an open let­ter …

on col­umns and re­la­tion­ships

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­

When we cross paths, you and I, mostly what you want to know is how I come up with some­thing to write every week. Ask any colum­nist what readers are most cu­ri­ous about and I’d wa­ger they will tell you the same thing. Faced with your favourite ques­tion, I al­ways find my­self full of doubt. Do I lie? Tell you the ideas flow, as un­stop­pable and im­pres­sive as an un­corked fire hy­drant? That when I sit down at my desk to write, I need merely reach up and pluck a few fully formed thoughts from the gravid gush, ef­fort­lessly weav­ing them to­gether in a co­gent nar­ra­tive. One week faux-meat! The next men­strual cy­cles! Or do I tell you the far less thrilling truth? That for a day or two post-fil­ing I rest easy, con­vinc­ing my­self bril­liance will strike. Then, as the week passes, I be­gin to scrawl — half­cocked con­cepts, eaves­dropped con­ver­sa­tions, pithy phrases, coded pon­der­ings — on the backs of bills, in the corner of sauce-stained servi­ettes, in the in­creas­ingly des­per­ate hope some­thing will come of all the non­sense.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, though, one col­umn’s themes roll into an­other’s, which rolls into an­other’s, spawn­ing one big, happy snow­ball. Two weeks ago I weighed up roles within a re­la­tion­ship, and de­cided con­tent­ment lies nei­ther in a 50-50 split, nor along tra­di­tional male/fe­male-lines, but in the valu­ing of each other’s strengths and ac­cept­ing of weak­nesses. And then, last week, I wrote of feel­ing as if life’s re­lent­less tasks were get­ting in the way of liv­ing. You know, said the real estate agent, whose ob­ser­va­tions about the un­usu­al­ness of me bid­ding rather than my hus­band at the auc­tion at which we bought our new house, prompted the first col­umn, and who is sell­ing our old house, a process which prompted the sec­ond col­umn, I don’t reckon it’s that who does what is be­com­ing less gen­dered, it’s just that women are now do­ing ev­ery­thing. But, she said, be­cause pay in­equity still ex­ists, greater worth is usu­ally placed on what a man brings to a re­la­tion­ship be­cause he earns more. She has a point. And it’s not merely a ques­tion of the glass ceil­ing ei­ther. I work just as long and just as hard as my hus­band, yet be­cause 80 per cent of my work is un­paid, the car­ing for our chil­dren and run­ning of our house­hold, I some­times feel guilty, as if my con­tri­bu­tion to our fam­ily is some­how less. So that even when I sit down at night, to sup­pos­edly put my feet up, I feel com­pelled to busy my hands, to fold wash­ing or sew on a miss­ing but­ton. I think there are lay­ers, though, nu­ances to this sce­nario, which mean it is not purely an is­sue of gen­der. The other day I read a sad tale in this news­pa­per of a man, re­cently wid­owed, bring­ing up his young fam­ily alone. He de­scribed life as hec­tic, but, he said, it hadn’t been as much as a shock for him as he imag­ined it would be for some­one else. For he had been taught, he said, that if you are sit­ting down while some­one else is work­ing, you get up and you pitch in. I had never thought of it like this, how­ever, I guess this is how I was brought up, too. My par­ents are busy peo­ple, ac­tive re­lax­ers, and I in­her­ited this trait. Re­cently I was at an event with a cou­ple of other moth­ers; we were all there to watch our daugh­ters, had all re­ceived the same email about how the day would pan out, yet I was the only one who knew where the girls needed to be, when. How do they achieve any­thing, I won­dered, with such a hap­haz­ard ap­proach to life? I might have con­cluded that it is be­cause they were safe in the knowl­edge that, like the sucker I patently am, they could count on me hav­ing both­ered to read that long and com­pli­cated email to its bor­ing end. Bit­ter­ness lies down that path, though, and I re­solved to ap­ply the same prin­ci­ple of valu­ing a strength and ac­cept­ing a weak­ness to my re­la­tion­ship with them as I try to do in my mar­riage. I would not re­sent their dis­or­gan­i­sa­tion, would in­stead ap­pre­ci­ate their spon­tane­ity, a qual­ity I sorely lack.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, one col­umn’s themes roll into an­other’s, which rolls into an­other’s, spawn­ing one big, happy snow­ball.

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