Alice Munro and all those women who had to find the time

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Some time ago a friend sent me a link, just saying: “I thought about you while reading this. Have a look”. I have a certain aversion to links and seldom open them. Most of the times any email containing a link ends up straight in the trash. But this time it was real good. The article, published by The Guardian at the beginning of October, is a sort of anthropological study of famous writers’ daily habits. It took me a while to understand why my friend thought of me. After all, I don’ t indulge in alcohol and drugs (not as much as my creative side would like, anyway), don’t wake up at dawn, am unable to stick to a schedule and, most of all, I am not a famous writer.

Towards the end of the article I found the only lines I could relate to and felt something between elation and depression:

” Alice Munro.

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In the 1950s, as a young mother taking care of two small children, Munro wrote in the slivers of time between housekeeping and child-rearing. When neighbours dropped in, Munro didn’t feel comfortable telling them she was trying to work. She tried renting an office, but the garrulous landlord interrupted her and she hardly got any writing done. It ultimately took her almost two decades to put together the material for her first collection, Dance Of The Happy Shades”.

I have been writing since I learnt to and, to put it simply, there is not much I can do beside it. (cooking, maybe. But I only briefly toyed with the idea of making a living out of that). From the essays and literary competitions in school till the day I sat in front of a laptop as a professional journalist, I have felt that urge to put my thoughts and feelings into words, to observe, analyze and sometimes detangle lives, habits, dreams and weaknesses in my fellow human beings.

When I was on my own, I spent my whole day reading, writing, watching films and bad tv. It was great. Then life happened, and I wanted it to happen, don’t get me wrong. Those thoughts that once became words, letters, emails, essays now stay in my head for a couple of hours while I look at the chicken’s expiration date, pay the weekly grocery shopping and drive absent-mindedly, so that I always get lost and forget where I was going. They come while I talk to the children and suddenly I keep saying yes or no or I don’t know without listening to their question and they get upset and yell: “Mami, are you listening or whAt?”.

At some point, passed the early infancy stage, I thought I had it under control. I worked hard on a book I ended up hating for almost a year. And it worked. Then came November, and my first NaNoWriMo. I still remember the overwhelming joy on the morning of the 1st of November, 2012, sitting with a huge teapot in front of my unfinished novel. Unfinished, but still loved, every time I lay eyes on it. I walked on clouds for barely a week. Then pneumonia hit the house and goodbye literary aspirations. More or less at that same time, I started this blog. If I can’t keep focus for longer than a day, at least I’ll be writing something.

I wasn’t new to blogging: I’d had a couple in my 20s. One that covered the time between my engagement and my married life. It was fun but once at the end of the ride, I didn’t think it could live simply as an online, public journal of a too ordinary life. I tried out another one on being a new mom and lasted a couple of months. Truth is, I had some lyrical moments while busy with prams and milk bottles and my friends urged me to cheer up a larger audience but I realized almost immediately that it didn’t define me. It was, and it is, a part of me, probably the best. But I felt like I was talking of an arm, when I wanted to write about the whole thing.

I started this blog impulsively while high on powerful antibiotics and thought none would listen. Plus, I struggled between languages for a few days because I had never written actively in English (sauf emails and some crappy free-lance articles) yet I didn’t want to stick to my native language, which I don’t master  they way I used to. The first like happened in the middle of the night. When I found it in the morning, I laughed. it felt like when I was six, and got an obsession for putting letters into glass bottles and then leave them to the sea. Someone actually found that bottle this time.

I have blogged as much as I could this past year. And yet, it is not enough. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks in and out of the hospital with one of my children (he’s fine now, thanks) and as every time a small disaster hits home, I go back into brackets and wait, silently, for the storm to pass.

I maybe suck at running my household but I feel I am not alone. How many women, out there, put their dreams in a drawer to dive into real, happening-now, heartbreakingly bare life and at the same time keep opening an inch of that drawer some nights, when everybody’s sleeping, just to make sure those dreams are not gone?

I chose to raise my children in total freedom and every day I am more convinced I couldn’t have it any other way, given the circumstances of my everyday life and the joys of the job. (Yes, it is filled with joy. And a few migraines. But there’s strong stuff to cure that).

Still, I can’t but wonder: what was Alice Munro thinking during all these years, when she was filling lunch boxes in the mornings and getting up in the middle of the night to change a wet bed?

4 comments

  1. Had been thinking of e-mailing you to make sure you were ok but then it felt a bit intrusive. It’s not like I know you personally – the fallacy of online connections! But glad everything is fine.
    One does what one can, in all areas of life. And keep opening that drawer or, ten years down the line, you will resent not having done so. It all comes together in the end, provided the dream keeps being fed. (I think). By the way, have been living with the book you are referring to for a while and am thinking of writing about it.

  2. Lovely post with some really lovely lines. These two particularly resonated: “…every time a small disaster hits home, I go back into brackets and wait, silently, for the storm to pass.” and “opening an inch of that drawer some nights, when everybody’s sleeping, just to make sure those dreams are not gone?”

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