Having the house to myself! I have longed so much for this. Just some time and space to myself with no-one else around. Why is this so important for women? Women living with children, that is, or women who are carers, or just women living with a man. Especially an uxorious kind of man who loves to be at home and sees no particular need to go or be anywhere else. And I don’t know if this is also true for woman living with another woman. But for so many women living with a male partner, it does seem to be the case: we love them but we just wish they’d bloody go out for a few hours.
Everyone needs time to themselves and space to unravel their thoughts: that knotted skeining of thoughts, what-ifs, to-do’s, perhaps’s and if-only’s that float constantly like specks at the edges of your vision. Most of the time there is not much room to consider these in a busy day full of work and other people’s demands. And yes, I know I am lucky to have other people in my life who make those demands, and to live with a man who loves and wants to be near me. But still. It is hard to ignore the needs and energetic presence of another person, the inevitable call of the outside world, when they are always there pressing up against the thin cells of my own identity, and I long for space away from all of that to recharge my batteries and remember who I am. And it seems to happen so rarely.
What do I do with this luxury of space? A day all for myself? When my son was a baby, a sickly baby who cried constantly and never slept for longer than two hours at a stretch, time alone was an almost impossible concept; my body was no longer my own, the edges blurred between me and him, this tiny tyrant. To be on my own back then was an animal thing, a separation that felt like relief but also a puzzlement, a persistent twingeing of a phantom limb. On the odd occasions when he slept in the daytime, or wonder of wonders if someone took him out, the most precious thing was simply to be able to sit in a quiet room by myself, make a cup of tea at leisure or read a book. But I have to admit that first of all, I used to tidy up. Pad softly around the house picking up old newspapers, wiping away smears and cup rings and plumping up the cushions. Not so much from neatness as ownership; re-acquainting myself with the parameters of the house; re-acquainting myself with me.
Later, in the early days when my son had started going to nursery, I’d use the time on my own right up to its edges. I was weak and grieving after a series of miscarriages and in this state of crisis, a creative energy rose to the surface and would not leave. For just two short hours, I’d forget everything to kneel on the floor furiously cutting out shapes from huge rolls of paper that I’d found in a skip, making them into giant paper cut women. Women without hands, like the old folk tale, or sometimes women with enormous long arms stretching out into branches and leaves like Daphne turning into a tree. Forgetting everything else, that was the key. And making art, for nobody else but me, because I simply couldn’t not do it. I got my mojo back that way and reclaimed my strength.
In Tai Chi and yoga practice you can visualise a ball of energy between your hands, feeling its shape and weight and playfully making it bigger or smaller. Maybe it has a definite colour or gives off heat. I bet for most women this energy would be so big, so colourful and glowing that it would light up the world if only they could keep it for themselves. When day after day my emotional and physical attention is given over to other people and the outside world, and I don’t get proper space to myself to recharge, this energy – what could be such a radiant power – feels like a small wizened cricket ball, shrunk almost out of existence. Most of the time I am just used to it this way.
We talked about FOMO a while back and not only did my partner not know what it was, but genuinely did not understand the concept. He’s self-contained, happy with his nest, dust balls and all. And I get on with the stuff of life and all the things that women are good at, but increasingly lately I wonder what it would feel like to kneel on the floor making art all day, and I feel that little cricket ball pulsating in my pocket.