The current model of Genius At Work may be in flux but the go-to setting is the same as it has always been: a man in a study with a virtual Do Not Disturb sign on the door; family creeping around and No Interruptions Whatsoever. Genius works odd hours and cannot be relied upon. It won’t be awake in time to take the children to school or make their sandwiches.
If this genius has to balance writing with paid work he will come in, pour a glass, have some food and devote the rest of the evening (and weekend) to Art. There are people who can do this: C P Snow was one, holding down a career first as a barrister, then as an academic and finally as a politician whilst writing a bunch of novels about – well, about being a barrister, academic and politician.
But I’ve never been able to do this, part of the reason being that unlike Snow, I don’t have clean clothes unless I wash them or food to eat unless I cook it (or at least wash up after it). I don’t have a clean floor unless I vacuum it, or an organised environment unless I tidy. Plus, I have children – and children interrupt. It is inevitable.
Until they were teenagers I had no time to write: I was too busy earning a living and educating them at home. Apart from a few snatched minutes morning and evening my only writing time was a couple of days away twice a year: it wasn’t nearly enough, and yet looking back it’s hard to see how I could have done anything differently. It’s no good having children if you’re going to ignore them.
So what to do?
I would like to suggest a different model of genius. I don’t deny that writing – or any art – takes time and concentration. But I think it would benefit male artists as well as their partners to share in the domestic tasks – the reason being that doing the cleaning or washing up is very grounding. To put it epigrammatically:
Every woman has to stop writing to put the tea on. That is her tragedy.
No man does: that is his.
I suggest that historically, women go mad when they can’t write, and men do when they can. This is due to a lack of balance. Everyone needs to pitch in – and then we’ll get the work done.
I can feel Snow scoffing at this idea. But then he had a housekeeper and a wife…
PS I don’t wish to give the impression that I am married to someone who doesn’t pitch in. That is not the case