The journey from laundry to literature is as courageous an expedition as any taken by any adventurer. It’s not just the laundry of course. It’s the lack of clean laundry, the dishes in the sink, the absence of whole grain snacks, and the toilet training struggles that one must venture far away from, to another place, to a place where one can write. How then to get from here to there? How to dedicate yourself to a perfect sentence when you are surrounded by examples of things that are so far from the ideal, things that the world deems less than perfect in value?
I imagine painting my last beautiful sentence on poster board and hanging it on the crooked picket fence outside my home, as proof that I have accomplished something this week, though the dandelions are flourishing, and the bags of sand to establish a rock garden are still sitting where I dropped them last weekend. The outside world views my imperfections; my struggles for balance and order here on the page are invisible to them.
My day dreams are not of trips to Vegas, of diamond rings, or of luxury spas, but of small quiet writing rooms, of cleaning women, and God help me please, of just a little more time. I go through wild planning. I will sell my home and will build a house of straw bales, working only enough to pay for utilities and food. I will become a drug dealer, writing between calls on my cell phone and will hire a gardener. I will win the lottery (though I never remember to buy a ticket), will restore my grandfather’s farmhouse in Saskatchewan, and will write in the sun room with the sound of the sparrows in the lilacs. When my son is older, in three or four years, I will send him to summer camp. I will take time off from work and write for an entire week. Yes, I think. Wouldn’t it be grand?
But then reality rushes in, and I know I must survive now. I lack the know-how for a straw bale home, the greed for illegal activity, and the belief in the lottery. And I realize one week of writing a year will never produce anything. So, I read time management books and set up impossible schedules for myself, believing against belief that there must be some way not to sacrifice one thing for the other. I struggle on, unwilling to give up. Sir Edmund Hillary, halfway up Everest, had nothing on the grit it takes to not give up on this.
No time has ever passed so quickly as the hour I sometimes manage to gain in the morning to write. It seems I have barely begun and am just getting rolling when it is time to become a mother again, to suddenly wonder if there are clean and possibly matching socks, what will be for breakfast, and what will I take for lunch. The transition is never complete. I gather the supplies for the morning, wake my child with cuddles, then songs, then bribes, and finally threats. And away we go; him, to his day-home; me, to my day-job. Neither of us is particularly happy about it.
How do I keep on? I keep in shape by writing everyday, so if I have to scale a mountain and come back down the other side in half an hour, I can, because the muscles I need are ready. Writing every day does not always mean a thousand words. In a horribly busy day, while my child is brushing his teeth, I turn on the computer, read a paragraph, take out two words, put in one, shut down the computer, and begin to search for the car keys. That one revision may be it for the entire day, but I have done something. I have engaged my writer’s mind and have not left it to molder under the couch cushions with the Lego pieces, the cracker crumbs, and the missing car keys.
It is the same sort of compulsion, I imagine, to write or to adventure. Why didn’t Edmund just stay home and cut his grass? Why don’t I just quit writing and dedicate my non-workaday hours to the cleanliness of my house and whole-wheat-home baking? Because I can’t. I hear the next sentence calling me as clearly as mountain climbers hear the peaks calling them. It takes as much courage to smile at the neighbors who snarl at my dandelions and to continue to write one hour at a desperate time, as to strap on backpack and boots and head off across the Arctic or the Sahara.
At times I feel pity for myself. If I disappear like Amelia Earhart not into the sky, but am swallowed up by the endless details of working motherhood and domesticity and take these words into the ether with me, no one will write a ballad about my courageous attempts at flight. At these times, it seems the only recourse is fame. Only loud applause would make the struggle worthwhile. Only a hardcover edition would prove that I have been here, that I carried the flag of these words. I may never reach that summit. But the peak is not, I know, fame or recognition. It is the attempt itself that matters. The act of sitting here and creating this — rather than watching shampoo commercials — is what is important.
I keep myself sane by acceptance. I do not fight that there is always laundry to do. I hope against hope that the neon-colored rubbery things I feed my son do actually contain some real fruit. I let things go. I weed when I get around to it, and when I am in the midst of the crux of a piece, I let the entire house go to heck in a handbasket for a week (or two if necessary).
I cannot be perfect — but I can be a writer, a mother, and a productive member of society to some degree. As Tenzing Norgay who reached the summit of Everest in 1953 said, “I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life.” And so it is. I may have finished a page, turned a breathtaking phrase, but still I must find the perfect bedtime story and wipe the peanut butter off the cupboard, because I’m a writing mom and that’s my job. I marshal the same forces as the great adventurers and carry on in the face of failure, frustration, and uncomprehending others. I continue because it is what I must do. Because there is as much joy in completing a paragraph in the hour between my son’s bedtime and utter exhaustion as in making it over the next rock face which seemed to have no handholds at all. And, maybe tomorrow, after writing one more page, I’ll find matching socks. Or maybe not.