an open letter …
on columns and relationships
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.