Two White Socks
We three sing, “I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you. I’m the space invader…” David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream – my children know it from Guardians of the Galaxy – makes folding laundry fun! It helps the corners go square and the piles to stack effortlessly. Or, so I convince myself (and them) as I try and squeeze in a few chores before they head to school and I to work. When the song finishes we are nearly done, but the boys decide to wage a Pokémon battle instead. Down go the piles. More to fold and stacks of laundry ready to put away, there’s more, always more. As with all things laundry related my mother would say, “Leave it, it will still be there tomorrow.” She says this to me now but wouldn’t have as a child.
After School and Work
Two white socks, dirt-stained on the bottom, lay just short the hamper. My eight year old threw them in haste. His poor aim (he’s a baseball player) can only mean he’s tired and the hamper is simply an inconvenient bypass to something better. To my raised eyebrows, and as if to catch the rebuke coming out of my mouth, he replies indignantly, “Come on, Mom. I almost got them in there – isn’t that good enough!” He has a point, and I’m reminded of how, when I was a young, my parents said: “Don’t do things half-ass, be deliberate and follow through and make an effort.” At the time that phrase was lost on me, as it would be on him. I remember wondering how on Earth using only one butt cheek would work in any situation. Youth can be so literal, so I don’t bother.
I shift my focus to multitasking. I work my core as I am told I must do, as I bend to pick up, to transfer from wet to dry, and I think about my writing deadlines, the imperative to publish; I go back to thinking about dinner, and back to rescuing the dog’s intestines from the Legos decorating the floor. I ignore the dust forming abandoned cities in the corners. I take advantage of this writer-parent-pilates hybrid opportunity.
I’ve been skimming the articles and discussions on the Cultural ReProducers Facebook reading group. Because I live in the Southern Hemisphere, I haven’t contributed; my allotted time dissipates with each dawn. I’ve read about motherhood and creativity – finding any justification for not being able to be both adds emotional labor to my growing list of claims to debunk. My practice is writing and teaching, and I don’t find parenting at odds with either. Navigating academic life requires creativity, artist or not. Yet, publishing in “quality” journals, getting funding, being invited as a keynote, boosting your citations – these daily demands of academic life assault creativity. They aren’t actually oppositional in practice, but only in their interpretation of success.
Being an artist, academic, wife, and a mother has never been about trying to be a “great” at one of any of those, but the sense that it may be impossible to do any of them as well as is necessary. My parenthetical “great” reflects my sense that the qualifier is part of the problem – how can I recognize my work if it does not achieve greatness or success in the eyes of those who get to determine this quality? And I don’t trust most of those-who-can’t-be-named or known – those secret juries, the blind peer reviews. Avoiding (and achieving) these expectations requires more labor than the passion that drives me to write in the first place.
Success, like utopia, marks a shifting horizon with my daily efforts. The laundry piles as high as my list of things due; papers, articles, PhD reviews, birthday party planning, and the requisite guilt that I dare complain I don’t produce what I should. White middle class pressure for success, I loathe your tenacity. In her book, The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson writes brilliantly about motherhood, creativity, and teaching. Her incisive thoughts about privilege – that it saturates – resonates deeply with me. From this, paralysis and doubt.
Nothing feels complete or the best I could do, always half-assed. I’ve convinced myself I am just lazy. I know of countless colleagues, many mothers and fathers who create when their children go to bed. No doubt their struggles are similar. I’d rather unravel quietly in the glow of my iPad, the screen forming a soft portrait of my five year old snoring quietly next to me. It’s a feeling that can’t-be-named, only known, and marks my small but ineluctable gesture of resistance.
The Next Day
Another opportunity to be more disciplined and have better time management, I think. I congratulate myself for internalizing sexism and neoliberalism in one go.
One sock turned inside out made it inside the basket, the other nearly there. Luck or effort, it’s tough to know. Each grant rejection, every time a journal says no thank you, I remember the how the socks can land. I know sometimes getting them both inside wins the battle between me and the external forces that bind me to those notions of success. And I want my children to learn that effort matters, to do the best they can. Even if I could resolve the contradiction between what I experience creatively and how I parent, there’s always something else to do. So, in the scheme of things, I may have it all. But in the context of creativity, academia, and motherhood, my son might be right: it’s good enough.