This week, my family has gone to the beach for a holiday, without me. On the couple of strange, formless days that I have spent at home without them, I have been writing. But I have also been digging out those twisted clumps of mouldy, neglected clothing compressed into the bottom of the washing basket, and hanging load after load of these long-forgotten items on the line.
I know that when my partner is home alone for any length of time without me and the kids, the idea of performing this kind of task wouldn't even enter his head. Instead, he would have focused all his energies on his creative work and come up with the goods, in a far more substantial and satisfying way than I ever seem to achieve.
Last week on Triple R's Aural Text program, Peggy Frew and I had a long chat about a 2003 article, "Envy", written by writer Kathryn Chetkovich.
Chetkovich is the wife of literary superstar Jonathan Franzen, and what starts as an astoundingly honest personal story about professional envy goes on to encompass so much more about the nature of creativity, particularly that desire for a sense of "permission".
She and Franzen (who she only refers to here as "the man") met while they were both struggling early-career writers. Not too long into the relationship, though, she was still struggling, while his efforts had produced an international smash-hit.
She quickly realised that, for her, struggle means battling the external demands and the dilemmas that chip away at her confidence. For Franzen, writing may at times be a struggle, but his sense of conviction remains intact.
When two artists live under the same roof, one of two things is eventually bound to happen: success or children.
After that, a couple often has to draw upon every reserve of generosity in order to keep supporting each other's work and not become bogged down in resentment and competition.
Chetkovich notes in the article that in the time it took Franzen to draft several hundred pages of his novel, she had penned a 15-page story, a short play and part of an "inadequate" screenplay. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn't be such a bad effort, surely. But she was comparing her output to the behemoth that was The Corrections.
When you have fallen for another artist, you are confronted by what Chetkovich calls "its peculiar calling card": the fear of what you want for yourself. And she is extremely honest about the impact of her husband's success -- the proof that the world wanted and needed his work -- on her own creative life, and on their relationship.
She admits that she sometimes withdrew from him emotionally and sexually as a form of revenge; that at times she wanted to drag him down and see him fail. "That if I could not be happy I was ready to make us both miserable."
How to mantain a sense of equality and not be mired in envy when your partner's success only serves to highlight your failure? What does it mean when you are no longer your partner's best and purest champion?
When the British rights to The Corrections are sold, "The part of me that was his girlfriend put her arms around him and told him how happy she was, and the other part, the miserable writer within, kept her distance," Chetkovich writes.
But what Chetkovich also exposes in her remarkable article is those differences that persist between male and female writers: the inner conviction men seem to possess about their right to create; the way women are held back by their desire to be attractive and likeable; how easily they are drawn into a life dominated by caring and servitude; the ever-present fear that writing is an unnatural occupation for a woman, and that unless her work is doing good in the world, it is mere self-indulgence.
All these elements generally make women's hold on their creative convictions far more tenuous than that of their male counterparts. Franzen's previous wife gave up writing when their marriage broke up; but if she had found success first, Chetkovich feels sure that Franzen would have kept writing with the same robust resolve he had always possessed.
"What I envied were what his talent and success had bestowed on him, a sense of the rightness of what he was doing," she writes. "I wanted what women always want: permission."