It was Virginia Woolf who said that women need a room of their own. She also said that women need to make money of their own. Well, at the moment I don’t have a room and I’m hitting my savings as hard as I can. The office in the house is mostly confiscated by my telephoning, emailing and skyping husband T. and as I’m taking way too much time to figure out a new project, no money is coming in. So that’s two mayor point down for me, which are making me feel quite useless from time to time. I am used to making movies, that means you’re working together with other people, giving shape to your ideas. Now I am working alone on nothing in particular for the first time and I feel stuck. I don’t have people around me to talk about my work. Everybody here is not interested in my work. Nobody ever asks me anything. Here they talk about the weather, a lot about food and a lot about plants. And then about other people, what they are doing, and the most important thing; if they are good people. Being nice is the most important thing in France’s rural life. Just so you know.
Having no room of my own means that I do most my reading and writing at the kitchen table with the dog sleeping next to me. I can work as long as the children are away to school/creche or sleeping. That sounds like a pretty unpractical situation, and it is. I’m also interrupted by neighbours coming in, by the telephone, by staring at the floor and seeing it needs a desperate clean, by the dog who wants his walk, by T. who comes storming down the stairs whistling and asking if I want coffee, if my internet is also slow, if he can use my phone or what we’re having for dinner. Because the surprise is that I cook while I’m working. I take mini breaks to cut vegetables, which gives me a break from not knowing what I want to write about. So we eat three meals a day here, family together, sitting at the table. Porridge for breakfast, pasta/rice/curry for lunch and salad/soup for supper. I don’t think we’ve ever been this healthy and I don’t ever think I had such a nice work space. And I don’t think I ever got so little work done.
In Amsterdam after breakfast one of us would take our eldest to school, while the other one would take the dog out and wait for our nanny with the youngest. Then we would all just have a day of our own, and in the evening we would meet one another again over the dinner the nanny cooked for us. The children often exhausted and one of us working late. I did have a lot more time to get my work done and I filled up every other minute with chores, phone calls and appointments. And at the end of the day I would feel so polluted and guilty because I had no more energy or patience left for my children, let alone for my husband who wanted to talk about his day or for the big pile of laundry that still needed folding.
Some days I love the view from our kitchen window, I love the combination of having my own private thoughts and private inspiration while I’m reading and writing and researching, while I’m in the boiling midst of family life. But other days the sun won’t come out and I feel alone and everybody’s slave, craving for a room of my own, craving for an hour of concentration and for a dishwasher and a nanny.
There’s this children’s song the kids listen to in the car and they keep singing over and over again, that is haunting me: Moeder muis is altijd thuis, altijd bij haar kookfornuis / Mother mouse is always home, always besides her cookingstove. It is pushing the very button of my conflict. I know one of the reasons I came here is to feel less stressed, less conflicted about my work and my children, to try and have a career and a life on my own terms. To feel less anxious about everything I do wrong or not good enough. But now I feel I’m moving to the other end of the spectrum. That of the stay-at-home mom that desperately tries to find some time of her own. Wondering what all that education was for and afraid to give up that precious time with your family to go back to an overly demanding job and the guilt that comes with it.
I know this kitchen is not my place either. Sooner or later I will starve myself intellectually. But I also know I cherish this life in silence, in nature and the freedom to choose myself how much time I can spend with my kids. I better use it wisely, because I know it’s rare and it is not going to last forever.