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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International Women’s Day

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My daughter throws her bag in the car and hides her face under her hat. I can hear her crying and its not like her. I give her some space. Then.

“Are you ok?”

“It’s just…”

“It’s just  so …..”

“It’s just so unfair.”

It’s hard to get the words out sometimes, when you’re nine, and you don’t have “relentless gender inequality” or ” blazing masculine ego” in your vocabulary.

“What happened?”

She is red in the face but it’s not from shame.

“I can run faster than all of them. But the boys are so …. they  say I can’t run as fast as them, when I can.”

“I know you can.”

“Then why do they laugh at me. Why do they call me stupid?”

“Because that’s what boys do.”

I sigh and remember the day I cut off all my hair. The same age. Addicted to Overalls.

I am momentarily amused to find that this incident co-incides perfectly with my plans. To speak to my daughters about the whole thing. International Women’s Day. The path ahead. The fact that this year, on  Women’s Day I have been reminded all day in the media about the importance of taking into account how men feel…about Women’s Day…so as not leave to them out.

But my usual righteous tenacity has lost its shine and I am weary.

Instead, I calmly explain what this dynamic is all about. To my relief my daughters seem already to know what I mean. My 7 year old chimes in with a few cheery suggestions for a special Women’s Dinner tonight. The comforter. The mediator.  7 going on 25.

As evening falls I regard the day with an unexpected sadness. Because there is so much
still to be done. Because I’ve barely heard the word Feminism since I wrote my thesis. On Angela Carter. In 2002. Because a woman dies from domestic violence every week, in Australia. Because I have two growing girls and I am tired. But tired will pass.

To all the courageous women who have gone before, I can still see your footprints and I will not let them fade. I am always, as I must be, close behind.

 

Anna O’Faolan is a freelance writer, poet, editor and children’s author.