Wednesday, February 24

My To-Do List

Lately I've had Ogden Nash on my mind, specifically his poem "Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man," which hit me like a kick to the gut the first time I heard it, probably on WNYC. In the poem, Nash compares the sins of omission with the sins of commission and concludes that if you are going to sin, at least to "remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing." After all, "you never get any fun / Out of things you haven't done ..."

Indeed not. Alas, mine are the sins of omission, of procrastination, of the 4-page-long to-do list that includes things I have failed to do (or to let go of) for weeks, months, even a year or longer. Mine are the sins of the still-unwritten thank-you notes, the stacks of paper on my desk, the neatly folded shower curtain on top of my bureau (why?), the old computer equipment in a closet (including a Mac PowerBook Duo and its dock; again, why?), the boxes of clothing and gently used items for the Salvation Army piled in a corner of the bedroom, the other boxes of who-knows-what in the living room, the fans gathering dust in another corner of the living room ...

The situation has improved much since the Critter was born, at which time the nursery was still more or less a storage room for miscellaneous items and the surface of my desk was not to be found. And yet I still find myself thinking and thinking and thinking about what remains to be done. It's shitbird thinking, and it's tricky to withstand. On the one hand, I have to take care of these things. On the other hand, I must not treat the necessity of taking care of these things as an obstacle in itself. For example, while I have to get my desk clean (and then keep it clean), in the meantime I have to keep writing anyway. I must not tell myself, desk too cluttered, can't write. I must not sit there thinking and thinking and thinking about the cluttered desk during the time I should be writing. Thinking about the desk doesn't get it clean, and it doesn't get any poems written!

Monday, February 15


A long time ago, I promised a post on commitment mechanisms. At the time, I was reading Kidding Ourselves, by Rhona Mahony, who applies economics and game theory in an attempt to give women the tools to negotiate for a better deal in their marriages. For six months, I did not write the promised post. I was too busy, and I was too angry.

Why so angry? As it happens, the anger and resentment that I tend to foster against my husband (try try try though I do to let it go) has to do with the two commitment mechanisms that function with the greatest force in our family life: his studio and my working at home. A commitment mechanism, writes Mahony, "is anything that makes it very expensive for you not to do something that you want to do.... That is, it traps you into doing what you want to do." So, we're trapped: he into making art (otherwise we're paying the rent for his studio for no reason) and I into being the primary Critter caregiver.

I want Beckett to make his art. (For one thing, I have no interest in being married to an embittered ex-artist.) But his art-making commits him to hours elsewhere, in addition to the hours he spends at his job, and I want him here. Meanwhile, to what am I committed? Hours on my own with the Critter, during which I marshal us through a routine of diaper changes, meals that end up on the floor, bundling him up for the necessary daily trip outdoors, settling him down for the necessary naps, nursing and then nursing and then nursing ... and then doing most of my work at night, while the Critter sleeps, beginning with a few minutes to work on my own writing before I turn to the job, which usually keeps me up well past the time I should have gone to sleep.

Of course, this way of looking at my life is only one way of looking at my life. Yesterday, while Beckett was away at the studio, I stayed at home and passed most of the day on our bed, cuddling with a lethargic, moderately feverish Critter. I read, he slept, we listened to music, and eventually the honeyed sunlight faded from the bedroom. It is a day I will remember for the rest of my life.

Monday, February 8

How Do You Do It?

Or, Life as a Work-at-Home Mom

I work while the Critter naps and at night, after he has gone to bed, sometimes until 1:00 or 2:00 or even (two or three times) 3:00 in the morning. By then, the Critter usually has joined Beckett in bed, and so my favorite time of the day is at the end of it, when I creep quietly as I can into the bedroom, lie down, and cuddle in the darkness with my two boys. More weekends than not, I work as much as I do during the rest of the week, though I try to keep at least Saturday evening free for a Netflix video with Beckett on the couch. Between naps and before dinner is the time for grocery shopping, getting and returning library books, Music Together, playdates, and trips to the tot lot, park, or Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I make dinner, keep track of our budget and spending, and try to manage the tides of clutter that wash through the apartment. Beckett washes the dishes, takes out the garbage and recycling, keeps the bathroom and litter box clean, and (usually) does the laundry. I vacuum when I can. Piles of paperwork, bills, and who knows what else drift from my desk to the top of my bureau to the dining table and back again. My to-do list is four pages long.

The sitter comes for a few hours on Tuesdays, and now we have two full days each week at the day care center for the Critter. Friday was his first full day there. I went to the office (my client's) and called the day care center at 2:30, just after nap time. "He's eating well, slept a little, crying some," I was told. I almost cried myself. Why was I at the office? Why was he elsewhere?

Wednesday, February 3

The Artist in the Office

Yesterday, a conversation with writer and artist Summer Pierre on the Brian Lehrer show. Her book is The Artist in the Office. Of particular interest was her insight that the office job is not necessarily a soul-sucking affair; it can actually be a source of material.

As for me, I create my art at the office, which is in the bedroom and next to the nursery. I'm working hard at Rule #1. In a photo taken yesterday, the ugly truth.

Today, a little better.

The Critter at the office.