Steam Reassures Him
My husband is watching me iron,
Steam reassures hm. The hiss of starch
The probing slide around each button of his shirt
Speaks to him of Solway Street in Pittsburgh.
As for me, the wicker basket is a reproach.
There is last summer’s nightgown,
And several awkward round tablecloths
Which refuse to lie flat.
My house specializes in these challenges.
Bags of mail I did not ask to receive
Choke the floor of my linen closet.
A photograph of me, holding a baby on a beach.
But which beach and, for that matter, which baby?
A Japanese chest whose bottom drawer has irresponsibly locked itself,
And who can remember where I put the key?
That night, waiting for sleep, I whisper,
I did only trivial things today.
And he asks, Why aren’t you painting?
Elizabeth Pierson Friend 1933-2003 ("Japanese Box" was painted by her in 1982 and taken from her website)
A few years ago, after I read this poem, I immediately sent it to Oldest Friend, no doubt in an email titled something like: "Because I was ironing your shirts, Dumb Ass" Stupid husband, she was running household with all it's drivel and he is hounding her to paint. Why wasn't he doing something to help so she could paint! Like...um...I don't know...iron his own shirts, look for the key, read the mail? I just knew OF would completely get the angst of this poem because she had been there so many times with her husband(s). I will never forget her first husband asking her when she was getting a job because all she ever did was write and that wasn't really much of a contribution. Mind you, she cooked, cleaned and laundered while she was working on her thesis. What he missed was WRITING WAS HER JOB. Over the last few years I have lightened up on the husband in the poem and have sat the responsibilty squarely on the shoulders of the woman. It wasn't like he said: "Too bad about that painting, today, cuz you're one talented little lady, y'know. So did you get them shirts all ironed for me, or what?" Now I read his tone as sympathetic and he does recognize the importance of her art to her essential self and her wellbeing. That doesn't mean I think the inequality between artists who are spouses is a thing of the past. Frankly, I think silencing the wife in these marriages is due to a fragile male ego. OF has run against this ego time and time again with her husband who is a writer. One would think he would get it...But again, writing is not her "real" work. Who is to blame for this blindspot? As much as I would like to place a broad stroke of blame over the entire male population on the planet, I can't. Women need to take resonsibility for claiming their creative selves and the act of making art is tangible work. However, we simply reaffirm this creative process isn't real work when we turn the other cheek and scuff our toe in the dirt and say things like: "well I guess I don't have time to make that picture or write that sonnet because I need to sew a button on a jacket or make lunch." To be succinct about this: Ishould take responsibility for claiming the value of creating. I don't even have a man telling me ironing takes precidence over writing.
I do need to clarify that I am the only person in my life who gives me the message "your writing isn't valuable". I am fortunate to be fully supported in my endeavors and this support is not feighed hairpatting or half assed. Given this, it is now up to me to make my art real and declaring it an important focus in my life; not something which amuses me after the ironing is completed. Last night, when I reread this oem, I read it as an internal dialgue between my higher self and my lower self:
"Why aren't you [writing]?"
"I don't know. Perhaps I'm frightened. Perhaps I'm frightened what I have to say is uninteresting and people will read and then laugh in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps I'm afraid I'm wrong and I don't have anything of merit to say. Maybe it scares me that I will never write literature as meaningful and evocative as LaMott or Niffennegger."
"So you aren't writing because you are certain it won't transcend time and have great meaning for many? Great excuses. But the icing on them is this: you don't want to write unless it sings out like LaMott or Niffenneger? Because everyone knows Time Traveler's Wife was published in first draft form. Egomania much, June? Well I guess this takes care of the whole writing thing. If you don't write, you won't fail. You won't succeed either. It's a good thing great writers have never failed...sheesh just shut up and write."
I litter my life with so many things in lieu of sitting in front of the screen that giving the people I have conjured becomes secondary. Trivial pursuits are my excuses. I have filled the last four days with more or less trivial activites rather than fulfilling a self made promise to write a few hours each day I'm home. Not only are my actions avoidance behavior but they also reaffirm this whole writing hting isn't real. I mock myself when I ask: "Why aren't you writing."
Late summer is here and this is the time of year I kick start projects or reach big decisions. The transformation I'm seeking this August is creating the discipline of writing. It wasn't enough to say, "on my extra day off this summer, I will write." The days I have worked at my writing--over and above the blog--have been deeply satisfying, and to put it simply, fun. I need to own this feeling and recognize the special value writing has for my life. Hell, even if it's just a hobby that doesn't render it meaningless.
Leaving behind my excuses is problematic in some ways. If I leave them behind, someone will need to tackle the sack of mail, the mysteriously locked cabinet and the misshapen table cloth. I have a story to tell.