books, motherhood, stray thoughts
comments 5

Pleasures elude me

Japanese Maple

Bee on Cotoneaster

It’s been a tough week. Not for any reason in particular. Just hard to regain solid ground. Hard to move towards some sort of equilibrium after the Easter break. To reconcile myself to the limited time I have to read, to write, to idle. I’ve noticed that even in my daily writing (the fifteen minutes of something small), I don’t want to be fully alone with myself.

I try to trace these feelings of suffocation and constriction back to their source. They seem to be simply a rising panic, a strange desperate sense that I should be doing more. That something small is not enough. I feel like I’ve reached this point before: notebooks full of words; scraps and observations; ideas and beginnings. But nothing finished. Nothing complete. I start writing a poem in an old notebook. The poem on the page before is dated May 2009. Five years ago. Two children ago.

With time at my disposal, say an hour in the evening after the little ones are in bed & before B gets home, I find myself frantic with excitement, and yet full of disappointment for all the things that I can’t do simply because I have to choose one from among them. And then, the time has passed without anything of note accomplished. Just as in the days when the Biscuit was newborn, I’m blinded by indecision, overwhelmed by all the things that I could do, to the extent that I don’t actually do anything. Rachel Cusk describes exactly this feeling so brilliantly in A Life’s Work:

…it is when the baby sleeps that I liaise, as if it were a lover, with my former life…I dash about the house unable to decide what to do: to read, to work, to telephone my friends. Sometimes these pleasures elude me and I end up gloomily cleaning the house, or standing in front of the mirror striving to recognise myself.

What helps? Yoga last night: focusing on only my body. Compulsively reading Anne Truitt‘s Daybook (as recommended by Theresa, for which I’m incredibly grateful). More on this another time, but despite differences of generation, location, resources (she did have a live-in maid), reading her thoughts on integrating art and life (in particular life with small children) is helping immensely. Trying to go slowly, trying to be kind to myself – but to push myself too. Knowing that this stage is coming to an end. In September the Moose will start school. I will have two children in one place, apart from anything else saving six hours a week of driving to & from pre-school. Things will get easier.


I stepped out of the back door & took these photos earlier while the children were upstairs, already in their nightclothes, waiting for their bedtime drinks of milk. That helped too. A few minutes alone in the garden, just noticing. Watching how industriously the bee worked at those barely open flowers. Seeing how it never quite stopped moving. I just need to keep the faith.


  1. Well put! The feeling resonates with me too. Something small never feels quite good enough.

    • Thanks Nicole. I know that if I’m patient & hold my nerve little bits of writing can add up (or are at least better than nothing), but, yes, it’s so hard not to get frustrated & then end up doing even less!

  2. Sarah, I sometimes wish I could have consoled my younger self, the one who felt as you feel, by simply assuring her that life accumulates, it doesn’t pass, and that she will be grateful for every detail. When my children were small, someone once advised me to get up early to have an hour or two of writing time — this, while one child or another still woke in the night… — and I thought I could no more do that than shoot an elephant. I’d tell that younger self to be gentle with herself because quite honestly one day she will have all the time in the world. As much of it as she needs. And she will be so grateful that she has comforted the bodies of her children, read stories to them, gone to their rooms while they were sleeping to smell their hair, and this is all part of the rich complex tangle that is her life which she will one day write from. Something small sounds just perfect for now. (I remember seeing a quilt show in Ireland in the late 70s and there were grand quilts made of brocades, obviously planned in advance, appliqued with beautiful threads, and so forth. There were also really inspiring patchworks made one square at a time by someone who so obviously wanted to make something but who had little time (and pretty homely materials). And those squares added up and I think I loved those quilts even more for their durable beauty.)

    • Oh, this is surely the most lovely comment & most wonderful advice in the world. Thank you so, so much. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you for taking the time to say it (and always so beautifully too!).

  3. Pingback: The capacity to work feeds on itself | edge of evening

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *