Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wives Who Write

The Millions has an interesting essay by Anne K. Yoder, "The Woman Writes as if the Devil Was in Her," which explores the difficulties women writers face when in relationships.  While it is ostensibly about "maintaining the distance and time to write within a romantic relationship," what really struck me was the difference between men and women who are married and try to write.  The problem is not the relationship with another person--the problem is the time commitment involved in a marriage and household management, which falls most often on the shoulders of wives.

Mary Gaitskill, novelist and short story writer, summed this up beautifully in an interview with The Believer:
One thing I’m very envious of men for is when they get married—this is less true than it was, but I still think it’s true—their wife is going to help them. Look at Nabokov. He was a brilliant writer. He would have been a brilliant writer no matter what. But do you know how much his wife did for him? She did the shopping. They would drive to the store together—she would drive. She did all the dealings with the landlord, she shoveled the walk. She typed his manuscripts, she edited them. I don’t think most women would go that far, but women are far more willing to do the support work, which is really, really helpful. Virginia Woolf—I’m sure she would have been a great writer, regardless, but she had a lot of help, too. Leonard was a wife. That’s invaluable. Women do not have that very often.

Also, the fact that women are expected to have children and most of them want to have children. That is a lot of work. Men can have children and enjoy that and have the pride and love but they’re not expected to do most of the child-care and they don’t. Even if they want to, most children, when they’re young, the connection is with the mother more than the father.
I would kill to have a wife, as Gaitskill defines the term, because I have recently decided there is no way I can maintain my current lifestyle and write a novel.  There's just no way.  If I didn't clean my apartment, if I didn't cook my own food, if I didn't do my own laundry and ironing, if I didn't go to the gym, if I didn't talk to my mom every day, if I didn't go out with friends in the evenings, if I didn't go up to the mountains on weekends... maybe I could write a novel.  Maybe.  And if I had a husband to pick up after?  Good God, I wouldn't even have time to shower, let alone sit around and think about things.  (See "Why Dorothy Wordsworth is Not As Famous As Her Brother," by Lynn Peters, below.)

Anyway, my hat's off to all mothers and wives, and my hat's off twice as fast to mothers and wives who write. 

Why Dorothy Wordsworth is Not as Famous as her Brother, by Lynn Peters

"I wandered lonely as a...
They're in the top drawer, William,
Under your socks -
I wandered lonely as a -
No not that drawer, the top one.
I wandered by myself -
Well wear the ones you can find.
No, don't get overwrought my dear, I'm coming.

"I wandered lonely as a -
Lonely as a cloud when -
Soft-boiled egg, yes my dear,
As usual, three minutes -
As a cloud which floats -
Look, I said I'll cook it,
Just hold on will you -
All right, I'm coming.

"One day I was out for a walk
When I saw this flock -
It can't be too hard, it had three minutes.
Well put some butter in it. -
This host of golden daffodils
As I was out for a stroll one -
"Oh you fancy a stroll, do you?
Yes all right, William, I'm coming.
It's on the peg. Under your hat.
I'll bring my pad, shall I, in case
You want to jot something down?"

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