On things done and left undone, and a free week of simple Lent devotions for your family.
Psst— read to the end for your link to a free week of Lent devos, and info on how to get the whole set. Thanks for subscribing!
In the list of things which I have done and left undone, the dishes are undone. I look at them every time I walk past (which is often, we live in a tiny house, and I’m distracting myself from writing). They chide me. I can watch milk in the cereal bowl slowly drying, the lines of tea in the mug solidifying, the chink and tinkle of new items being added as the minutes and hours tick by. I think about washing them. There is something satisfying about cleaning my house, silencing the doubts I can still string words together with vinegar and soap and clear, clean countertops. There’s also the fear someone may arrive, witness my overflowing sink and ask me what I’m doing, and I’ll be forced to say “writing” which doesn’t sound like anything real, especially when there is no money involved. The stainless steel sink, slowly splitting away from the wooden counter top is real. My children are real. Making the tenth peanut butter sandwich of the day is real. Stubbing my toes on toys that haven’t been tidied are real.
Writers are strange people. We say we want to write, and then we waft about, waiting for signs from heaven that we have permission, or that we’re pretty decent, or the things we’ve left undone are forgivable.
Madeline L’Engle spent her thirties chasing toddlers and collecting rejection slips, including many for A Wrinkle In Time.
“This seemed an obvious sign from heaven. I should stop trying to write. All during the decade of my thirties (the world’s fifties) I went through spasms of guilt because I spent so much time writing, because I wasn’t like a good New England housewife and mother. When I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the family cheered. I couldn’t make decent pie crust. I always managed to get something red in with the white laundry in the washing machine, so that everybody wore streaky pink underwear. And with all the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially.”
I am not in the 1950’s, and no New England Housewives are peering over my shoulder. They say it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. L’Engle asks for forgiveness from society and from her family, but I’m calling her on a fake apology. I feel vulnerable, and sometimes guilty for abandoning some corner of social expectations to create, but deep down I know I have agency. I’m choosing.
Madeline chose, too. She pretends it was a struggle, but we know there is no possible universe in which she was going to waste time making terrible cherry pies while there were books in her brain waiting to be written. She knew it, too.
That’s what writing mother’s do. It’s what they’ve done for centuries. Our foremothers chose writing. They chose it over income, over spare time, over clean kitchens, over sleep, overlooking “normal” to other New England housewives. They chose it when people told them their race or class disqualified them from having anything to say. In conditions much more demanding, strenuous and impossible than my own, they wrote.
There are real things that I will need to ask forgiveness for as a mother who writes: squishing my children into my own narratives, using people as objects and inspiration rather than real people, forgetting someone’s birthday. But dishes in the sink? Failed cherry pie?
For the things we have done and left undone in regards to the housework?
We have to write.
So, for those of you who don’t know, we live in a tiny house with our 2 kids (age 1.5 and 3.5 years old). My tiny house joy of this week is: GRASS. We moved our house to a new site in August 2020, and it was basically a mud-bath because the area had recently been leveled for new construction. While we’ve had an unnaturally rainy summer, I’m grateful for the fact it has made our grass grow. Y’all, your Instagram worthy tiny house white walls will not last with toddlers and a mud-bath outside. Just saying. Although, your children will have a lot of fun!
On the blog:
Here are some links to things I was writing about on my blog around this time in years past:
On the violence of non-violence (2017): “But I realized most of the time when I think of MLK and the nonviolent movement, I’m thinking about it backwards. The term nonviolent trips me up. It’s easy for me to think that all this social change happened without violence. That’s not true. The Civil Rights movement was a very violent time period. It’s just that rather than the violence being directed at the white oppressors, Civil Rights leaders taught their movement followers to voluntarily receive violence from white oppressors in the belief that unearned suffering has redemptive qualities– that it would awaken white consciousness and bring social change.”
Lent: Uprooting Racism (2016): “During Lent, we start off by admitting we are dust, and to dust we will return. And then we make space for the Spirit. By making space in our lives, by turning away from the trivial things we use to numb ourselves and our brokenness (like chocolate, or twitter, or novels) we’re forced to confront ourselves. We invite the Spirit in, to uproot and turn over, to help us see our sickness, so we can receive grace. And this lent, in South Africa, we’ve seen there’s a problem. There has always been problems, but right now the problems are showing their faces more fully. We can’t ignore them anymore. But the question is, will we invite the Spirit in, to do the work he wants to do, or will we block ourselves from receiving grace?”
A question for you:
Next time… do you want to hear more about Ida B. Wells? Writer and anti-lynching crusader who also had nursing babies? Or Louisa May Alcott’s writing nook? (Yeah, she wasn’t a mom, but she definitely hefted the “care” portion of their family life). Do you have any pressing questions about other writing mothers- present or in past? Reply and let me know!
OKAY PARENTS (or not parents, because honestly, these are for me more than my kids). Here they are- 24 super simple flash cards you can use with your kids for Lent. A picture of a not-white Jesus, and an excerpt from the book of Luke (mostly! Except week 1 which goes back to Genesis, because how you gonna explain those ashes without that?)
If you like them: you can purchase the whole set for $6.50 on my site. You’ll also get an e-version which has just one picture per page if you want to look at them on your phone or device instead of printing. (If you live in South Africa and want to EFT directly to purchase, just reply to this email and I’ll send you my banking details. Once I get pop, I’ll send you the link. South African’s pay R80).
Have a friend who’d like these flashcards? Share my newsletter with them so they can get their own!