Today was my first weekend day in the challenge and all that I had to do was the daily list since the weekends are supposed to be for relaxing. It came as a surprise to me that not only did I not mind doing the daily list, but my morning felt incomplete without it. After I finished my coffee, my fingers were practically itching to start dusting the living room. I do not recognize myself.
I also find that Saturday has been much. more enjoyable overall because I’m not trying to relax with Jon and Kiddo while simultaneously trying to ignore areas of the house that need to be cleaned or laundry that needs to be washed. It’s just…done.
For those of you who are already adults who know how to do basic housework, this probably sounds like the dumbest revelation. “No shit, Emily, a clean house is enjoyable and if you do a little every day, it can stay that way.” But for me, it kind of is. For a long time, I’ve bought into the myth that creativity has to equal chaos to some degree. I love planners, especially bullet journals, and I’ll spend way too much time color coordinating everything to an unnecessary degree. But then I end up stuffing the pages with story ideas scribbled onto receipts and half-finished thoughts on on post-it notes and I’ve told myself that’s fine, I don’t need to sort that out because my creativity comes from my dysfunction. I even once expressed this concern to a therapist when I went on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication for the first time.
“What if I’m only creative because of the chemical imbalance in my brain? If I fix that, aren’t I fucked?” I asked.
“You’re creative because you’re creative,” my therapist said. “You don’t need to have every day feel like a fucking nightmare just so you can fight through all of that pain to produce something. For all we know, you going on medication might free up your brain to be even more creative.”
Turns out, he was right. And yet there’s still an asshole part of my brain that wonders if I could’ve created so much more if I’d left my brain alone to be a cesspool of trauma. Last night, Jon and I watched Shirley, which, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a new movie starring Elisabeth Moss in which she plays Shirley Jackson. At one point, Elisabeth Moss says, “A clean house is a sign of an inferior mind,” and when I saw that, I realized how connected I’d been to this idea of creativity needing chaos. The movie also showed Shirley Jackson in the throes of mental illness and with erratic behavior, and it made me a little uncomfortable. Not because of the depictions themselves, but because of how much I recognized myself in those behaviors. Depression and anxiety have, at times, kept me bedridden, I often lie on the floor when I’m in the midst of a creative conundrum or an existential crisis, hanging out at parties exhausts me for days afterwards, I hate leaving my house (at least now I have coronavirus as a legitimate reason to stay home), and when I’m in the middle of a writing project that’s gathering steam, I barely sleep or eat because I’m so obsessed with writing. As much as I enjoyed the movie, it held up an uncomfortable mirror to my ingrained ideas about creativity.
The most eye-opening part of this 1950s Housewife Challenge so far has been the way it has made me examine parts of myself I didn’t expect. I thought I was going to spend two weeks obsessively cleaning while writing blog posts about “fuck the patriarchy” but instead, I’ve been coming to terms with my own changing identity as I’ve become a stay-at-home mom. Tomorrow marks the halfway part of the challenge and in this last week, I have started challenging my own ideas and biases and questioned why I have been so resistant to allowing myself to be in a stereotypical gender role.
I keep promising I’m going to post more about the terminology we use for women who stay home to manage homes and families, and I will–tomorrow. Because right now it’s Saturday night, Kiddo is asleep, and I want to hang out with Jon and watch some old Survivor episodes in our very clean house.
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