It is the work that I love.
Sitting down to compose a tweet, one morning, I hesitated for an instant, almost typing "children hungry, sink full of dirty dishes..." and thought to myself, no, no! and, through this work, redemption: "dishes to wash, blueberry pancakes to make." I saw the two versions of myself, she-who-slaves over hungry, dirty; she-who-saves, washing, making. In those two selves, the whole story.
An essay has come to my attention. It is an essay written by she-who-slaves, and it has wounded me somewhere I forgot was tender until just then, as if I had sprinted a few sets of hurdles out of the blue, pang sharp and twanging. "But the work. Oh, the work! Not spending money is an incredible amount of work," writes Madeline Holler. The work. The work that I love.
"I had considered -- sometimes seriously -- canning produce as a way to keep costs down... Just thinking about putting up a winter's worth of green beans and apricot jam, though, made me want to take a nap."
I do not mean to characterize Madeline as lazy, and myself as industrious, because of how our lives differ but it is nonetheless truth that I do not nap, nor, in the summer, do I long to. It is in the morning that I lie in bed in the time-before-waking, picking up cherries in my mind, one by one, slicing into their bloody hearts with my sharpest paring knife, plucking out pits and, with contentedness Madeline might find insanity, plinking them into jam pots. It is at night when the children are finally in bed that I yearn to wash the many pots of a successful day's canning, running my hand over the still-warm lids' rings, feeling the so-deep sigh of many pints rise in my shoulders and nestle in my belly. This may, for Madeline, be exhausting, mentally and emotionally, but even the ache in my feet-bones and the sweat-steam rising from the canning pot flow into my subconscious and open up my eyes, my heart, my pores.
"Even baking all of my own bread sounded dreadful. For me, kneading dough was the physical manifestation of pushing and pressing all of life's ambitions into one yeasty ball of carbs." This is what Madeline writes and I find it badly phrased and the sort of angry-mean that has no meaning. I read Sharon Astyk counter Holler's essay on ethical grounds, and I agree with her cerebral and sensible argument and I find the competence that I have discovered, uncovered, bit by bit within myself rise up and threaten to overwhelm me, choke me with pride. When Holler writes this I have a powerful urge to measure flour from the 50-pound bag in our servant stairs, mix with sourdough I caught myself out of the air, use the strength God gave me and the minute of quiet in my soul and knead, opening and closing my mouth to give release to all my musclature, yoga, meditation, prayer.
"It takes so much time," Holler writes, life "on the cheap," the life in which Pottery Barn coffee tables are not a obviousness. I find this life to take time, too, but I am the one who has shook off "time is money," hands flinging with the wet weight of it all. Time is not money, time is time, and in my time I will do things that I love for people I love, even if those people require everything of me, toilets and soiled underwear wrung and scrubbed, messes wiped and wiped again, dirty faces made sticky from the deep sweet of peach juice, tears and screams and sibling conflicts and pickles all fermenting through my siesta-space. I will pick up the toys one by one, I will peel these plums, these nectarines, I will get down on my hands and knees to scrub the not-modish floors. I will wear the shirt with a stain on it to a meeting with my editor; I will send regrets to cocktails when my eldest needs to wail, wrath against the world; I will eat bread with butter and apricot jam all winter and I will rejoice! This is the work that I love.