The month of March was marked down in my agenda as the month when I do a good round of editing to Eye, my second and very unfortunate book. I don’t have any courses during this month, not of a lot of other work, so, I thought, what better time to get this over with, right?
Well, the month started well and I got a bunch of work done, but then this whole past week has been a very difficult one, with the smallest child down with a stubborn bug. A lot of sleepless nights (for both of us). A lot of unhealthy snacking because of sleep deprivation (just for the mother). And a lot of lethargy and inability to concentrate (for the writing mother). It’s depressing. I know that other women manage to write in more dire circumstances and I am blessed in millions of ways compared to millions of other people. Yet somehow it doesn’t help.
I have children. To my shock (no, I was not prepared for this at all) after they were born everything else came second. I couldn’t focus on work anymore. My work became them. My physical time is too broken down into millions of small shards, my own space does not exist, and my mind is taken over by small worries of the real world in which my children live, and less by the bigger, deeper facets of the human experience, that I like to write about in books.
Today is the International Women’s Day. An article in The Guardian urges women to make their artistic voices heard, to make up for lost time in a history full of oppression that only now is changing. Will that ever happen? Will we ever have, as women, the opportunity to dedicate ourselves exclusively to our work, like men have always had? Who’s going to raise our children?
Henrik Ibsen, “the father of modern drama” needed not one room of his own, but several (two or three) to walk through. During the hours when he was writing, nobody was allowed to disturb him in his rooms! I don’t even have the bathroom for twenty minutes for my own, without a child crying at the bathroom door.
Kafka, “the greatest writer or the twentieth century”, asserted that “writing and office cannot be reconciled, since writing has its center of gravity in depth, whereas the office is on the surface of life. So it goes up and down, and one is bound to be torn asunder in the process.” Replace office with children here, and it all stands perfectly true for me. And all other women writers and artists.
I don’t see a way out of this. I don’t see how we can release the shackles of our child-rearing worries and duties. I realize that my situation and experience are rather extreme. I live away from any family, and can never expect support from grandparents, aunts etc. when it comes to caring for my children. I also live in a country that considers children the sole problem of their own families, of no consequence to the society in general, so not deserving of much government support. I don’t know. I’m sure the answer is somewhere. Now I’m thinking it’s maybe in the proverbial village that’s supposed to raise a child. Maybe the nuclear family is the problem. Maybe there are many more.
The thing is that my book remains unwritten today. And I blame myself. But tomorrow the child will be all recovered and I’ll be fully rested and my mind will start working again. Then I’ll make a little more progress on the book. And even if I’ll still have to work on the surface of life, at the “office.” Even if I still won’t have any room or any minute of my own.
P.S. When I was writing this article I was looking for a particular quote from Kafka that I was unable to find at the time, but now, after several weeks I discovered where I had saved it on my computer. So, here it is:
You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind– for everyone wants to live as long as he is alive– even the degree of self-revelation and surrender is not enough for writing.
Writing that springs from the surface of existence– when there is no other way and deeper wells have dried up– is nothing, and collapses the moment a truer emotion makes the surface shake. That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.
You write in response to the Kafka quote: “Replace office with children here, and it all stands perfectly true for me. And all other women writers and artists.”
I actually find that the depth in my life is in my interactions with my children and everything else seems petty and surface. Sure, my interactions with my kids aren’t as deeply intellectual as I might like (although my daughter is catching up on that front), but they are intensely emotionally deep. This depth has brought me something that intellect never did. And it’s not like most of the interactions I have with adults are particularly intellectual anyway. Most people live on the surface. Children, I find, live deep; it’s just not the kind of depth that I expected.
You’re right, Charity. Children can be deep. And the emotional intensity and emotional learning we experience in their presence are unmatched. I have always had a hard time accepting that anything else can be as valuable as intellectual exercise. To me even art in general kind of looks more like play, so not really something I can value fully, since it’s not as much of an intellectual enterprise. Even with writing, that is why I have most respect for novelists, because I feel the long form of the novel requires much more than play and inspiration, you know? I’m just trying to understand myself here, not to justify my point of view, because I think you’re actually right and I should change. But it’s very hard to shift perspective sometimes, even when you try.
I’m not suggesting that you should change. I only wanted to note that I find depth in my relationships with my children. Where I fall short finding depth is in the rest of daily life (grocery shopping, driving in the suburbs, watching presidential debates, etc).
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