Sunday, 22 January 2012

Getting my house in order

I have been horribly aware of exiting the blogosphere without warning (to myself as much as anyone else) in the middle of last year.

The fact is that much of last year was spent in a job that did not allow much time for anything else -- but I actually had to do a LOT else. Writing fell by the wayside, its wheedling, needy claims outstripped by the claims of children, other activities, and frankly, depression.

Now I'm back in the saddle, and have been for a month, but have found myself afraid to try writing again.

Don't get me wrong, I write all the time, but so, so often for other people, within frameworks, controlled, contained, unferal. This is so much easier than writing for myself.

So, in coming back to the blog, at first it seems to me that none of my concerns have changed:

  • I am still reading, and dying to express my unasked-for opinions on what I read (The Tiger's Wife is jolly good, by the way; and did you see the Richter retrospective; and I'm struggling a little with Zeno's Conscience; and should have read VIII and Becoming Dickens by now....
  • I am still fighting capitalist, consumerist ideology in all its protean and invisible forms (now muchly in the education system)
  • I am still working on a book about the madness of modern parenting (chastened, but not put off, by the huge amount of press and publication this topic receives, presumably from a bunch of disaffected 40-something women like myself...)
  • I am still trying to work out a work-life balance that gives me income, status, respect and challenge, while allowing me to pick up the children at 3.30 and bake shortbread.
And trying to learn how to write shorter sentences. My study of Proust did not help this one whit.

Actually, looking at that mega-sentence and turning it into bullet points, I realise that some of my concerns have changed over the course of the last year.

For instance,
I like spending time with my children.

Not all the time. Sometimes they drive me nuts.

But these days, they have less power to send me into a vortex of self-loathing, fury, and despair. I'm not even joking.

I can see that this wasn't always the case: there have been periods of time when I was so unhappy, that spending time with anyone, let alone children, felt like searing agony. Or other times when I simply didn't know what I was supposed to be doing, and kind of copied others in a frantic attempt to claw together an identity as a mother.

Now, for some reason, I have an identity as a mother (it seems to mean giving myself permission to love my children), and I can shift between it and playing the role of mother (usually trying to get my son to eat).

So, suddenly, a gap has opened up in my head between 'motherhood' (status) and 'mothering' (role). A mother has the status of motherhood thrust upon her, and has to learn to play the role of the mother, but neither of these domains constitutes being a mother. I'm afraid that most of my understanding of being a mother is going to have come retrospectively.

Some of my inner peace has come from discovering, or remembering, the secret that children live in the present. If I live in the present with them, it is easier to get them to do what I know they have to do, i.e. if I play a game over the broccoli, somehow the broccoli goes down.

The fact that I use exactly the same techniques in workshops with adults leads me to speculate that 'creativity' and 'the present tense' must be profoundly connected -- that perhaps you cannot have one without the other -- this is probably obvious to anyone who has no trouble living in the present.

The accretion of temporal matter, memories from the past, anxieties from the past and about the future, cling to us like caking mud, and weigh us down. Conversely, Proust thought of very elderly people, who move cautiously and timidly, as though they were atop a pair of stilts made of their lives, tottery from everything they have been through, and that has been through them. Mud or stilts, you choose your pathway through time, or it chooses you.

Being in the moment is one thing that has helped me rediscover joy. But another thing has been a surprise to me. I have come to accept that I like organisation. This will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows me, because people have been telling me I'm organised for a long, long time.

The thing is, I hated it in myself. I saw organisation as the enemy of creativity, and as the beginning of the road to fascism. I can't bear bossy people, and loathed the idea of being one myself. Unfortunately, I just am, and hiding it did me no favours. I have accepted my inner bossy, and let her out a lot more.

It makes my daughter say mean things to me, but at least she has clean clothes on while she's insulting me. And it's not just releasing my inner bossy -- it's applying inner bossy to my whole life, like mascara: these days I have a schedule for pretty much everything.

I use it as a pair of blinkers, keeping me on the straight and narrow. This might sound rather disciplinarian, and indeed, this side of myself is one I've always struggled with, but in fact it's easier to imagine me as a mountain goat, perilously wending my way about, always about to fall off a cliff unless I step carefully. A natty pair of blinkers will do that for you.

This isn't the whole story.... there is a long way to go before I finish the book on parenting. Which will take living in the present to the detriment of cooking tasty dinners. And will take organisation to the point of obsession. The kind of organisation that means that chapters will be polished, but shoes will not.

The important point for me is that I am no longer afraid of that mad effort: I want it again, after a very long time when I didn't, and I no longer think that my writing (or who I become when I am writing) is going to damage my children in some unspeakable, fundamental way. Indeed I'd better hurry up, my daughter has several nascent books on the go as we speak.