Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Giving Up the Ghost and the Book

Last night I stopped reading The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk with maybe fifty pages to go because I just couldn't bear the thought of walking across the apartment to get it. I'm amazed by this, when I think about it. It's not like there were any stairs involved. I should have been able to overcome my antipathy to the novel, but I just couldn't. I'm frankly annoyed I stuck with it so long. While it has some perfectly observed scenes, most of the book is filled with reductive observations about family relationships and how they strip away a sense of self in a net of obligation and through what we're supposed to recognize as love. Instead of inspiring recognition, the book made me think about the ways my own life has gotten better since I've had kids -- and not better just because I love my kids so much (even though I do), but better for just me. For example:

1) I'm a better cook. I used to worry every step of every dish, hover over saute pans, obsess about having all the right ingredients. Now, between my kids and reading Melissa Clark's Good Appetite column (seriously), I'm more relaxed, knowledgeable, improvisational, and, it has to be said, successful in the kitchen, and this means a lot to me.

2) I've made new friends and met really interesting people. After college, it's hard to make friends. Work friends stay at work, neighbors move, but having kids means meeting other women and men who've had kids and it turns out you can meet people you never would have otherwise.

3) I started writing. I wrote some before I had kids. But once Helen and Elliot were actually here, something shifted. Writing was no longer the most important thing I could ever imagine doing, so important that I couldn't even imagine that I could do it for real live (as my kids would say). With this lowered status, what came out when I wrote wasn't always so serious, so heavy, so striving (even if the topic was serious in its own way). As with cooking, I stopped worrying so much about the writing, and that made the writing better. Plus, not worrying about what I might write and whether it was worth writing opened up new space to worry about terrorism and climate change.

4) I appreciate time more. This means I have less patience for books I don't like and more excitement for those I do.

I could go on, but I won't. I should also say that I recognize my life could've changed in all these (and other) ways without having had kids. Because life itself makes us change, right? But, pace Cusk, for me, it's not all so bad in its new, post-children form.

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