The great late radical feminist theologian Mary Daley wrote in an introduction to her first book about the trouble she had just getting around to writing it. Everything else — cleaning the house, buying groceries, taking the dog to the vet — took precedence over this thing that she wanted to do more than anything else. Write a book. Daily life was constantly eclipsing her creative life, and eventually she determined that she would have to reverse that, and put her creative life in the foreground and everything else in the background. She came up with a mantra: “I have to turn my soul around.”
‘The Trouble with Writing’, Michelle Huneven
I always believe that the next week is going to be a ‘normal’ week. A week with nothing out of the ordinary about it. A week when the rhythm will be just so. When things will run pretty much as they did the week before. When I nail everything kid related with grace and precision, including the swimming lesson torture, and the ballet night sting-in-the-tail that ends our week.
(In the ‘normal’ week I would always be like Topsy and Tim’s mother on CBeebies. When Topsy and Tim are squabbling & drop a box of pink- and yellow-frosted cupcakes intended for their birthday party, she simply crouches down low at their eye level and says, ‘When something like this happens, you just need to take a deep breath and have some quiet time.’ I’ve watched a lot of Topsy and Tim this week. It took me a few episodes to remember that their mum is not real. And, alarmingly, it was her incredibly neat & ‘done’ looking hair that tipped me off, rather than her never-riled manner.)
The ‘normal’ week would also leave plenty of time for me — long lunchtime naps for the youngest on the days when his big brother is doing a full-day of school. I’d read with a coffee, sift my thoughts, maybe write here, maybe write something longer, work on something more.
This — you probably won’t be surprised to hear — was not the ‘normal’ week. This was the week of the earache — a day off school for one, nights spent screaming for another. And really I know that the ‘normal’ week is a fantasy. There is always something, from the delightful to the mundane. The next few weeks involve Harvest Festival celebrations (times two), doctor’s appointments, parents’ evenings, the final ‘baby’ check-up — and, obviously, these are just the things I know about. Those pesky unknowns that seem to come from nowhere are even more trouble.
When T was very small, in those relentless early weeks, we would each choose three things for the day. The three things that we most wanted to do for ourselves. One might be a phone call, or an e-mail. Another might be walking to a coffee shop. A bath or shower counted as one of the three. A day on which we each ‘achieved’ our three things was a success. Simple. It was a strange ritual, but as a tool for decision-making it really worked. No guilt over what was left undone. Clear priorities on limited resources.
It’s amazing how many times we have to learn the same lessons. So often now, no matter how much I’ve ‘achieved’, I think instead of all the things that I haven’t done. Printing off photos for T’s baby book (empty now for seven years). Reading the book I didn’t pick up, rather than the one I did. Sorting the laundry. Revising the poems I wrote over the summer. Cleaning out the cat litter. Calling my friend. The list, almost literally, endless.
So I loved this post by the writer Monica Byrne in which she shares her current six daily rituals. Byrne writes: ‘If I do four out of the six—two of which have to be (1) [morning pages] and (2) [1000 words of her new novel]—I count it a successful day. See? You thought I was cruel and exacting toward myself. Au contraire. I am fair and beneficent.’
Yes! This is how I want to be. Clear about what is enough. Focused on my own priorities. There may be limited time outside the wonders of life with little ones, but it’s entirely up to me how I spend it. I’m going to test out a few rituals over the coming weeks. Tips or tricks of your own? Let me know! Let the experimenting begin. (Oh, and my ‘something small‘ — fifteen minutes of writing a day, pen on paper — is still going. Nine months straight. That will be my non-negotiable.)
Michelle Huneven talks more about ‘turning your soul around’ in a talk on ‘The Writing Life’ at the start of the IOWA MOOC ‘How Writers Write Fiction’ which has just got going. Still plenty of time to join! The poetry MOOC over the summer was really inspirational.