/karen/

Half a wife

Wednesday, 04 April, 2012

Right. So since I entered the Sydney Writers Centre Best Australian Blogs Competition, I'd better blog (instead of being what Ben likes to call “an alternative blogger”—i.e. one who never blogs).

I'm two weeks into the new regime I outlined in my last post, and the sadness has dissipated somewhat as I've worked through my grief. So far, I think the new regime is working well. Certainly last week rather productive: I spent the Tuesday afternoon brainstorming my talk for Moore Women (by the way, I'm speaking at Moore Women on the 10 May, if you are interested in coming along. It's on the internet, children and parenting), as well as brainstorming and writing down all my ideas for Bridget James's Diary, and then on the Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, I worked on my graphic novel (among other things) and actually completed six pages of script. (I've been using Scrivener and Anthony Johnson's comics template.) The graphic novel has been slow going—mostly because I'm still at the beginning of it and everything has to be described and set up (I've only completed nine pages of script so far). So maybe it will pick up the more I work on it. I've never done this before (and so have no idea what is a “normal” pace of writing), and this whole way of working/writing is rather alien to me. Unlike the ebb and flow of words that spring from the brain, down my arms and through my fingers typing on the keyboard, writing comics is a little more stop start because you have to take the time to think visually and make decisions about how things will be laid out on the page, what sort of perspective and composition each panel will have, and (obviously) make decisions on things like the way each character looks (and why), the way they dress (and why), their environment, and so on. Of course, you have to do that in other forms of writing too (short stories, novels, etc.), but it seems to me that in writing for comics, you have to be way more specific because you're trying to communicate something that's in your head to someone else so that they can draw it. So it matters a bit more than allowing there to be a bit of ambiguity in the minds of your readers. I do like to leave room for the artist to bring their own interpretation of the character to the work, but in this case, there are certain details about the characters that have to be specific because they're relevant to the plot.

(Huh. I write here expecting you to know what my graphic novel is actually about. But I realised over the weekend when talking to George that even my closest friends do not necessarily know. So if you're interested, go back and read this post as it explains the gist of it.)

I feel like the weeks are starting to have a nice rhythm to them. Things are starting to feel more manageable already, so I think the regime is making a huge difference. On the days when the grandparents babysit, I do get less time for writing than on the days when Astrid goes into care (and a six-hour block really feels like I have enough time and space to unwind instead of feeling hurried during my other writing slots). (Astrid also seems to be adjusting well to childcare. I was a bit worried because there were days when she wouldn't sleep during naptime, but then she did a good two-hour stint last week, so perhaps the napping will improve.) But I am starting to learn to allocate specific tasks for specific writing slots. So at the moment, I have three projects more or less on the go:

The Moore Women talk is due in a little over a month, so I'm trying to do a bit on it every week in the lead-up. But closer to the time, I'll probably work on it more intensively. The graphic novel doesn't have a deadline, but I would like to have at least the first part scripted by mid-year. I doubt I'll get the whole thing scripted by the end of the year as I suspect it might be too long. But if I get two parts of it scripted by the end of the year, that would be great. (Parts 1 and 3 are the most developed; Part 2 is going to require some plotting work. Parts 4 and 5 I only have vague ideas about what happens in them.) So this week I've allocated part of one writing slot to the talk and two to the graphic novel.

The last slot, however, I've realised I need to use for rest because otherwise I find myself working all the time instead of taking the time to recharge. (See, I do not practise what I preach!) It's difficult for me to rest proper because I view all non-Astrid time as being leisure, to some extent. But writing spans that grey area between work and leisure; it gives back to me in the sense that it's rewarding to have written something/created something/achieved something, however it really is like work in that it can be toilsome and difficult and exasperating. I guess it recharges just as much as it drains. But for me to keep going as a parent and a writer, I need to recharge properly.

I tried to just allocate part of one of my six-hour blocks to rest, and to a certain extent, that works—especially when it's late afternoon and I feel like I've come to the end of my creative energies. But I think that at times I will probably have to take an extended period of rest instead of just an hour here or there because the recuperative benefits are greater with a large and continuous chunk of time. (I wonder if everyone finds that—that is, that a concentrated period of rest is more restorative than a bit here and there, even if the total is the same.)

One of the things I have been trying consciously to do more is read books. I read a lot online (mostly articles, blog posts and social media), but somewhere along the line I stopped reading books. I stopped reading fiction because I was worried that the lure of stories would be too irresistible and take me from my responsibilities and my sleep. (I can't remember the last fiction book I read.) Short stories I could probably handle, but I just haven't. (And I still have Bec's copy of Stories sitting on my bedside table from when I borrowed it just before Astrid was born [sorry!]) Non-fiction works well, however, because it's easier to put down, but it's interesting enough to keep me engaged.

Inspired by Rachel C's example, I joined Goodreads a couple of weeks ago and have been surprised at how useful and motivational I've found it. When you join, it asks you to rate books you have read or add books to certain “shelves” (your “read”, “to read” and “currently reading” shelves, plus you can create your own, e.g. “Favourite books” or “Best books about unicorns” or whatever). It then gives you recommendations about what else to read based on your ratings and preferences. I don't have much use for these as the number of books on my “To read” list now exceeds 100. But I like that I can reorder the books on that shelf so that I remember what I want to read next. And I also like that you can post updates on what page you're up to, along with comments on how you're finding the book. I can see that function being very useful for recording quotes and other notes in interacting with a book. (I haven't been doing that, but I've been posting tidbits on Twitter.) I know it's just a virtual tool, but I definitely feel a little sense of accomplishment when I finish a book and can then rate it and move it onto my “Read” shelf.

The last book I read was For Women Only: What you need to know about the inner lives of men by Shaunti Feldhahn. I bought it from Better World Books for some ridiculously low price that included shipping on the recommendation of Ali P and the reviews she linked to. It seeks to explain the inner workings of men to women, and although the author is Christian, there isn't much theology in it. (I would have liked that—just a paragraph or two affirming God's creation, and how he created men and women to be different, and how that difference is good, because often our society wants to erase that difference and make men and women all the same.) I liked that Feldhahn really did her research—both in conducting interviews with all sorts of men (Christian and non-Christian) and also conducting a nation-wide survey of thousands of men. (The survey is available on her site, but you have to become a member to access it. Membership is free though.) I also really liked the way she explained what goes in the minds of men in such a way that I could understand it. For example, I knew more or less that being respected is important to men, but I didn't understand how important it is and how that affects other things like work, money, the desire to be a provider, and so on. (It was interesting having all those thoughts in the back of my brain while watching The Company Men [which I saw while I was in the middle of the book] as I could see all those factors at work in the lives of the main characters and why it drove them to make the decisions they did.) Obviously not everything was relevant to Ben (because not all men are the same), but I felt like I understood men a lot better when I'd finished the book.

At the moment, I'm in the middle of Half a Wife: The working family's guide to getting a life back by Gaby Hinsliff, who used to work as the political editor for The Observer. Her journalistic mindset really shows: she does talk about her own situation and the circumstances that led her to quit her full-time job and work from home. But she looks beyond that to the broader picture of what's happening at a national (in the UK) and international level in the areas of home and the rise of the new domesticity, mothers and work, fathers and work (and it shocked me just how bad fathers have it in terms of the lack of flexibility employment, the lack of options available to them should they want to rejig their hours or scale back work to spend more time with family, the way they are perceived by their peers/superiors for wanting to do so, and so on), workplace culture, family friendly employer policies (or lack of them), the impact of working hours on people's marriages (along with the impact of long commutes on marriages), how economics affect parental choices, and so on. Hinsliff sums up the issues piercingly well; at several points, I saw myself reflected in what she was writing about. I also really like how she helps me to see the broader picture, or this one particular issue from different points of view. (After reading every chapter, I find my brain almost explodes with all sorts of thoughts related to what she's been talking about.) I'm about halfway through the book now—at the point where she starts talking about the whole “half a wife” thing (that is, that most families need someone to do what she terms “wife work”, which includes things like keeping the household running, doing admin, handling logistics and so on, while still needing to keep the balance between work and intensive parenting. She says what works for her is having three days of work (she does it freelance from home and her child goes into care on those days), plus four days (including the weekend) of being at home with her child. But interestingly she advocates a similar pattern of work/parenting for fathers as well as mothers. I think in the rest of the book she unpacks how that works in practice and how workplace culture and employers can change to accommodate it and ease the pressure on working parents. I'm looking forward to finding out more.

Gah! This blog post just hit 2,000 words. I seem to make up for regularity in quantity. Apologies to the competition judges!

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