Apr 25, 2009

When Writing Feels Like Dirty Diapers and Dishes

By Christine Thackeray

Last week I took my two sons out to college. When I got home, I found out that our six month old puppy who was potty trained when I left is not potty trained anymore. The children had failed to let her out, and as a result she had found a seldom entered room to frequent. We were back to square one. Two days later I finally got to the bottom of my laundry pile and faced the overflowing kitty litter box in the corner. As I began scooping away, I lamented my second unpleasant encounter with great quantities of feces and felt much like I had as a young mother with three young toddlers who was constantly drowning in dirty diapers.

All those years ago, I remember one specific day standing in front of a full kitchen sink that had morphed from being full of soapy water that morning nto more of a soupy stew made from soggy cereal, saturated crusts of toast and sliced hot dogs floating among the half submerged bowls and plates by the time when I finally faced it in the afternoon. I complained as I scrubbed the crusty cake pan that my life was nothing more than dirty diapers and dishes. I felt so oppressed by the weight of my responsibilities that I wasn't enjoying them. As I recall, when I finished in the kitchen I went to the park across the street with my kids and watched my children laugh in the bright Texas sunshine. A friend wandered by and we talked in comfortable camaraderie. It didn't take long before I had opened my eyes to all the glory of my situation. The small cost of maintenance for the great blessings around me were worth it, I just needed to revel in the joy of my gifts more often.

Lately, with my writing I've become a little soured. I've been editing two projects and doing some major rewrites. I'm past the fun creative part and am mired in the technical dirty dishes of it all and want to scream and run away. Now Freud might think this a good thing. After all he said, "Imaginative activity originates from dissatisfaction." But when what is supposed to be your imaginative activity is dissatisfaction- what then?

The answer is the same as with my children. I need to write something fun and light- like this post or a cool writing exercise from "Writing Down the Bones." The author suggests in one chapter to remember why you write and write it down. She put down some of her reasons:
1. Because I'm a jerk
2. So my mother will like me or my father will hate me
3. Because no one listens when I speak
4. Because I have something to share

Natalie Goldberg says the answers may change but if you are a real writer, it is your gift and it's not going away. It's part of you. So I can whine all I want about the dirty dishes i.e. editing, rewriting and editing some more, or I can get through the necessary stuff and relish the beauty of being able to put fresh thoughts on paper- of being able to take all the mushed up crazy thoughts in my head and find a voice for them. As Natalie Goldberg put it "[Writing] is an opportunity to take the emotions we have felt many times and give them light, color and a story. We can transform anger into steaming red tulips and sorrow into an old alley full of squirrels in the half light of November."

Wait. Isn't that basically the same thing Freud said? Anger, sorrow? Hey, maybe it is the dirty diapers and dishes that make me want to write in the first place. Hmm.


  1. Love this!
    I recently experienced something similar..and you described it so well! A friend suggested we trade some of our "services"...and at first I thought "yeah!" But I soon discovered it was fun to create for others as a service...and when it became an obligation...the fun disappeared. I am going to print out your comments and put it above my writing desk! thanks, Christine!

  2. I love this post Christine, and needed it. I often let myself feel alone with the dirty diapers and dishes, the figurative & the literal ones, and it's good to be reminded that we're all dealing with them. And I think you're right that the anger, sorrow, drudgery, etc. act as springboards for creation.

  3. Clever! Good to see you at the LDStorymakers Conference!

  4. There is always that hard part to plow through. And often I feel I plow through it...just to get through it.

  5. I think I know what you mean. Not only do I have an infant in diapers and a potty-training 3 yr old, but I'm in the process of editing/rewriting two manuscripts. Ugh...

    - Chas


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