Remembering Jane Austen-Pens and Potatoes

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I am standing at the sink scrubbing potatoes. I am doing it more quickly than usual as I am still editing the final copy of an article, and there is a very high possibility that the distraction of the spots on the potatoes will surpass the importance of dots that come at the end of sentences.

As I scrub, I think of Jane Austen, as I so often do at these times, who wrote her novels “in between peeling potatoes.”

I have always loved this image, ever since I first encountered it in Jane Austen Class at University. And how I loved that class. The way it sat so unapologetically against the backdrop of inner city share house squalor, boots that I had managed to fix using a bicycle repair kit, and the taunting persistent possibility of its complete irrelevance.

The magic of Jane Austen class was illuminated further by the fact that I was in love with the boy who sat in front of me. There was no greater Mr Darcy than he. Indeed, he was proud, brilliant and scornful, and even wore a cape. I think I just dropped my pencil.

While Mr Cape was a heady distraction, I did manage to absorb a great deal of the actual course material, and later encountered Austen over and again, in various courses on women’s literature and the like. Her relevance took many forms, and now, years later, in the absence of Darcensical distraction, the currently relevant part, is the insurmountable interference of women’s work in the creative life of a woman (or domestically tethered man). Peeling Potatoes.

Now Austen was not of the serving class, so we can imagine she had more time than many to attend to her craft. She was also without children, or husband and this would indeed have freed up some creative energy. But is it so, that as it was then, so it is now, and to support one’s creative inclination in life, one must hope for the passing of a very distant relative with a great deal of money. Or marry well?

Happily not. We are many of us free as individuals now, to make our way, as best we can. And this is a wonderful thing. But with basic needs met, the fact remains, that attempting to create quality creative work amongst the cacophony of domestic duties, work commitments and so on, can leave one feeling slightly disembodied. Ok, maniacally frustrated?

Morning dawns, the cat crows at the window and doves alight the branches of the Amber tree. I am, as always, awake before every one, and I smile at the new day and tip toe across the floor. Outside, I sit in half lotus and drink coffee, like I’m not supposed to, and get ready to go running. In this moment I cast out the net and fish for half remembered dreams,  enlightened solutions to problems , and heart’s yearnings, and bring in the net to see what I’ve caught.

I could write a novel, right there and then. I could sit on the rose coloured decking boards hunched over a typewriter, until the light faded and the evening had no choice but to come. I could sleep, curled up on the cane couch, and in my dreams I could write again, and the next day, throw food in a pack and drive to the lake and write, and  stand in the kitchen stirring a pot with one hand and write,  I could get it all down if I just started now….

A dove takes flight, and a leaf falls to the ground in its wake. Moved on by the sound of footsteps that even I have only just heard now. A sleepy child pads towards me, peering out under bothered hair, casting my way, a vaguely accusatory look, as if I personally made morning come too soon. She climbs onto my lap, an elbow to the ribs, a knee under my chin, and the novel drains away.

Later, I go walking across barmy paddocks, greeting pretty cows with a smile and rousing ducks from their marshy reveries. If Darcy were here he’d be breaking a sweat. And I’ve barely written all week.

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