10th February 2016
Some of you know that I am writing a book, which is like trying to eat an elephant. One bite at a time.
I’m using Freedom to block those terribly seductive rabbit-holes, I am switching off my internet for longer and longer spaces of time and writing in the quiet early mornings. I really enjoyed Zadie Smith discussing productivity on Lena Dunhams excellent 5-part podcast series “Women Of The Hour’ and incidentally, on the ‘Big Picture’ episode, Lena and her mother, acclaimed artist Laurie Simmons, talk about their relationship to art and to each other. It’s a beautiful conversation.
Anyway, this year I am trying hard not to allow myself to be distracted from my real goal, which is to finish eating this elephant. If you have any tips about writing or productivity, send them my way. I need all the help I can get!
Here is a little story about baby Peanut, a tale excised from the manuscript now that I have changed the scope of what I’m writing. It’s not in the book, but Peanut loves this story, so I’ll post it here for her to read one day.
At the end of the work day, Keith and I would take it in turns to hold the baby while the other ate dinner. She would not sit happily in her little bassinet, no matter how busily our feet rocked it, no matter how much we smiled and coo’d and attended to her. She was happy in arms – full stop. We watched the West Wing, we ate our roast chicken, and we admired our little girl. Every smile and burp and squeak was miraculous to us. We called her Squeaky, Ivy-Cakes, Little Cakes, Bobo , Ivy-Bones. We were drunk in love with her. Despite the deep ache of tiredness, the screaming, the fractiousness, we did not see Peanut as a difficult baby. We saw our struggle to adjust as our own failing. With time and experience, we would come to realise just how hard those first few months had been, and what a nut she was, but in the thick of it, with the artillery fire overhead and the smoke and the fear clouding our vision, all we could do was scramble in a forward direction and figure it out as we went along.
One night, I walked the halls with Peanut for an hour, begging her to go to sleep. Keith was always an equal partner in the baby-wrangling, but this night I was on shift and he was reading in bed. Peanut squirmed and wriggled. She stared up at me as I held her firm. The dummy in her mouth smacked and rattled as she sucked it wildly. ‘What is wrong with you?” I sang softly. ‘I would like to be wrapped and cuddled. I would like to be put to bed. Bed is the best place in the whole world. Peanut, you are gone in the head. ‘
The baby’s eyes drifted to half-mast. The dummy-smacking slowed and stopped, and her mouth drooped open slightly. Walking and patting, I silently made deals with the Universe that this was the big one. Peanut had finally gone down. No dice, replied the Universe, which had created this child as a finely calibrated insomnia machine. As soon as her system sensed that it was tilting towards her bassinette, it sent an alarm to the motherboard. ‘Mayday! Mayday! Bedtime Attempt in progress!’ Peanut’s eyes popped alert, her mouth opened, her dummy flew out and the wailing began, all the louder for having been refreshed with a lovely micro-sleep.
I swallowed the intensive screaming going on inside my brain and scored the newly-appeared wrinkle between my eyebrows just a shade deeper. Deep breath. No tears. I walked and walked. Twenty minutes later, the signs appeared. Half-mast, sloe breathing, dummy drooping. I forced myself to walk through another verse of ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ and then spent forty-five athletic seconds lowering Peanut, by the tiniest of increments, into her bassinette. I did not allow her equilibrium to get altered even momentarily. The muscles in my arms shook with strain as I finally made it the last inch, and carefully, slowly, removed my hands. I hovered tem above her for a moment so that the change in air warmth and pressure form my hastily removed body would not prod her awake, and then, heart in mouth, hardly daring to believe it, I crept backwards to the bed and lay down flat beside my warm husband. I rejoiced in the comforting, delicious softness of the mattress and the silence of the air.
And then Keith let out an enormous fart.
It echoed in the bedroom with honking, squeaking resonance. It was loud in decibel and rounded in tone. There was a momentary silence after its final sqeaak faded away, in which I stared ahead, horrified, and then Ivy began to scream.
I had never thought about divorce before, but in that moment, I considered my options.