Sunday, September 20, 2009

The neverending housework debate...

So much juicy stuff in those housework comments. My partner and I went out last night and your feedback gave me the strength to wade in to this thorny territory and try to decide on some solution.

I have wondered whether if I didn’t work, I would feel clearer about this. Would it be a case of, ‘OK, he works to bring in the money; so this is my job.’ But that ignores the fact that being home with kids is as much of a full-time job.

My feeling has always been that if there is still work to do in the evenings (as there always is), then let’s just get in there and do it. Together. It’s not like as a mother at home, you’ve been slack all day and just haven’t completed your jobs in some allotted work hours. Household chores can roll on and on without end most of the time.

What intrigues me is all the underlying, unconscious assumption at play. I know my partner considers us equal in his conscious mind, but how hard is it for us all to really get out from under the backlog of history that has shaped us and our in-built cultural assumptions?

A writer friend of mine was saying the other day that it’s kind of sad this situation where we know that in many ways that traditional division of roles worked for a good reason. But at what cost?

The problem is our economy still relies on having someone looking after the house, but women now have different expectations for their lives — that they will be able to fulfil all those needs and desires that once had to be suppressed.

You just should never have taken “that bite of the apple”, another (male) friend said. There is no turning back now.

So why are we stuck half way? We have (tacitly?) agreed that it is not fair for either gender to be stuck in those old-fashioned roles without choice, but somehow that full exchange just doesn’t seem to have occurred, especially domestically.

Home Girl’s comments about feeling that the domestic space will be seen as a reflection of her state of mind really resonated with me. So much about having children is surrendering to a lack of control. But this is something I struggle with every day.

As for Susan's comment that anyone can do the laundry but no-one can paint that picture is so true, but always comes with a big 'but' for me (unless you can pay someone else to do your laundry)...

So many times people have told me to ditch the housework in favour of creativity. But how long can that go on before everything just starts falling apart? And at what point is that just not conducive to anything?

I have spoken to other writers who say they have come to terms with the fact that the house has to be clean before they can settle down to writing — and that’s just the way it is.

When I am completely bogged down in housework, though, and can see the creative work retreating further and further from my grasp, the thought that really gets me down is that, at the end of the day, no-one will congratulate me for this. Have you ever heard at a funeral the line: ‘She kept a beautiful house.’ Well, maybe that happens.

But you are far more likely to be remembered for the grand-scale, publically recognised work that you did. Doesn’t this just sum up history for women?

Oh, God, I could just go on and on...

But thank you all so much for your inspiring comments. Women never cease to amaze me with their wisdom and insight!

Anyway, this is the way the conversation went: ‘Can we agree that we put the kids to bed at 8. We decide what jobs have to be done tonight and what can be left for later (i.e. the weekend). We go hell-for-leather getting them done, with the pact that we will aim to have them done by 9 or 9.30. Then we both stop and get on with what we want to be doing. Full stop.’

How does that sound?

He agreed. Will keep you posted...

Friday, September 18, 2009

From the local to the global

I love the comments I got about my last post and I am definitely going to respond to them in my next post (don't worry -- I haven't done with housework yet!!)

I know this seems a long way from that issue. But I just feel compelled to get down my somewhat wayward thoughts on this larger catastrophe we are confronting...

At my writers' group last night we ended up having a very lengthy discussion on art in the face of climate change. Does it make writing a novel, for example, pointless -- or is it in fact the most important thing we can do right now?

One of the group mentioned a comedian she heard the other day who said he's just waiting for the day when we destroy ourselves and the planet can get back to doing what it does best -- existing. Without us.

This idea sets my head spinning ('scuse the pun).

Humanity’s presence on this earth raises the most fundamental questions about existence.

What is it all for?

Does this planet need us? Almost certainly not.

Do we need this planet? Absolutely, yes.

Would this planet be better off without us? In our current mode of operation, yes.

So why are we here then? Is there something meaningful about the human ability to comprehend beauty, to reflect on it, to translate it into art, which perhaps then deepens our experience of it?

Is beauty meaningless otherwise?

Is it not enough that plants and animals exist for the sake of existence, feeding off each other and living in a kind of harmony, albeit based on an often brutal, primitive exchange?

How could humanity be the only creature created with such a fatal flaw — the capacity to destroy the very thing that sustains us?

Are we just an experiment — one that will make way for a better version in the future? A version with some genetic wisdom, some intrinsic understanding of the need for respect for this earth?

But then how could this experiment ever be repeated? Could the same precarious conditions that provided for our evolution ever exist again?

Has our so-called ‘civilisation’ not in fact relied on the most brutal exchange of all?

If it wasn’t for my children, I could almost be content with the idea of humanity wiping itself out, as if we have proven that to be the natural order of things. We have proven our unworthiness.

Apart from love of children, though, is my love for art and ideas. Imagine a world with no art or ideas.

And for art and ideas to thrive, first we need the freedom provided by food and shelter.

I know I’ve been scaring a few of my friends lately with my dark thoughts. But these are the questions that are keeping me awake at night.

Scientists are telling us that if we achieve a global agreement on climate change in December at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, we may be able to save the Barrier Reef, stop 100 million people from being displaced and minimise the number and intensity of cyclones, bushfires, floods and droughts.

A Climate for Change is a fantastic site co-ordinating action on climate change. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The housework blues

I have been getting the serious housework blues of late. There are weeks where I feel I work, I hang out with my kids, I clean, I clean, I clean... and that is the substance of my life.

My partner 'helps out' and feels I don't recognise all he does. Perhaps that's true. But maybe that's because no matter what he does, I seem to do so much more!

He will certainly do the jobs that I ask him to do, but once that's finished, he goes back to what he'd prefer to be doing, while I seem to just find more and more chores to deal with until I basically drop from exhaustion--emotional exhaustion, largely, as I find myself in a state of constant suppressed rage.

As a friend of mine said to me the other day, if she has a spare 10 minutes she will use it to clean, while her partner will pick up his guitar.

It feels like a trap: to be forced into becoming the kind of nag no-one chooses to be, and then punished for it by the very person we feel has pushed us into this role.

I put off raising the issue for as long as I can stand, because I can hardly bear finding myself back in that all-too-familiar, intractable and horribly mundane debate that never seems to go anywhere.

Why can't men see that the fact this issue is so common might mean it's not just his partner's particular uptight neuroses he's dealing with?

It's a terrible thought, because I love my partner so much, but sometimes I even think it would be easier to be a single mother, because then at least there would be no-one else to blame or resent, and life would have a clearer order. But I know that's just bullshit, too.

Sadly I feel like I've been facing the choice of maintaining the house, or maintaining a writing life. Again and again, I seem to be coming up against this struggle to give myself permission to write; to just drop the other responsibilities and make writing a priority. I am sucked back into this working mother/housewife vortex that seems to have a stronger and more forceful pull than the delicate thread of creativity which, for me, is so easily broken.

Is there a solution to this problem? Have any of you found some harmony in your households when it comes to this matter? I would love to hear about it...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Talking 'bout my Divided Heart...

For those of you in Adelaide, I’m going to be talking with Cath Kenneally on Radio Adelaide’s Arts Breakfast tomorrow morning at 9.30 (your time), 101.5FM.

Hope she’s nice to me so early in the morning! I’ve done a bit of this radio stuff now, but still it scares me witless (to put it nicely).

Now, to caffeinate or not to caffeinate myself first, that is the real question… (Tune in if you can.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Family Guy

Some time back, curator Brett Adlington contacted me to say that he thought I might interested in an exhibition he's been working on for a few years -- and that is now on at the Lake Macquarie Art Gallery in New South Wales.

I was--and am!--and have been very remiss in not posting about it before now.

It's called Family Guy, and the idea emerged for Brett when he was home full time with his kids while his wife worked. He said he was struck while waiting at the school gate by how many fathers there were picking up their kids, unlike when he was at school, but that the hours between 9 and 3 made him realise "how in many ways things hadn’t changed that much, and that being a male at home with kids in the day was a pretty lonely experience."

Which made me think that, although it can be a pretty isolating experience for mums too, at least we have each other. Women are great at forging those networks of support in a way that doesn't come so easily to most men.

Brett started thinking about visual art through history, and the fact that most of the works depicting scenes of domesticity and family were by female artists. He then wondered if many male artists have created work that reflects the changing ways in which men involve themselves in family.

Hence, this fascinating-sounding exhibition, Family Guy, on now until 11 October.

The exhibition draws together work by 14 contemporary male artists, examining the way men see themselves today as fathers, sons, partners and brothers. Some of them illustrate the experience of being a new father, while others describe their separation from family members, particularly children.

Artists include Vernon Ah Kee, Alan Jones, Alex Kershaw, Richard Lewer, Shandor Marosszeky, Laith McGregor, Ben Quilty, Aaron Seeto, Ian Smith, Kris Smith, Martin Smith, Roderick Sprigg, Christian Thompson, Jamil Yamani.

Bravo Brett!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The new you

Today I was standing in the toilets at my daughter’s dance studio putting on some mascara, in the vain hope that it would make me look more awake, when one of the women who works there stepped out of a cubicle.

“Sorry,” I said sheepishly, stepping aside so she could get to the sink. “One of those things I never seem to manage to do before leaving the house in the morning...”

“I know,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m not ready to have children yet, because I see all the mothers here and I know what it’s like. So hard to maintain your own life.”

“It’s still your own life,” I told her. “It’s just a different life.” And part of me believed me — in fact knows that this is life, real life, perhaps more real than I ever would have known it otherwise (in the best and worst senses of the word).

I sometimes find myself arcing up at this notion of “maintaining your own life”, perhaps because I feel its sting: the implied criticism levelled at women seen as losing themselves in mothering. Not that this was the tone of the woman I've mentioned — it wasn't at all — but I have felt that pressure to prove that I can readily separate myself out from my kids without missing a beat as if it shows some kind of strength of character, some self-respect.

But, at the same time, another part of me felt a little disingenuous with the “different life” comment — like I’d just trotted out one of those lines us all-knowing parents employ to hearten prospective parents.

I knew exactly what she meant about that struggle to do your own thing — and admit there are times when I feel completely absorbed by pointless imaginings of what I might be achieving if I didn’t have kids.

Last weekend I had one of those days when I had work deadlines looming, but the day was dominated by the kids' various activities. I spent the whole weekend feeling hamstrung, not quite able to get at the thing preoccupying me (workwise) and struggling to sink into just being present with the kids. Those are my most miserable days — the ones when I really feel like I’m failing on all fronts.

“Oh, I know I want to have children,” my dance studio friend assured me. “That it’s probably the most beautiful thing you could do in life…”

“You know, people without children have good lives too,” I said. It’s an obvious thing to say. And true. But also something I feel I can say with complete authority now, having been on both sides of the equation — before and after children.

As I’ve said before, now that I know what parenting asks of us, I have more sympathy than ever with the choice not to enter into what is an altogether more intense and intensive life.

But now that I’m here, I can’t separate my life out from that of my family in that convenient way that the modern world likes us to do. By that I don’t mean that I don’t relish spending time alone (which I do!), that I don’t value my time with friends or that I have lost sight of my own interests and career. It doesn’t mean that I want to talk about my kids all the time. It doesn’t even mean that I wouldn’t mind the occasional pedicure.

What I’m getting at, I suppose, is that I refuse to pretend that mothering hasn’t changed me — which it has, entirely. In some ways for the better; in some ways, no doubt, for the worse. Whatever I do or say or think has, absorbed within it, awareness of this altered reality.

And so, yes, it is a different life. In some ways less free. In some ways more. The "most beautiful thing you could do"? Perhaps.