Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Just because. So there.

My response to Salsa's comment on the previous post was getting so long I thought I may as well write it as a post.

She said that she's at the point of considering giving up the idea of continuing with writing/editing while her son is young, especially when it's for dwindling pay or no pay at all, and with its the demands on her time and the "need for obsessive-level focus".

"I can't break through and I can't manage my life with a small child and a household on top of it all. I've worked for the last seven weeks and the house has descended into shit and I'm giving my son about 50%."

I can't even begin to express how much I can relate to this feeling! And, sadly, my kids are now 8 and 11 and I still feel this way.

It can be such a no-win situation for women trying to work, especially in low-paid jobs and/or jobs that demand a lot from us. I feel constantly frustrated that whenever I try to do my own work (especially the unpaid creative work that I do on top of my day job), everything else falls apart. The house turns to shit, the kids feel neglected and I start to resent... well, everything in turn: my family for making me feel guilty about my work; and my work for taking me away from my family.

The times that I give up on my creative work completely (which happen frequently), everything else seems to run so smoothly. Which then feels like a kind of punishment - a message that says: "See! Everything could be so wonderful if only you gave up on your own silly little dreams."

Sometimes I can go along like this quite happily for a long time, convincing myself that no book I could write could be worth tipping my life back into chaos - or more chaos than it's already in, even when I'm not writing!

But there's only so long I can carry on like this before I start feeling spiritually bereft. My life is all too full, but my soul (for want of a better word) is empty. It begins to feel like a literal grieving.

Now that I'm nearing 40, this grief of sorts has taken on an extra dimension. I can see my life rolling out in front of me. I can see how easily I could spend the next 20 years (if I'm lucky enough to have that time, touch wood) continuing to relegate my own desires to the bottom of the pile until it's too late.

That's why, when people tell me that they want to give up, I tell them that giving yourself permission to give up can be vital, for a time. It can be a necessary breather. But I also think it's really important to find some way to keep the flame flickering.

Yes, mothering and nurturing others are hugely important roles. But women have every right to want more than a life of housework, supermarkets and ballet/footy runs.

Amid all the intense demands that life throws at women - I think I've felt almost continually overwhelmed from the moment my first child was born! - we have to keep sight of our own needs.

Remember that everyone around us suffers when we're feeling deeply unsatisfied. And the world suffers as a whole when women decide to give up on their dreams because it seems easier to take the path of least resistance.

You can't let go of the things that make you feel alive - even when you can only visit them for 10 or 20 minutes a day. Of course we all have to be realistic, but we also need to guard against a wholesale downgrading of our expectations for our lives.

Even when 10 minutes a day is all we can claim for ourselves, at least it's sending out a message that says: "See - Crazy Domestic Life! I know you're doing everything in your power to make me give up, but here I am! I'm not going away and I don't owe you any justifications. I've got something I want to do with this life - JUST BECAUSE. Just for me. So there."

P.S. Happy Women's Day for March 8, friends! xx


sister outlaws said...

Great post. A friend said to me the other day - "prioritise doing what you want to be remembered for - do you want to be remembered for a clean bathroom or a book?" But it's not that simple is it? We want to be good parents too. Family lilfe throws up all sorts of variables that require you to drop what you are doing and we get into the mindset of letting others take our time. I sometimes talk about giving away all notions of creativity and just mothering and house keeping, with the desire of doing one thing and doing it well. But then what sort of mother is a bereft and sad mother? I'm struggling to make a doco at the moment but those small windows of time where I walk out the door and go filming are just joyous!

Karen said...

Thanks, Rachel, insightful post. I yelled at my three kids today because the house was messy - their stuff - and I knew that tidying it up would eat into my writing time. I apologised to my 9yo son and told him I was just tired and cross and was trying to focus on a big project. His response - 'Cleaning the house, Mum?' Arh - I don't want my kids to remember me for a clean house, I want them to remember me for being creative - in my own writing and art, and in life generally. So I allowed a ten minute clean-up - however incomplete that is - and two hours writing. Priorities, lest I be remembered for vacuuming rather than writing. It is a daily struggle. Karen

Rachel Power said...

So, Karen - genuine question - what do your kids do while you're doing the two hours writing?! My kids never leave me alone for that long!! Have you just trained them really well? x

Mary Trunk said...

This is what I call LOST IN LIVING! I think if we don't find the time to do things that are risky and challenging just for ourselves we'll eventually combust and the house, the kids REALLY won't be able to deal with that. The following poem, along with your great post are two things that will keep me all going. -Mary

Advice to Myself By Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another.
Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator.
Accept new forms of life and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

~From: "Original Fire: New and Selected Poems",2003, by Louise Erdrich

Susanne Becker said...

Thank you for this great text and also thank you Mary Trunk for your words! Made me remember a text I wrote about this poem and the subject matter (creative moms) a few months ago. I rewrote it in English this afternoon to share it with you. Please excuse my bad English. I would be happy if any of you would visit my blog and read it. Best wishes from Berlin Germany, Susanne

Penni Russon said...

Last year I came the closest I've come to clinical depression since teenage years because I wasn't managing this balance. This year I did a Masterclass to refocus as a writer, after seriously considering giving it up for a while and deciding that the idea of being "just a mum" was a source of my depression. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I felt I was denying myself a huge part of my identity.

Someone wise recently quoted Elizabeth Jolley to me "The night belongs to the novelist." I was tired all the time, grumpy all the time and not getting any work done, so I have begun a new routine. I write every night for 1-2 hours after all my family has gone to bed. My huzzband is supporting me by going to bed at about 10 (he's knackered anyway by then) and then I sit and write. I have resisted doing this for 9 years because with three kids (two of whom aren't great sleepers), I just thought I couldn't possibly manage it. But so far it's working well. I am still tired and grumpy but I don't resent the taxi service for the older ones, the floor time playing duplo for the little one and the mental space I give them all during the day. And then when I do have time during the day I have a consistently developing project on the go so I don't have blank page-itis (no performance pressure!).

Karen said...

Hi Rachel, again! In answer to your question, I get up early before my kids and write for half an hour while they're asleep. My two oldest are at school, and my youngest is at kinder -I have two mornings when all three kids are out of the house. Then I try and do bits during the mornings when my 3yo is at home. My kids don't watch a lot of tv, so they're pretty good at entertaining themselves. But I am interrupted sometimes by my 3yo so it is frustrating and sometimes writing is just not possible. I try and do the 'bitsy/fix-it' writing while he is around. I often sneak down to my computer, am interrupted, sort my 3yo out, sneak back down again for ten minutes, am interrupted, find an old puzzle/lego/toy, set it up, sneak back down again. Then I try and fit in 2 hours of writing in the evening, depending on whether or not my husband is around to help with homework/bedtime/dishes/lunchboxes etc. And then I try and fit in whatever writing I can on the weekends, depending on kid sport, family functions etc. I don't work fulltime, just a bit of freelance editing from home. Usually I can't write with 3 kids at home. The only time it works is if I sit outside with my ms. and they play and see me looking up at them every now and again. I am always interested to know how other writer mums fit it in as well. Just noticed I used the word 'try' a bit - I never achieve all the writing I want to do and find that it is squeezed into the gaps of family life. And I feel I need to have some sort of small success before my youngest is at school so then I can justify writing during school hours rather than focusing on more editing work. Long answer to your brief question! K x

Rachel Power said...

I always think this blog has the best damn readers any blogger could hope for!! The insight never ceases to amaze me – so much so I often feel embarrassed by my own post, which can feel pretty measly by comparison. But then conversation-starting is what it's all about!
So thanks so much to all of you. I really do mean it when I ask women exactly HOW they do it, step by step – so I appreciate the long answer, Karen!
That's a fantastic poem, Mary – and guess what? Excitement upon excitement – your film has just arrived in my mailbox!! I'm treasuring it already and haven't even watched it yet. No doubt my response will be my next post.
I will also be recommending that everyone find a way to read Penni Russon's exquisite piece about mothering and writing in the latest issue of “Victorian Writer”. Penni – is this published anywhere else, so those outside the state can access it?
Also big thanks to Susanne sharing your own post – such a beautiful musing on the question of the need to write. There’s nothing like the limitations that parenting imposes to make us confront these questions. Your English is perfect!
And to Sister Outlaws - I agree that those pithy statements, ie. “live every day as if you were dying” which sound so great, are not always that useful in reality! Mothering requires so much drudge work (not so much caring for children but the domestic workload that comes with them). I always think: “Well if I was dying, I would not be choosing to end my days picking other people’s crap up off the floor! But between now and then, who else is going to do it?!” But I suppose the message is to try and appreciate whatever it is you are doing, in the moment. Not always so easy when there's something you really want to do that always seems just out of reach…

katiecrackernuts said...

I am all for the visiting things for just a few minutes a day. I get frustrated things can't happen the way I'd like them to but I am not one to give up and Lord knows, 10-20mins a day is a luxury. I have to suffice for multi-tasking or packing things to do on my work train commute or just resigning myself to the 5mins a day I might squeeze in. Don't give up. It doesn't get easier as the children grow, so find a way and find it NOW. You'll work it out.

katiecrackernuts said...

And when I mean "you", I don't mean you Rachel, I mean anyone thinking about giving up.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel - I'm really late to comment on this post but I keep coming back to it and feel compelled to leave my two cents!

Thank you for this really wonderful post. I read recently that "me too" are the most comforting words you can say to a person in distress. I've never really understood this, mainly because most people say "me too" as a segway into hijacking your conversation with theirs. But reading this post (and all the beautifully authentic comments), I now understand.

Creative endeavour and motherhood is a funny old mix. The pull to be 'just a mother', or to follow the path of least resistance can be really bloody strong, but also absolutely terrifying.

To paraphrase Courtney Martin: We are a generation of women whose mothers told us "You can be anything" and we heard "You must be everything".

May we each be happy in our messy homes.

Anonymous said...

Wow, talk about a timely post to have read this week. Have just 'discovered' you and will be to do some serious musing.

ps. Thank you!

Rachel Power said...

Thank you so much for your comments! I am giving a talk tomorrow at Clare Bowditch's Big-hearted Business Conference on 'Giving Youself Permission to be Creative', which is being videoed and I hope that it might be available to watch some time in the future - will keep you posted.
Saint Gertrude - may we all be happy in our emssy houses - and make sure our friends know that we don't care how their houses look either! My favourite friends are the ones who walk in and start folding your washing. I always try to do the same for them. Together we can conquer those piles!! x