I’ve often scoffed at advice that whiffs of self-help, but recently I’ve been finding myself reach out for turns of phrases that will help me battle with the balance between baby-toddler-husband-writing (not to mention money making and keeping the house at the very least hygienic). Hemingway’s ‘work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail’ is both annoying and true. And annoyingly true. It is true. You do have to write every day or you get Nowhere. You go in circles and never reach the end.
But I can’t imagine Hemmingway ever spent three hours entertaining, feeding, dressing, hauling into the garden, whipping off nappies, pulling twigs out of hair, chasing up stairs…and so on a 2 year old, only to send him out with his dad/granny/uncle for a break just as tiny baby refuses to sleep, has tummy ache, howls, grinds and wants to be held. And held in a specific upright position using the right hand making it impossible to type or write. Then eventually, just as the second baby goes down, maybe two hours later the door opens and in comes toddler shouting Mummmeeeee and there you are again: entertaining, feeding, dressing…
Life is a loop.
It’s glorious and full of sweet nectar moments (like baby today almost smiling for the first time, her eyes smiling and the twitch of her mouth, her eyes more and more conscious; like a bear hug from W ) but God: it’s also exhausting.
And TIME. Time! Time speeds up with children. Children gobble up time in a fury and I can truly see how you wake up one day and it’s 20 years later and you haven’t done all those things you intended to do. And so, there is panic. PANIC underlying everything. I’ve discovered that to keep the anxiety at bay, the sense of everything slipping, I have to do the following:
Have a to-do list (luckily I’ve found a brilliant to-do app for the phone wah ha ha) and stick to it. Prioritise the things on it, keep them realistic, and work through systematically in the odd moments of peace or stillness. The main consistent one is to work on the w.i.p for at least 20 mins a day.
In normal life, 20 mins is nothing, but in toddler/baby management life, 20 minutes is this golden, sublime stretch of time. And it works. Well, say, 3 days out of four I manage it, and I am chipping. Things are moving.
It helps that I’m editing rather than at the first creating/bashing out stage.
The other thing I do that keeps the baby blues/sleep deprivation insanity/too many nappies bonkersness/dissolution of self that comes with giving up most of your external signifiers (job, certain clothes, social life) away is put on make up and get dressed. Sometimes I don’t get the chance to do this till 2pm, but I do it, and it helps. To function.
Oh Lordy. Onwards with the editing! Am hacking at the smug bits a la Diana Athill:
“You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)”
When I’m picking the bits of spaghetti out of my hair, or filling up the dryer, I do repeat to myself in a soft voice, ‘To think, I used to fly to Cairo!’