as a sign that I wasn’t meant to iron, but am happy to know it is so rewarding for you. Making bread is my meditation – love doing all that kneading!!

    1. I understand the kneading, although it would be anathema for us ironing people, since we are all about NOT rolling up our sleeves and diving in. Instead, we’d rather starch the sleeves.

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