Order and Time in the House

Cassatt, Mary. "Mother Feeding Child." 1898. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
There are times when it makes sense to "embrace the chaos" partly because it's unavoidable, but also because creativity can thrive there too. There are also times, though I can't remember anyone telling me this specifically, to organize the house, the "writing house." As of late, I'm so used to doing the material organizing of the actual house, that I let the writing house fall into a mess. I recognize the need to have a project, something I'm working on so that when I do get that once-a-day beautiful nap from M that I know immediately what I'm going to do. (Especially since that once-a-day nap is very short as she is more and more mobile these days). I can do almost anything else while she's present (yes it might take double or triple of the amount of time) but it is very hard impossible for me to write poetry of several lines.

M proudly organizes her designated kitchen drawer. Occasionally, she really does put it all back inside.

Additionally, I have to prioritize part-time work that is paid versus writing time which is often not. Sometimes I put the writing first, sometimes not. It's a wonderful "problem" to have to balance part-time paid work, writing, and parenting.  I love the flexibility of being at home with M but ahh the pervasive and insidious myth of the mother who can DO IT ALL and HAVE IT ALL too! It's very easy to fall into the trap of saying to myself that this work is paid and therefore "real" work at least as real as the unpaid work of stay-at-home parenting whereas my writing work, the actual thing that gives me sustenance and purpose, can comparatively seem indulgent.

Oh puritan work ethic that denies pleasure and the basic human need for creativity! It's all too easy to say that by writing for writing's sake, I'm not contributing to the household even when I know that's not true. It took me the better part of my 20s to get over this idea that because there is no dollar amount attached to creative writing, it's only a hobby. At the same time, I would compassionately tell a writer-mother-friend "of course you should be writing. It's actually better for your whole family if you do. For one, you are much more pleasant to be around..."

When balancing part-time work, writing, and parenting, I often let the writing house fall into a mess even if I'm writing. But it's a critical piece for me to keep developing and growing as a writer. Where do I want my work to be in a year or five years? What ideas do I keep putting off for those moments "when I have more time"?

I only have so much bandwidth so taking some time as I have been to organize the writing house seems as important as any other seasonal task though I don't know of other writers who may speak of it in these terms. It's akin to sweeping the floors and getting some fresh air in.

Also, I can't multitask so if I have something waiting to work on, I can just get to it. No excuses or dallying. This seems more and more the case as M is "toddling."

Really no one can multitask, but of course I try to. I'm doing two tasks right now - parenting and writing this blog post.  As I write, M is going through the garbage can below my desk. She took a disaster nap of 45 minutes since she is learning to stand and is super excited about this accomplishment. I have mixed feelings about it.

Below my feet, she is tearing the wicker garbage can into little bits so I've just written on a post-it note where I have also jotted down some writing ideas "get new garbage can." You can see how it easy it is to get distracted, off-task, and genuinely wonder - where did the last five minutes go?

M empties the garbage pail for me while I "work." One of my many discarded post-its.

Additionally, fellow writer and mother friend of mine, Chloe Yelena Miller, recently wrote a terrific article "Confessions of a (Former) Go-To Parent" where she found herself doing more than 50% of the household duties as well as her paid work and writing and it resonated with me. These gendered habits are so ingrained - it's actually more mental work I think to break them than to adhere to them - even if you have a husband who wants to help, an example of another "wonderful problem to have.

There are also hours where M and I play with her books -- books I love, but have read to her thousands of times, so much so I have memorized several of them as has C. There are also hours spent helping her learn to eat her soup, oatmeal or yogurt with a spoon and not flinging it like the greatest science experiment of gravity off of her chair.

It was fun to see M eat some meatball orzo soup as well as tedious and messy.

These are occasionally useful hours for thinking creativity if it is a rote task. I'm learning I will never really "find the time," but I can lose it.

It becomes easier to say "oh I have this part-time work project due for this person on such and such date so I'll do that. And it's really important because it's paid."  Or laundry or dishes or making food for M or taking her to the library for a third time this week or such and such activity...  It's not to say that any of that isn't worthwhile - some of it is - it's just easy to default to those tasks to fill up the same time I am constantly losing. To deal with this problem, I write more post-it notes or notes on my phone and say I'll get to it later. It has gotten to be very disorganized and distracting.

Organizing the writing house means gathering my ideas, identifying priorities some of which may be sensitive, and from that list determine what seems like it can only be done while M is napping and what is the work of the writer that can be done when she is able to occupy and entertain herself, albeit in short spurts of time.

I am optimistic I can do some of this while hearing the tapping sounds of plastic fruit and vegetables being tossed down the wooden stairs.

Hello! M finds many creative ways to entertain herself.


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