“Just doing the work is the whole battle, we always say: making contact. Sit with the novel, be in it. Turn off the internet so you have nowhere else to go. Only rarely is it satisfying. Rarely is there a great chunk you can point to at the end of a day and say, here is what I did today! More often there’s the vague fear you’ve made no progress at all. Where did those hours go? Where is your work? What is this adding up to? You have paid someone else to be with your child while you did this bullshit? The thing continues and continues to feel like a wreck. But it’s your wreck. And you are working on it, even when it seems like bullshit, eating your time and appearing none the better. No effort is wasted, says the Bhagavad Gita on a post-it I stuck to the bottom of the giant computer monitor. But God, some days are a slog.”
I‘ve read Elisa Albert’s essay Where Do I Write? All Over The Damn Place three times since the weekend. Practically every other paragraph of my bath-crinkled print-out has scribbled lines at the side of it — yes! I keep thinking, yes! She circles around, takes you to unexpected places, and then says something that will make you laugh so hard you cry. Or maybe it will just make you cry in great snorting sobs. So, if you haven’t already, read it. She’s made me desperate to get my hands on her new novel ‘about early motherhood, the desperate combat-zone-like surreality of it’. It’s called After Birth and it’s out in February. (Via the also highly recommended Blue Milk)
One strand of Albert’s essay is about the loneliness of moving to a new place. It’s nearly four years since we moved here from London, but I remember that strange desperation for community, for friends who would laugh with you at your child’s appalling tantrum rather than looking on in tight-lipped shock. But loneliness isn’t just about moving geographically. I felt it when T was newborn & I didn’t know anyone else with a baby. I used to wander the streets in my sleep-deprived bubble while she slept. I’d walk along the river in the park, beneath electricity pylons that cut through it like they were striding off to better places. Often I’d go to the Starbucks on the retail park and watch the other mothers with young babies sitting in large NCT groups round a table, unable to work out how to approach them. ‘Look’, I wanted to say, thrusting my baby daughter in their faces, ‘I have one too! Be my friend.’
A few weeks ago, walking along another river to playgroup with the Pip-Pop, I had two realisations. I found myself worrying that there wouldn’t be anyone I knew there, that I would have to do that awkward ‘I’m just really into playing with my child’ thing, while sidling up to friendly looking types. So, first realisation, I’m just as scared and awkward about going into an unknown playgroup as I ever was. (Ha, unknown! This is the playgroup I ran the year before last! But two years ago, that’s like decades in the lifecycle of a playgroup.) And then — as I thought, you’ve done this before, you can do it again — the second realisation: I’ve spent the last seven years going to playgroups. Seven years without a break. I wasn’t sure what to make of that.
Of course, Albert is right, no effort is wasted, there were people I knew; new people to meet. There was a cup of tea with the distinctive mustiness of playgroup. All was fine. Just another day on the baby circuit. But, yes, some days are a slog.