I was married 25 years ago, while in a Ph.D programme in Creative Writing at the State University of New York Binghamton. I had just earned a BA and an MA in English from Somerville College, Oxford, then an MA in Creative Writing from Ohio State University.
My husband probably hoped for a traditional marriage, though he never actually said so. You know–I would do the dishes, and laundry and shopping and cleaning and cooking, and he would have a career. In the early years, I urged him to try a role reversal; to let me have a try at a career and at supporting us (and to accept the consequent drop in our standard of living), but he would have none of it.
For the first decade or so of our marriage, I bitterly resented domesticity. My mother had a full-time cook, a full-time maid, an “ayah,” and a gardener (whereas my husband’s mother had done everything herself.) Had I gone through all this higher education to become a cook/maid, I’d sign? My husband insisted that a cleaner was a waste of money, saying that he could easily whisk through the house and clean it. Well, I’ll credit him with good intentions!
We feminist writers in graduate school used to tell each other, “The dishes can wait; the poem cannot wait.” And too often the dishes waited, for days and days, and the resultant domestic and marital stress affected the poetry too.
I found it impossible to keep up with housekeeping. The further behind we got, the harder it was to catch up. Which caused stress and chaos and unhappiness which affected my creativity far more than if I took the bit between my teeth, and simply did what had to be done.
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Finally, about 18 years into our marriage, Roy did what I had been urging him to from two years into our marriage—took early retirement, and tried to be a house-husband.
Well, well, well, turns out he was only a wee bit better as a house-husband than I was as a housewife!! He promptly got the cleaner and gardener I had so long desired!
But he does do enough housework so that we do not live in mess and chaos.
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And since, it now takes just an hour or two to get to the reasonably orderly tidy household we both crave, rather than an apparently infinite task, I, ironically, often spend an hour or two in housework and gardening.
And I have discovered a strange thing. The days I do not spend an hour or two around my house and garden, weeding, sorting laundry, tidying up, my spirit feels slightly out of sorts. My mind is active, as I read and write; my spirit, not so much. I feel a bit out of touch with God. A bit unaligned with him. A bit overwound. It’s as if I need the downtime of traditional “women’s work” to really pray.
It as if I needed the things I despised—folding laundry, putting things back in the right place, pulling weeds—to be able to think, to pray, to right myself with God, to position myself in God, to surrender my life to God again, to seek his wisdom.
Breathing place, sanity-savers, time for thinking, time ironically for creativity, time for repentance, time for surrender—gifts offered by the mundane tasks of folding clothes, tidying rooms, prettying a garden.
I wish I had embraced it from the start. I would, ironically, have been a more productive writer.
A house, living in a house, doing some of the work living in a house demands—this is the life God has given me, mountaintops and valleys, and as I embrace it, I find that, like saxifrage, tiny alpine plant that splits rocks, creativity blooms in the apparently unpromising nooks and crannies of duty!