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Turn down the volume!
March 23, 2015
My parents’ kitchen
I loved your last letter, which I read at Disney. It provided a few precious moments of serenity (perhaps sanity would be a more accurate word choice there) in a wild week.
You may find this strange, but creativity was on my mind over March Break. Not my own (I’ll get to that), but Big Vision creativity, which is very much on display at Walt Disney World. Love Disney or hate it – I would hold sympathy with either view – but it is impossible to ignore the sheer ambition of the place. I was struck both by the vast scale of the vision, but also the precision of the execution, in what was, not that long ago, a giant swath of Florida swampland. Fascinating, in a once-in-a-lifetime kind of way (hear that, kids?).
How and where do I harness creative ideas? I think this is a wonderful question, and the first answer to it is very much dictated by my life as a mother: however and wherever possible. I won’t say ‘in a perfect world’, because it wouldn’t be a perfect world if I were childless, but in a world where I had fewer domestic responsibilities, I would get my best ideas on long walks, alone, in the morning. I rarely take long walks alone, in the morning or at any other time, so I have to make do.
I was talking to my dad about this question last night. The manuscript for my second book is due in September and I will now become extremely disciplined about my productivity because I never miss deadlines. And so I am trying to figure out how to reduce the noise around me to focus on ‘hearing’ and ‘seeing’ the story I want to tell. I don’t mean literal noise, although that also needs to be managed. I mean the number of things that clamour for my mental attention, pulling my focus away even during times set aside for writing, and drowning out the sound of the characters’ voices.
Take today for instance. On Monday mornings, I have two hours blocked off in my calendar for writing. My house is being sold this week, so I’m living at my parents’ house. In preparation for today’s return to work, I spent yesterday doing laundry, fetching warm clothes and lunch boxes and school uniforms from my house, making a run to the one store in Toronto that makes the bagels that my son eats for his school lunches, and meeting with my lawyer to sign some documents. Organized! Prepared!
And then, at the end of the day, my younger son spiked a high fever which had him up twice in the night and sleeping with me. He slept, I should say. And then he vomited. So this morning, I slept (because I can’t write a coherent word on no sleep) and did more laundry. And now I am racing with the clock to get this letter done before I head out to pick up my older son from school, while my younger son swoons on a nearby sofa and threatens, at twenty-minute intervals, to vomit again. You see? LOUD.
I have a wonderful writing mentor who says that he prefers his life to be extremely boring when he is writing a book. I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, my life is far from boring right now. But the book is still due in September, and I know I’ll get it done somehow. Working mothers are good at finding a way.
Yes, I know there are some men who are excellent at multi-tasking and who contribute equally to childrearing and domestic labour. I know about these men because people hold them up as examples of the future of marriage, and I hear a lot about them every time a woman complains about gendered inequality within marriage.
I think men are encouraged to focus on work, and women are expected to focus on work and absolutely every other aspect of family life as well, and it is probably to everyone’s detriment, but certainly to women’s.
I suspect that this expectation of women, that we perform flawlessly on all fronts at all times, without any real acknowledgement of the value of our unpaid work, is one of the reasons why we compete so relentlessly with each other. Comparing ourselves with other women is the only way we can evaluate ourselves on the overall picture of our lives – our paid jobs, our volunteer jobs, our parenting, our homes, our bodies, our sex lives, our spouses – and determine our level of success or failure.
And since I don’t think the future of marriage is arriving any time soon, maybe we should try to lighten up on ourselves and each other. THAT would be revolutionary.