Monday, December 15, 2008

Note From a Previous Self

I was looking at an old journal of mine, from 1992 or so, and found this bit of wisdom: "The secret to happiness: write every day and keep the house clean."

Well, it's something I keep forgetting and relearning. But for me, it's truer than ever. Writing and housekeeping are deeply connected somehow. I'm not the only woman I know whose domestic obligations are constantly getting tangled up with writing, either: we do a load of laundry before we sit down at the desk, or we write until we have to stop and buy groceries or cook dinner. I live in a household where the guy, also a writer, does half the housework, but -- and he'll correct me if I'm wrong -- I don't think he feels the same way about it. I know he likes a clean house, but it's not half the secret to his happiness.

Oh, my god. I sound like I'm in a ladies' magazine. I wish it weren't true, though. I wish my identity as a writer were stronger than my identity as mother, wife, or "The Chicken Lady."* Part of it is that I haven't published lately, but part of it is just that I find domestic life thoroughly absorbing.

And I can't even express what a surprise this is to me. At the time I wrote the note about a clean house, I thought I'd never get married. Then I thought I wouldn't have kids, or if I did, I'd be pretty indifferent at it. Turns out I love it and find it fascinating, more fascinating, usually, than writing.

Of course, kids grow up, stop asking you to read to them, join bands, grow beards, and move out. I suspect I'll return to my old ways eventually. And it's not like domesticity is incompatible with writing. It's just somewhat harder to get motivated.

Anyway, writing every day and keeping the house clean is good advice for all writers, don't you think? Not too clean, like Martha clean. But clean enough.

* No, I don't have a part-time job as a college football mascot. But I have a bunch of free ranging chickens, and lately when I tell someone where I live and which house, they say, "Oh, you're the Chicken Lady!"


Anonymous said...

I feel compelled to add that 1) I'm not the one who domesticated her: that's her own doing. And 2) being married to The Chicken Lady is HOT.

Anonymous said...

I will refrain from making clucking noises. But I like your comment about writing every day and keeping a clean house. As a South African man, house-cleaning is waaaay down on my priorities but I need to sort out all my stuff (including papers) before I can feel that things are moving smoothly again. Stuff builds up and clogs the flow (or something).

Anonymous said...

I am actually very obsessive about keeping my work environment neat, but the rest of the house I can block out while I'm working. The desk, though, needs to be uncluttered.

rmellis said...

I guess an simpler way of putting it is that the outer environment often reflects the inner. A Feng Shui thing, maybe.

Pete: I recently ate something called "boboti" (sp?) cooked by a South African friend. Wow, good stuff.

Art O.T. Grid said...

For years I felt overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of keeping a clean house (unfortunately for me, this bar was set insanely high by OCD-ridden inlaws and the prevailing suburban conventions). The housework was BORING and endless and I felt like somebody's maid, when I was actually trying to be an artist.

Now, the kids are grown, my husband is learning to cook and has recently taken up vacuuming (OK, my suggestion, but still) and the housecleaning and laundry have become my psychic recess. You can see when it's done and it's obvious if you've done it well. The tasks are concrete, and necessary and benefit the entire family. They create order, and pleasant smells and clean clothes. It's the punctuation of our days, keeping them from running on into meaninglessness, or dropping into the void.

Anonymous said...

I think that's one of the reasons I can't write in my house - I become distracted by tasks.

But a clean house! Oh, what a joy! The problem is I can't write then either because I just walk around enjoying my house.

Possibly these are excuses...

5 Red Pandas said...

In about a week I will finally be able to take time to write and clean. I know that before I begin writing seriously again I will have to give the office a good cleaning. I guess I should clean my bedroom as well just to be a decent person. I'm not that decent a person though.

Lisa Romeo said...

I'm clearly in the minority here. Practically the only way I find I can "clear" the space in my life to write with any continuity, is to forget about cleaning the house. It's kept clean and neat enough to be safely habitable and no more.
Do I appreciate a clean environment? Sure. When I'm traveling and the room gets made up, I begin to think I can tackle any project, writing or otherwise. And I do like a clear desk.
Once I disengaged from the guilt of not being a better housekeeper, I seemed to find lots more writing time.
Now, don't get me started about my need to keep my shoe collection properly stacked in identical plastic boxes with photographs of each pair on the end....