Much more than the book, this clipping, yellowed and wrinkled with more than 35 years of age, has had an impact on me that, until today, I’ve been unable to put into words. The clipping comes from the May 5, 1975 edition of Newsweek from an article titled, “Sex and the Woman Writer” in which Erica Jong “typifies a new breed of women novelists who are describing their own experience in an unprecedented outpouring of books.”
I’ve had this clipping taped to walls, pinned to boards, held by magnets on my refrigerator for nearly a decade. It’s always struck me as humorous and as a steady reminder of just how far we’ve come as women writers. But today, I’m realizing there is another reason I’ve been so attached to this image and to these words: “I feel guilt about writing poems when I should be cooking.”
I wonder if all writers struggle with this emotion. I look back at the choices I’ve made and wonder if all of my “other” pursuits weren’t, in some way, connected to this idea of feeling guilty for writing. Let’s face it, the reactions I get from people who learn that I don’t DO anything except write are pretty straight-forward and usually look a little like judgement. And, hey…they’re not alone. I judge myself. More and more with each day that goes by it seems. The more I write, the more time I devote to reading and writing, the more guilty (yes, I think that’s a fair assessment of it) I feel.
But the fact is, writing requires an enormous amount of time. And not all of that time is spent sitting at the keyboard. In fact, much of it is spent just sitting. And that looks a lot like nothing. And, what’s more, it feels like nothing. But there is no denying that after a certain amount of time sitting and doing nothing, the writing comes. I mean, it’s not like I’m doing my taxes here. Writing is not easy. If you don’t believe me, give it a try sometime. Even so, even knowing what I know after half a lifetime spent trying to write, the more time I devote to it, the more guilty I feel. For what? Well, for things as domestic as not cooking. The dishes aren’t done. I forgot to take the trash out. The dog desperately needs someone to play with him. None of these things are getting done. And I have to remind myself that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. That writing has value and merit. That, yes, art is more important than clean floors or “doing” something that others would call worthwhile and productive.
I’m grateful for Jong’s comment. It was made with an unflinching honesty that is her trademark. An honesty I admire. I do feel guilty writing poems when I should be cooking. But I’m not going to let that stop me.