First of all, it’s important to realise that the absence of formal prohibitions against committing art does not preclude the presence of powerful, informal ones. For example, poverty and lack of leisure are certainly powerful deterrents to art … It’s commonly supposed that poverty and lack of leisure did not hamper middle-class persons during the last century, but indeed they did – when those persons were middle-class women.
As for the leisure .. Emily Dickinson seems to have had it (although she participated in the family housekeeping and nursed her mother in the latter’s last illness), but according to biographer Gordon Haight the time of the famous Marian Evans (later to become George Eliot) was demanded, through her late twenties, for managing the household and caring for her dying father … Marie Curie’s biographer, her daughter Eve, describes her mother’s cleaning, shopping, cooking and child care, all unshared by Pierre Curie and all added to a full working day during Madame Curie’s domestic years, which were also the beginning’s of her scientific career.
Nor does the situation change much in the twentieth century. Sylvia Plath, rising at five in the morning to write, was – as far as her meagre work-time went – fortunate compared to Tillie Olsen, a working-class woman, who describes the triple load of family, writing, and full time outside job necessary for family survival.
Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing (University of Texas Press, 1983)
We haven’t really fully decided what’s going to happen post-baby. In our first broaching of the conversation, my husband asked me what I was thinking of doing and I told him my plan was to submit my PhD Candidacy application on time (due Sept 30), hopefully get candidacy, and then go on maternity leave. He nodded. And then I said I was planning on withdrawing from my degree for a year once the baby was born. To uh, you know, do the thing you do with newborns. And my beautiful husband stood there, and looked at me and said, “Really? Uh … are you sure … are you sure you will be happy doing that?” Frankly, he looked really skeptical that that was a good plan for me and I possibly kissed him.
*Obviously* I’m not taking time off Twelfth Planet Press! When I stated such, he nodded and seemed much relieved. (Seriously … how is it that I ended up with the perfect person for me, who actually understands me?)
But in all seriousness, I’m preparing for the next chapter in my life. I’m well aware that my life is about to change. And I’m also really aware that I can’t expect myself to perform the way (or in the timeframe) that I am used to. At TPP, one of our focusses is to support female writers. And a big part of that has been to be ensure that we understand that timeframes for writing for women with family commitments need to be flexible, longer and understanding. Life happens. And it’s really easy for writing to fall off the radar when more pressing matters have to be dealt with. And when you haven’t published for three or five or ten years because you’re raising or caring for your family, well, it’s really easy for everyone else to decide you don’t write anymore. We have a few projects in the background at the moment working on supporting writers who are just going to take longer than commercial timeframes demand, because that’s the way it is. And I’m really proud of them, even if I don’t get to talk about them yet.
But that’s also why I’m not as hard arse an editor as I should be about deadlines. I’m way too soft with writers about meeting their timelines, and I think that’s possibly a weakness of mine. On the other hand, we’re all grown up professionals. And writers who are serious about writing, will write. And the rest are not. I make back up plans and I work with what I have. But I certainly don’t think that creativity being stuffed into 1 hour of writing before the kids get up or the last 10 minutes of lunchtime is going to be improved by hardlining.
That said, that pushing creativity into the hour before the baby wakes up, or grabbing a spare 10 minutes where I can find it, is going to be me soon (again, I guess, since that’s how I ran TPP when I had that pesky day job). So in preparation, I have been carefully planning what the heck I’m gonna do. I’ve blocked out a good chunk of time assuming I will be completely nonproductive (it’s possible I haven’t given myself enough time – Oct to Feb/March at the moment, thoughts?) And I’m trying to get ahead of that big block of down time with some titles finished early so that we can still roll out our books on time. A few authors got advanced warning of my news – I’m pregnant, you have to write faster! – so that we could bring forward some deadlines, shuffle some others around. Everybody’s been really great about it and I’m completely overloaded at the moment with work. If it doesn’t get done, it’s on me.
I don’t know how it’s going to go. But what I do know is, if you really want something, you find a way to make it work. And for now, I’m clinging to my plan
Tags: phd, pregnancy, publishing