The first is a gentle organization of what we know about this conundrum.The second is a way to frame it so that we can see ourselves in a broader lens, amid a long history of women, women writers and daily life. The problem of time’s scarcity is not a solo problem. This offering can’t claim to be an answer. It’s only a suggestion, a talk-back to the frustration of time that invokes an even bigger march of time, that is, history.
Number One, Then: What We Know.
What we experience, what we know well:
Frustration. A sense of scarcity. Not enough hours to write.
Hours that feel like battlegrounds. Littered with other people’s claims. The demands of paid jobs and unpaid home labors. Surrounded by a culture that assures us if we only organize ourselves better and root out enough minutes of clutter we’ll be just fine.
Scarcity is a tough clime to write from. Creativity wants spaciousness. The time conundrum is especially difficult for women writers with young children, especially hard when the writing, the voice we are searching for is not commercial, when it doesn’t come with a salary or with enough pay that provides, that reassures, that says to the woman writer “It’s okay to trade more hours for more childcare so your creative spirit can grow.”
When I had a decent book advance, I hired babysitters and could write. When for an earlier book I had a very low advance, writing the book waited until my then-only daughter started real school.
We know a great deal more. I am sure we will discuss it in the comments. Pooling this knowledge is a special gift to women writers who feel alone, stuck in those years, wanting several things at one. It also is a gift of friendship to women writers, older now, but still trying to figure out what was so unrequited about those years, what they were about, why everyone else now seems “ahead.”
Number Two: An Offering, Intervals of History
What I can offer is a reframing, a contextualizing of our frustrations with time, by starting with a single historical statement.
There have never been as many women writers as there are now.
It’s true. In the first century, maybe a few women wrote, and even fewer women’s words were preserved. Same for the third, sixth, ninth, twelfth and fifteenth centuries. For most of those women, in most of those centuries, daily life was a grind of taking care of children, taking care of elders, procuring food, preparing food, cleaning house and completing all the other tasks that made up daily domestic life.
For centuries, the labors of everyday life were a no-brainer. Women didn’t escape them to write. They were silenced by them. When women wrote, it was because they had managed to fully escape the burdens of other daily labors. The few women born to the even fewer wealthy families could skirt domestic work, and with vision, could seek a life of words. The early modern period saw more women with pens. The nineteenth century became the first golden age for women’s writing.
Skip ahead a century, slow down as the decades approach our own. There you find all of us. Standing on the shoulders of giants. Wondering what to do with our own shoulders, what to do with the shoulders of the little people in our lives, the ones whose presence brings with it the ambivalence of time.
What’s new, and what is ours, is the way we write, mindfully, from within our lives as women, and often, from within our lives as women with families, women with daily cares.
So yes, more women now than ever write, in actual numbers and percentage-wise: who are literate, who are well educated, who write and who publish. Women who feel entitled to have a voice. Women who struggle with whether they are entitled to speak, to dream, to write. Women who wonder, still, whether their voice matters, yet still push hard to hold on to their passion, their purpose amid the scarring conundrum of time and the economics of creativity.
I offer this telescoped view of history because it is very nearly the only thing that energizes me through this, aside from more childcare, and children advancing to school age, and the every-so-often solution of being paid decently for my writing. Connecting to the longue durée of women writers counteracts that pervasive sense that somehow, we might be, if not failing, then at least, flailing, that sense that so many women writers with children describe.
We have more than we had, and less than we need.
The frustration with time, we know, is code for a frustration with culture, its values, its pace, its timelines and its preference for the unencumbered artist, the writer with no other cares in the world.
It is code for the frustrations we have with the big structures of sexism, the ones we aren’t supposed to mention in polite company, the ones that polite company insists are invisible if not inoperative, and which impolite company does not particularly see as a problem. Nowhere is left, it seems, for such a discussion to take place.
It is code, and it is also mystification. The time conundrum poses as something that could be solved by a well-organized individual, which is not possible, because it is a structural problem, and those sorts of things are never solved alone.
The daring writer’s contribution to time’s scarcity is not to let the truth of this conundrum remain invisible, to not succomb to thinking of it as an individual matter. To articulate what it means to be a woman who writes from amid all this, who knows what is happening, and who somehow, still, finds ways to give written voice to her passions.
The thing is to think big, to unearth that ineffable quality of being big and dreamy and daring, even when the whole thing is wearing us down.
She-Writers, I know others need to hear your story about writing and time. Let’s go at it. What works, what doesn’t, what have you learned?