A crabapple pie cools on the counter, bubbling through its buttery pastry. The floor is swept, our essential soups and breads are stocked up again, and the dishes are miraculously on the clean side of the sink. But a pie, and a floor clean enough to eat it off of, is not a post, and my inner artist glowers at my happy housewife once again.
I’ve been ambushed by my overly ambitious Tuesdays for weeks now. My day off begins with promise: writing reams of words while chewing a croissant at my beloved Black Rook, dropping by the grocery store for a few fresh items, lifting weights and splashing about with like-minded women at the community centre, and coming home with clear intentions: cook a little, clean a bit, write a lot, rest and enjoy the day.
Then midnight stares me down yet again, telling me I’ve got to work in the morning, and a hundred little practical things assert themselves, quietly urging, “We really should be done before the day dawns!” Once I’ve run the gauntlet of the ordinary, bed bests my best intentions for creativity. Another draft of a thought, scribbled in abstract, drifts off into the ether of the blissfully incomplete and incomprehensible as I drift off to sleep, my mind filled with a list of things that I must get done in order to relax, eventually. I haven’t gotten that far yet.
One day, after all the closets are organized, the clothes mended, the shoes fixed, the papers sorted and shredded, the furniture re-arranged, the emails written, the bills paid, the tub cleaned, the phone calls made, the groceries bought, the meals planned, the books read, the holidays taken, the parties attended, the table refinished, the laundry folded, the corners vaccumed, the children born and off to school, the classes taken, the old friends met for coffee, the garden weeded, the prayers for Sunday written, the meetings taken, the second degree finished, the music collection completely organized by genre and mood, I will sit down and write a novel. One glorious day.
I used to grocery shop and secretly wish that one could buy all one’s groceries for life in a single, epic trip to the Store to End All Stores. The same goes for making one’s bed, making dinner, and all the attending niceties of not living in total squalor and chaos. Early on in my marriage, I tended to blame my husband for all the things required to maintain a healthy lifestyle, like cleaning the bathroom and eating dinner, and then I realised that I’d be doing all those things anyways, spouse or not.
The underlying dream that keeps me on this hoary hamster wheel of activity is unattainable, but intoxicating and addictive. A few weeks ago I kidnapped my brother’s car for a day of heroic errand completion and felt the full force of a life lived for the sake of checking off one’s list.
Zipping all over town, feeling powerful and downright accomplished (except when I couldn’t find parking), I eventually made it home, laden with packages and receipts, and felt like broadcasting my plebian victory to all who would listen. I also felt empty. There was no one to share my triumph with, save the visiting cat, who, damn it, I had forgotten to pick up cat food for. A vision of my funeral flashed through my exhausted mind, with a eulogy that began very simply: “She was an unremarkable, efficient woman who cleaned all the things, kept her pantry stocked, her bills paid, and her shoes organized.”
All the things. Why am I so wrapped up in getting everything done? It’s about control, I think, and about chasing an idea that one fine day, once everything is in order, then I’ll be happy, fulfilled and secure. If I can only get this thing done, that box sorted, blah, blah, blah, then maybe I’ll be in control of my life, maximizing my potential, and on the path to glory – the glory, that is, of being an efficient machine of a person, with a shiny smooth life that I can proudly boast about on Facebook. A novelist who conquered the everyday.
But that’s the lie. All these things being done, all this activity, all this organizing, all this maintenance of one’s posessions, is controlling me instead. It’s backwards. My good friends have told me lately that they know I’m really busy. Doing what? Getting ahead. Getting organized. Not spending time with them. Not writing. Not living.
The caveat, of course, is that as grown-ups, there are things we must do, obligations we must meet, and even mundane things that make the rest of our lives pleasurable, as well as things we do for the sake of others (like making soup every week so that my grad-school burdened husband actually eats something that might be good for him).
I’m not advocating a disavowal of one’s responsibilities. But I am rethinking the belief that seduces my heart, softly telling me if, and only if, I manage to get on top of all the errands and the chores and the cooking and the organizing, my life will be magically better, and only when I have those things under control, I’ll be able to fully live a creative, happy life. The truth is that, the more caught up I feel in getting ahead of my circumstances and taming the tasks, the more I fall behind.
It’s now 1:09am. I’m going to have a piece of that gorgeous pie, and enjoy it, almost as much as I’ve savoured sitting down to write this post. I’ve stared down midnight, yet another Tuesday, and this time around, I have the final word. I can make time for creativity. I’m cutting a small piece of that glorious day, and having it right now.