I'm mildly obsessed with artists, especially writers, who are also mothers (the Husband would probably say it's more than a mild obsession). I admire the fact that they're able to combine both roles in their lives. For example, as I write this, I'm aware that I should be going to the grocery store to pick up a couple of essential items, and that I should be putting the ingredients for dinner into the slow cooker so that when I get home tonight at 7:00 after taking Number 2 child and Number 3 child to gymnastics, there will be something ready to feed everyone with. I'm also aware that I need to plan and purchase the supplies needed for the art project I rashly agreed to organize for our Daisy Scout Troop to do at their meeting on Friday. The car needs a service and .........well..... I could go on and on and on because my to do list, like most peoples is endless. The point I'm trying to make, is that despite having grand dreams, I struggle to fit in a blog post here and there and yet a woman like Shirley Jackson managed to write lots of great books (about 9 before she died aged 48) and bring up a family. In fact, she had four children to my three.
Shirley Jackson was an incredibly talented writer. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of the best books I've ever read. It's a creepy, macabre, claustrophobic tale that you just can't put down. The narrator is a preternatural young woman named Mary Catherine Blackwood, Merricat for short. The reader can tell there is something very wrong with her and yet, she is captivating. The book begins like this:
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richared Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the deathcup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
Wow! Powerful stuff eh? The thing I find most fascinating, is that she appears to have been a pretty normal mother. Her two works of non-fiction, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, detail her home life with her family and they are quite hilarious. How did these two opposing sides, coexist in one woman? How did she find time to write so well? Her fictional worlds are so incredibly detailed, you feel as though you are in them. Surely to write like that, her own mind must have occupied these spaces for large portions of her day. How then did she switch off and become a mum again when her kids returned from school each day?
As a mother, she of course had her own to do lists. This is a quote from Life Among the Savages:
I believe that all women, but especially housewives tend to think in lists; I have always believed, against all opposition, that women think in logical sequence, but it was not until I came to empty the pockets of my light summer coat that year that I realized how thoroughly the housekeeping mind falls into the list pattern, how basically the idea of a series of items, following one another docilely, forms the only reasonable approach to life if you have to live it with a home and a husband and children, none of whom would dream of following one another docilely. What started me thinking about it was the little slips of paper I found in the pockets of my light summer coat, one beginning "cereal, shoes to shop, bread, cheese, peanut butter, evening paper, doz doughnuts, CALL PICTURE."
While I was writing this earlier, I couldn't quite concentrate because I kept thinking about dinner tonight and how it wasn't in the slow cooker and therefore it wasn't cooking. After writing the first paragraph, I got up, optimistically threw some leeks, potato and stock together and closed the lid of the crock pot, crossing my fingers that when I open it up in about six hours from now, it will have miraculously turned into leek and potato soup. When I finished doing that, I looked at the clock and realized that if I didn't get a move on, I wouldn't have time run to the grocery store to get the essential items before the kids get home from school. In other words, I barely managed to put together this blog post in between my to do list. How then, did a woman like Shirley Jackson manage to put together entire, mysterious and captivating worlds in her novels in between picking up cereal and the evening paper?