Life, art, writing: the guilty pleasure of doing what you like
As a stay-at-home mother, I am in the fortunate position of being able to structure my own days. The school run starts the day and interrupts the flow of mid-afternoon: within those bookends, however, I am more or less free to do what I want when I want.
Having worked as a wage-slave in the past, I have never quite got used to this freedom. Whether the day’s tasks are mundane (the endless laundry of a family of boys) or more creative (I enjoy proper cooking) it is heavenly to be able to do them when I like; taking the dogs for a walk when the rain stops, or putting off the chores until evening because right now, while the light is good, I feel like doing some journalling.
Journalling. I loathe that word. It is one of those ‘verbed’ nouns that increasingly infest casual English. Unfortunately, it is the only one I know that means precisely what I need it to describe: the mixture of diary-writing, art and paper-crafting that is so wildly popular right now that it has spawned its own word.
While I detest the word, I love the craft. Actually I think I am a little obsessed with it at the moment. Whether it is the childish pleasure of tearing up coloured snippets from magazines to stick in a scrap-book (sorry, ‘journal’) or the deeply satisfying release of pure writing, black pen on the off-white, lined pages of a Moleskine notebook, I am so enjoying journalling and writing that domestic chores are being squeezed into the edges of my days.
The chores do get done, somehow or other – the essential ones at least. Do you know that ravenous need to create something, though? It has been gnawing away at me for weeks now. I think about my writing notebook , my plain black Moleskine (the latest of many) that slips into a handbag, when I am hanging up the washing, when I am scrubbing saucepans, when I am sorting through outgrown children’s clothes for the charity shop. I feel a little like Bilbo with the Ring in his pocket.
The problem – at least, I instinctively see it as a problem – is that all this creativity has nothing much to show for it. I am not consciously working on a book. I am just journalling (the sticky, scrappy, colourful stuff) because it gives me pleasure, and writing because I need to: diary entries, observations, little sketches, quotations, notes, anything that captures my magpie imagination. How do you justify that? The author Elizabeth Howard, who died at the end of last year, apparently disapproved of keeping a diary, feeling that it wasted creative energy that should be chanelled into the serious art of writing a book. Virginia Woolf, on the other hand, felt that writing a diary was an essential tool for the writer. Having published nothing of note since my doctoral thesis, however, I am in no position to argue for or against either author; although I tend towards Woolf’s conviction that ‘I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life, finding another use for it’.
Objectively, then, I can see that this burst of creativity might lead to something other than mere self-indulgence. Yet still I worry away with guilt. Now not only do I feel I have to justify being a stay-at-home mother bringing no income into the home, but I also have to justify sneaking off to write and draw! I know, I know, first world problems. My husband thinks my guilt is baffling.
‘I don’t see why you think you have to justify it,’ he said. ‘I don’t feel guilty for playing the piano.’
‘But that’s different!’ I cried. ‘You are practising Rachmaninov, for goodness’ sake, it must be good for your brain. Anyway, playing the piano gives you pleasure, plus I like to hear you too.’
‘How is that different from your crafting and writing? Humans are naturally creative. We don’t need to apologise for it.’
It is perfectly obvious that he is right. The one thing which every book or blog or quote about art and writing has in common, is the unspoken assumption that it this is a thing worth doing in itself. Perhaps I can blame my attitude on growing up infused with Protestant guilt, that flip-side of the once-lauded Protestant worth ethic. (Catholic guilt, which I can now add to my conscience, is straightforward by comparison.) Year after year, my father used to bounce into my room early on Saturday mornings exclaiming ‘Now, what are you going to achieve today?’
Well, here we are, Dad. In your memory, here’s an example of what I achieved in an average day last week. And look! I made it into art too!
More ponderings on being a stay-at-home mum can be found in Validation, and more on fitting art into family life in The calligraphy of hares, and other ways to spend a quiet weekend.