Room in my head, quiet in my heart

It’s half past four in the morning and I creep quietly downstairs. The lights that illuminate the kitchen and the dining room make it feel much more like daytime than the actual mindless time that it really is. Still as the rest of my family slumbers, i manage to tap into that quiet, silent space within myself that allows the words to finally pour forth.

‘Muuumm! Where’s my striped shirt for school?’

It’s difficult to explain the need to for solitude and silence, not just externally, but in that internal almost meditative space in which I manage to reach for only occasionally between thoughts of food preparations, school drop-offs, work demands and the constant grind of planning ahead.

‘Dear, what are we having for dinner?’

Our household is by nature a quiet one really. There’s no loud music, no fan of heavy metal nor rock bands. My only child seems to live with headphones permanently embedded and my husband has learnt to turn the tv down to an acceptably low volume. And yet, there’s a rumble and a noise in my head that seems to take up space whenever either of them are around physically.

So it remains for me to drag myself out of bed, usually at half past four in the morning to perch on a bar stool at the dinner counter and try to ‘get some words’ in.

‘Mum, can you help me with my English essay?’

When I learnt of Maya Angelou holing up in a hotel room for days on end to just write, I thought to myself, ‘That’s the perfect escape’; except what is the value of ‘me’ to me? To choose to ‘hole up’ away from family to do something that would benefit only me, seems like a selfish endeavour which women since time immemorial have constantly and consistently fought against the definition of – selfishness.

And so it continues, that tug of war between responsibilities, chores and self-inflicted expectations versus selfish desires of stillness, silence and solitude. For now, I continue to strive, hoping to replicate Toni Morrison’s early morning risings as a single mother carving out, not just time, but silence, stillness and quiet head space to write. I don’t often succeed but when I do, it always feels like cause for celebration. How funny it is to think of ’time for oneself’ as something to celebrate?

I learnt a little more about life’s ‘interruptions’ as Joyce Carol Oates names them in her Masterclass. It was a beautiful extrapolation of exactly why men do not suffer in the same way – they have wives! As she described how Fitzgerald wrote with his chain-smoking cigarettes, sitting at the sidewalk cafe in Paris, watching the world go by… writing, writing, writing. All because his wife was home with the screaming baby – he never needed to worry.

‘Mum, I finish at 4:30 today… will you come and fetch me?’

And so where does that leave us modern women, juggling the desire to be at once productive with our output, yet carefully balancing the demands of family-life in ways to ensure that no one gets left or forgotten? Oates recommends as many other successful women authors have done, leaving the home, to write elsewhere where there aren’t any interruptions.

Yet I realise, the interruptions in my head are not physical and I wonder if in leaving my home environment, I would just take them with me, wouldn’t I? So many who have gone on writer’s retreats and chosen to book themselves in to hotel rooms agree and insist that somehow the flood gates open and writing comes.

For now, my solution has been to work on shorter pieces, bits of poetry that somehow pour themselves out of my fingers on to the screen in front of me. Inspiration strikes at odd times and in order to capture those fleeting moments, the Notes app on my phone is filled to 519 notes – not all poetry of course, a mix – recipes, notes to self, book ideas…

But for now…

‘I’m ironing it now’

‘Chicken pie’ 

‘Yes, consider how Wharton wrote her own story in to The Age of Innocence’

‘Yes, I’ll wait for you in the Drama Carpark’

30 Nov 2022