Once in a blue moon I will pick up a book that is exactly what I need to be reading at that moment. Thanks by the way to Julian and Simone, for bringing this slim but powerful volume to my attention). It is the missing piece of a puzzle that has been worrying my subconscious. Or it puts into words what I am feeling and why I need to effect some change in my life.
Rebecca Solnit‘s Essay (actually a keynote address) found in her book entitled Men Explain Things to Me entitled Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable , did that to me.
And let me pause here to speak a little of Solnit’s lovely, meandering and yet acutely intelligent writing style. She is like a cat with a ball of yarn – she weaves her themes across a large geography of ideas and issues. She takes you in some unexpected places but it all ties together in the most unpredictable but perfect way.
I want to read everything she has ever written right now.
I will also say this essay finds me in the latter months of my 40th year. Although I had high hopes for my 40s, it’s been off to a rocky start. Don’t get me wrong- it isn’t the age thing so much as the weight of my life that has come to roost heavily in my gut. Some of this is my fault. Some not. But I would like to focus on the stuff I know I need to change and Solnit’s essay spoke directly to that.
The Woolf essay was the penultimate in the book. The preceding works were all intelligent, thought-provoking somewhat disturbing reads (she deals a lot with the global epidemic of violence against women). I started the Woolf essay as if I was starting another chapter. Nothing new here. In fact, the quote she uses from Woolf I did not quite get at first. Like Solnit, I feel like I can’t tackle my thoughts without breaking them into little chunks. So here goes. As Bowie said, take your protein pills and put your helmets on, people. It’s going to be long, self-reflective ride.
In fact, you might want to stop reading here.
On How the Very Thing I did to Stay Creative Bit Me in the Ass like a Favourite Pet Gone Rabid
Here is Solnit musing on the creative process:
“The ways creative work gets done are always unpredictable, demanding room to roam, refusing schedules and systems. They cannot be reduced to replicable formulas.”
Crap. My whole life is a formula that rivals the “rinse and repeat” instructions on shampoo bottles. How did this happen? Let’s go back to the beginning shall we?
I started waking up at five in the morning not because I am a masochist or a farmer, but because it was the only time of day I could get for myself. At first, I started getting up a little earlier than everyone else, around 6 am, so that I could go for a run. I wanted to get fit, lose some weight after giving birth to two children (not at the same time though. Consecutively.) It was doing me so much good that I thought Hey! If I got up just a little bit earlier, I could even get some writing done!
This at the time in my life when I was a stay-at-home mom. My life had gone from being intensely dominated by a flurry of ideas and writing poetry everyday to watching teletubbies, changing diapers and having only enough energy to read the Ikea catalogue with its addictive myth of an organized world. I was not myself. In fact, I had no idea who I was anymore. A milk truck? A full-time housekeeper? I didn’t even know how to walk down the street without a stroller anymore- what do people do with their hands when they walk? Why did my gait feel so wrong?
I also felt that if I did take some time away from the kids, I would come back to a larger mess. I would in fact pay for trying to take time for myself. This was only partially true and not fair to my husband. Yes, the house was a mess. Yes, it was kind of depressing to come home to more work than usual. But the kids were fed and mostly unharmed (there were a couple of accidents). I felt trapped within my days of playgroups and mushy cookies and breast feeding babies.
My solution? Get up early! Stop whinging! You don’t need 8 hours of sleep. You can get up before everyone else, write highly thoughtful and meaningful stuff on schedule, go for a run and then be super mom! You can do it all, if you just got off your lazy ass and try harder!
And for a while, it worked (except for the writing meaningful stuff part. Still working on that). It got me through my children’s early days. Through being a stay-at-home mom, through doing my Masters with two small kids. It got me through the hectic times of being one of two working people in the household, where the work I was doing had nothing to do with my need to write. The routine was my friend, my discipline. It allowed me to keep my finger in that vast pie of creativity. It allowed me to take some time for myself, even if it was a slot where mostly I was bleary-eyed and fuzzy-brained. Hey. You take what you can get.
I have been doing this for 14 years. The five in the morning time is still the only time I get alone most days. Lately, it has crept up to 5:30. The writing time is shorter. The runs are shorter. Work is longer and the kids, though this is counter-intuitive as they are now teenagers, need me in a way that is way more emotionally demanding than ever before. (By the way, I say this last part not out of pity but out of a kind of surprised joy. I am glad my kids still need me.)
But lately, this very routine, the one that got me through the dark ages of my children’s infancy, has not been a boon, but a burden. I don’t go out anymore. I decline events and opportunities where I have to go after work (unless it is 5 à 7. I can handle that. In fact, I want to start a 5 à 7 movement for all of us who like to dance, see music, etc. but who’s bedtime is now ridiculously early. Disco after work!) I never leave the house after dinner and most nights end up sitting in front of mediocre TV with a cup of tea and a glass of whiskey, completely exhausted.
I can’t find the momentum I need to finish projects as my writing happens in the dusty, unfilled corners of my day. I say no to things I might enjoy because I know it will eat in to my measly half hour of alone time.
I have made my life so that I am forced to try and turn creativity on like a tap, which as Solnit so eloquently points out, is not the way it works.
In short, my routine is not working for me anymore; I am working for it and paying too high a price. I feel trapped in my life, spinning around and around in days that look exactly the same, where a little bit, but not much gets done.
How do I go about changing something that has been so comforting for so long? How do I make sure I simply do not replace one string of deeply ingrained habits with others? How does one work without a routine?
The idea is terrifying to me. But it seems that 40 is the year to face all your terrors, whether you want to or not. So here I am. Facing down the fact that my life has become broken and I was too busy scheduling every part of my day to realize it.
Which brings me to my second part…
On the slow closing of my mind OR How I always need to be doing something for fear of the darkness
Which will happen in my next post as this is already too long as it is.