September 2, 2011

A Time to Ponder, then carry on.

Her nametag read 'Senior Accounts Manager'. She wore a soft, ruffled pink and cream floral blouse with a light cardigan, and her dark curls were pulled off her face but let fall on her shoulders. She came out to greet us in the bank's main hall, and with a soft, kind voice, invited us in to her office. Two of us had arrived on time, the third member of our party was running late. As we began to fill out the paperwork for our non-profit arts organization, the accounts manager helped us along, explaining her familiarity with non-profits by her own involvement on the board of a local women's transition house society. Part of the paperwork involved listing the occupations of all our board's directors. One of us is a full time artist and art instructor and one of us is a general manager for an arts festival. One of us is a tax accountant, another is an administrative assistant in a training facility for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We are a small board of directors and it was soon time to state my occupation. I said what has been my answer to this official question for the past twenty years: homemaker. As we waited for our third member to arrive, we chatted some more. It turned out the senior accounts manager is also a silversmith (she makes jewellery) and something of a painter.

I rarely meet such a kindred spirit in a bank setting, and it proves, once again, that people are often so much more than the label on their nametag. Late that night, as I tossed and turned, trying to get back to sleep after a spell of wakefulness, I pondered the whole classification of occupation, particularly mine of 'homemaker'. I know that many women are content with cleaning, organizing, sewing, baking and cooking, and gardening as their job description. If only I were, it would make life a whole lot easier. It is not that I don't enjoy making a home for my family, I honestly do. I consider myself lucky to be home for my kids when they come home from school, and usually have some fresh baking for them, just as my mother had for us. I know how important it is to provide a welcoming place for my hard working husband to 'land' after a day of problem solving, trouble shooting, and human resources issues at the hotel where he is a manager. It does my heart good to see him look up from his dinner plate with a weary smile and say to me, "This is really good." The thing is, homemaking is not quite enough for me; I am compelled, like many other women, including my mother before me, to reach out to the world beyond my little home sphere. So, while for official purposes I must write 'homemaker' on the dotted line, I, like the senior accounts manager at the bank, am occupied with much more than my title would suggest.

In addition to heading two volunteer-run organizations, I also have begun to sing with an acapella quartet of women - we have performed once already, and have begun to rehearse for an event in October. I also hold an on-call paid postion, work I welcome because money is sometimes tight. As if I weren't busy enough, there is also a sort of underground stream of consciousness running in my brain, which is constant and demands attention as well. This stream is my creative self. When I heed its demands and work with it, it does what a stream does, refreshes me and conquers this constant thirst I have to make sense of things by putting them into words. I am beginning to think I need to let that stream widen and flow with more assurance, but how? There is always so much else to do.

I have been reading the autobiography of a favourite writer, Rumer Godden. I have read several of her books, some of which I think brilliant in depicting the emotional landscape of sensitive souls. Godden was more than a writer, she was an artist in every sense of the word. Writing was her life's blood, not just a stream running through her other pursuits. Her life was often difficult, but she was propelled forward by the need to be true to her great gift as a writer. Sometimes she made decisions which required her to, in her own words, 'harden (her) heart.' A single mother (until she married the capable, solid and supportive James Haynes-Dixon) whose children often kept her sane, Godden placed her girls in boarding school when they were old enough so she could concentrate on her writing, although her children desired strongly to stay with her. She, of course, had to make a living as she received no child support, and this fact was also an impetus. Unskilled in the kitchen and lacking in household management skills, Godden hired help. She became highly successful and fulfilled, but she worked, and worked, and worked at her writing. As with other successful artists, the right people came into her life at the right time, and helped her carry on, often when she believed all hope was lost.

While not in Rumer Godden's class, I understand and appreciate much of what she says in her autobiography. It is clear she knew what she was meant to do on this earth, and did it to the exclusion of most other things - although for a time she supported her family as a dance teacher, and during the Second World War while she and her children were exiled in Kashmir, India, she and a friend earned money by growing and collecting herbs for tisanes and herbal remedies. While Godden genuinely loved children, enjoyed teaching, being a mother, and making herbal remedies for a time, she always knew in her core that writing was the piper she must follow. When her children were very young, she rose at 4:30 a.m. and wrote in the cold. Stories often just came to her, their characters growing almost of their own accord, and by the end of her long life, Godden had produced an impressive list of works, many of which can be found in the Classics section of quality book stores. Most wise people say, 'choose one thing to do, and do that one thing well.' I envy people who can operate that way. When I think of devoting myself entirely to writing, I know I would find it hard to figure out which of my other occupations to give up. They all seem important and worth doing, so for now, I do them all.

September is particularly taxing with grant applications to write, programs to start up, kids to help adjust to new teachers and courses in school, but I muddle along and somehow everything gets done. I live in hope that one day I will be struck by some defining idea of the one thing I should do, and do well, and I will know how to proceed. Until then, I suppose I will continue to marvel at those who have already been struck and been brave enough to act on that inspiration. Or perhaps I am just one of those people whose many occupations serve to make a whole person with a wider view of the world, much like the lovely senior accounts manager who surprised me and brightened my day. Time, and my evolving life, will tell.


  1. Though it sounds like good advice, there are very few people who can find one thing and do it well. To do that means they must do everything else poorly, or at least half-heartedly. Most of us must balance our lives, as you have done.

    As to the writing... Many people say they want to be a writer, but what they mean is that they want to have written. They want to be published. The writing itself is not what they desire. If they did, they would write. You write. Therefore you are a writer. Writers write. They don't just wish they were published. So, write on. Write more when you have more time. And, don't feel like a balanced life is less of a life.

  2. I would dearly love to know when exactly homemaker became synonymous with bon-bon eater. And I don't think you can hit the usual suspects for this either. We men don't have a hand in this one. Nopey, not at all.

  3. As much as the world needs those artists who have devoted themselves to their craft and then been able to produce a large body of work that can be enjoyed and admired by us all, the seemingly ordinary peeople who have to split their time and talents into many different compartments, often putting others before themselves, are just as needed and valuable. I think you have probably influenced more people, in a very direct and personal way, than someone like Rumer Godden ever did. Carry on! I think what you are achieving as a "homemaker" is commendable and worthwhile!

  4. Tracey: Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I suppose I spend every September this way, navel gazing and wondering about why I have taken on so many responsiblilities...before I get on with the job :) You are right about the writing, and that was the 'carry on' part of my title.

    Vince: I think the bon-bon thing came from the fact that homemakers sometimes need a few bon-bons in the afternoon so they can keep on going!

    Diane: Thank you for your sweet comment. I'm just feeling a bit overwhelmed these days...but all will be well by the end of September. That's why Thanksgiving is such a jubilant holiday around here!

  5. I've written all my life: letters, journals, comments on surveys, etc. I even wrote a manuscript. Still, I didn't call myself a writer. I'd say, "I like to write."

    Not until several months into blogging, would I say, "I'm a writer." I realized that one doesn't have to write like Steinbeck to deserve the title.

    I agree with all that Tracey said. Writers write. And I'll add: it doesn't have to be published, it can be done without a PhD, and no one has to like it. Most "passions" are a gift. I've learned to enjoy mine. If it parlays into something bigger - great; if not, I'll still write.

    I smiled as I read about your visit with the Accounts Manager. I totally related to your curiosity and finding a story there. :)

    And Godden's book - it made me think of one that I read years ago that had an impact on me. It's, "If You Want to Write," by Brenda Ueland.

    Yes, we are much more than wives and mothers. Do all you can, when you can. You're a good juggler!

  6. i think the thing i get out of finding your one thing and doing it well is play to your i think a strength may play into many jobs but similar role...i have bounced around jobs but always had similar roles...

  7. Anita: I do consider myself a writer with a small 'w' but I think I want to do more of it, that's all. Thanks for your thoughts, as always!

    Brian: Good point! I'll ponder it some more...;)

  8. Such words of wisdom Rebecca. Oh, I am struck by them...and so many do NOT have ANY idea WHAT it is they are to be doing or that they feel "expert" at anything. What I hope is that we find things that we can enjoy SOME aspect and still meet the needs of our families.

    Wonderful and thoughtful post.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!