Monday, February 04, 2008

Miss Austen regrets

I watched the “Complete Jane Austen” series on PBS last night (as I have for the last few weeks). Last night, I think because of the Superbowl, they did not show a new novel but a special film called Miss Austen Regrets. It was a somewhat fictionalized pseudo-biography, but we all seem to enjoy imagining what Jane was really like and I thought this film was well-made and compelling. I especially loved the moment where Reverend Bridges—the man who seems to have loved Jane the most, but now they’re both older and he’s married—asks her why she would not marry him. He tells her that he would have let her keep writing. She says she would have been too busy mothering children and would not have had the time. I completely agree with her. Some people say, “Oh, how sad that a woman with such a keen sense of the romantic never married,” but the truth is that had she married (and naturally had a household to run and children to bear and raise) there’s absolutely no way she would have written any of her books. They were written in the leisure time granted to her by her spinsterhood, her poverty and her freedom.

Maybe this is why I write about motherhood so much. It’s my way of having it both ways and only both ways. If I were not a mother and wife, I could not write what I do. Yes, I get frustrated by the fact that I have no time, no space, no “room of my own” in which to carve out a writer’s life, but what would I be writing about if I had those things and no family to inspire me? I’d like to think I would have nothing to say.

It snowed again on and off yesterday. It was beautiful, of course, but I’m tired of the snow. I feel trapped in my house. Trapped by the endless winter. Buried under it. There was much shoveling to do yesterday (and more shoveling later and still there was a new skiff on the ground this morning). I went to church without Ken because he stayed home with Nora (still sick, always sick) and when I got home, as I turned around to pull the car into the driveway, I got stuck in the gutter. My wheels were spinning and the thought hit me that now I was good and truly “stuck in a rut.” We are all stuck in a rut. I wonder if we’re just living through the same blizzard over and over and over again. “There’s no way that this winter is ever going to end,” says Phil Conners just before he kidnaps the groundhog and drives it off a cliff.

McKay spent at least two hours playing in the snow yesterday afternoon. He has taken over the pile to the side of the house (the one created by the repeated shoveling-off of the driveway) and has dug tunnels and caves into it. He is a child who also needs to carve out his own personal spaces. He is a cave-dweller. A fort-builder. He once asked for padlocks for his birthday. He wants treasure boxes, room, a bedroom of his own. One day when I could not find him anywhere in the house, I finally discovered him wedged into a tiny 2’ by 2’ space in his closet, alone, reading.

And yet, McKay would be miserable as an only child. He and Ethan are more than roommates; they are best friends. McKay is most happy when they are together, pacing circles into the carpet of their room, role-playing some elaborate space-battle scenario. I know that he would not trade the closeness of our crowded home for a room of his own and the silence that would go with it, just as I would not trade my domestic busyness for all the privacy and free time in the world.

The truth is that we don’t get to consciously make these choices. Even Jane could never have seen her options in front of her simultaneously since the consequences of her resistance to marriage only developed over time. But I can still take a good look from my present vantage point and say that, knowing what I know now, I would still live my life as I have lived it. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few things I wish I could take back—my kitchen tile, my laser eye surgery, my entire 7th grade year—but when it comes to my family and the choices I have made to marry and be a mother to each of my children, even if it means I will never ever be the subject of a PBS special, I have no regrets.

10 comments:

Dedee said...

Awesome post. As usual. Writing is about experience. And where do we get more life experieces than by being mothers? I am not sure that the lessons I have learned by being a mother I could have learned any other way. I am with you. I wouldn't trade my kids for fame or fortune.

bubandpie said...

Right now, I'm regretting the fancy digital satellite that means I couldn't tape Jane Austen while I was watching the Super Bowl. (I don't regret watching the Super Bowl, though, because the last quarter was amazing.)

But tell me about the kitchen tile! What went wrong?

Luisa Perkins said...

What a lovely post, JQ! Your voice is somehow different today, though. Maybe it's the influence of all that snow.

abrightfuture said...

I could not agree more with this wonderful post! I feel like I spend a lot of time writing about the frustrating parts of motherhood but what would I have to write about if not the lessons of motherhood, single motherhood and working motherhood? My shoes? My tupperware cabinet? The dog hair that is everywhere all the time?

Thanks for the great post!

Inkling said...

This reminds me of the last chapter of Middlemarch, which I have reread many times for comfort when I am feeling stuck in a rut: But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive, for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs."

Kelly @ Love Well said...

Annie Dillard has a thing or two to say about this in one of her books. ("The Writing Life," perhaps?) The best writers are those that have a life in addition to their writing. Otherwise, writing tends to turn inward and become sour and insipid. (Ms. Austen excluded, of course.)

Wonderful post, as always, Julie.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Where has this post been all my life? I have often struggled with wanting to do things only to find that it required too much time away from my children to fully pursue. I have also struggled with the thought that I can't sdo both, because I want to. But you are right, any choice will require sacrifice and so I choose the sacrifices that I can bear. It gets easier as they get older, but now that I'm pregnant again it seems like it's taking forever. Time to stop waiting for that time and enjoy the time I'm in.

Oh, and I want to add that as sad as it makes me that Austen never married, I am grateful for her lovely stories.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

I feel that having been a mother and a wife gives me a richer trove of experiences and emotions from which to draw. It makes me a more interesting person, really. And the key is to really focus on the now, whatever is happening, good and bad; really be in the moment. Writing helps us do that. Or, rather, doing that helps us write. I think.

Lisa writes... said...

No regrets here either...

but I do have "Miss Austen regrets" still on DVR awaiting a (very seldom) man and boy free evening to indulge!

Jodie said...

The Masterpiece Theatre series was so good. I had never seen North Hanger Abbey. I had to rent Becoming Jane this week too, I've been in an Austin mood.

Great Post.