|July 2, 1991
By Rhea Côté Robbins
There was a change in the air and it was decidedly not amiable or conducive
to writing. They were not even talking. No communication.
No exchanges of banter or joke, laughter, friendliness. They were
a family. She sat at her computer and clicked away at the keys, stared
at the screen and acted as if she was inspired or had something to write
or say. There was a limit of how much dirt you could or would want
to pick up in a single day. The vacuum cleaner now fixed, or at least
part way fixed, sucked up the rug cleaning foam while the husband and children
clamored at the bottom of the stairs to be allowed to walk on the newly
wet--still, clean stairway to take showers. It is a house of two bathrooms,
but they see themselves showering upstairs only. She encountered
a woman from church in the grocery store who asked her to go camping with
the other church families who had young people that were members of the
youth ministry group. "I don't want to be the only one!" she protested.
Tedious grocery shopping. Add the amount of each item; with only
a twenty--dollar bill in her wallet and no checks left in the checkbook,
she had to be careful and not embarrass herself by overbuying. "We
need ice cream," her youngest demanded. Lately, when she went shopping
with the checkbook there was only one check left; it reminded her of the
empty toilet paper roll--someone was not replenishing the stock. It
was hard to ensure a full book of checks, toilet paper holder or grocery
cart. Walking out of the store, she reminds herself of the advantages
of only one check--you buy less and stay slim. So much for the case
of the missing checks.
The sounds of the day swirl around her life, in and out of her brain the
harangue blows blasts of terror over her usual calm expression. She
decides to turn down a job of security and chooses a future of uncertainty.
Some of her friends have no idea she has just come up against such a choice,
looked it in the eyes and turned down its cooling offer, its breath of
warm ice and cajoling nature. She could become a secondary school
teacher if she so decided. Instant prestige, income, and hours of
classroom preparation. No, she chose the unlikely; she chose to become
a writer. A freelance writer and someone who would like to say her
piece. How, she was not sure, but she was anxious to try. Or
at least to fail while trying. Who would of believed it? Who
would guess? This girl from the wrong side of the proverbial tracks
choosing for herself a writing career?
Some of her friends--one in particular--thought she was a fool. She
so much as left her standing there in her kitchen last night with a flounce
of her disgust written on her face, incredulous, disbelieving she had actually
heard right when the future writer told her of her plans to write.
"But you need an economic base to do such a thing," she protested.
More like a good set of brass knuckles. Her courage, barely new,
just taking flight had to hide behind a set of blinders just to stay afloat.
Nice of you to understand and offer me support. She could be expressing
her warmth and care out of a vague sense of deprivation; the possibility
of jealousy, competition well buried, a feeling of being left behind if
I happen to be successful. A perverse kind of caring which is really
an instance of jealous grips on a constricting competition syndrome.
Clawing to climb out of a personal pit. My insistence on writing
has nothing to do with her or anyone else. I write because if I don't
I will explode from the overflow of words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs
backing up into my brain.
Two boys skateboard by on the sidewalk and the trucks crash their empty
trailers down the poorly supported roadbed. I am left with two teenagers
in the house, music seeping through two--inch thick antique doors, and a
list of spring cleaning tasks. I am attempting a writing career in
all of this? I must be out of my mind. Only so much that it
will somehow find its way into the writing or the story. Nervous
energy expressed in metaphor. Delightful. Mostly, I am continually
caught up in the dishes and dust; nothing new there, but on top of all
that I will superimpose a computer screen and a few passes on the keyboard.
It will all weave in like a huge tapestry except instead of damsels in
distress and knights all shining rescuing them, there will be vacuums cleaners,
boxy stereos, rug spray cleaner, loud traffic, arguments over who took
whose socks, tee--shirt, the occasional, errant priest and his entire flock
of thieves, liars and holy ones; a few dead ones, a live one every now
and then, a crocked boss or two; unfolded or piled--up laundry and a back
ache. Inspired moments of an ordinary existence made exemplary by
the fact I write. I write and it comes to me why I live a life of
mixed blessings. Or kicks in the teeth.
Writing is much like drawing: when you feel a freedom to blow a piece of
drawing paper, then you realize there is raw material in there somewhere.
The need of expression is something else. How do I justify my sense
of self and the need to write my life? Between bouts of spray rug
cleaner, high school graduations, summer traveling hockey teams, the noise
of the traffic, I will attempt to write--coherently. Chastely.
Until recently I was double--breasted; on February 14th, Valentine's Day,
love day, I had a mastectomy. I cannot go on in this exercise without
telling that fact about myself. I am a single--breasted woman.
But even before that, for me, cancer was a companion. I had a lumpectomy
five years previous the mastectomy. I mean to tell you this only
as a point of honesty. I know no other reason for telling you.
Just so you will know who I am or what I am. Or maybe I should hold
a professional distance between you, the reader, and me, the writer?
I am not sure. I am not trying to say something neurotic or with
a message about breast cancer. It's just that some of us have to
live without one or two of our breasts. That's all.
There is that error factor in life; the one we participate in whether we
want to or not. The dust on the knick--knack, over and over again
collecting itself, insisting on our debts. Error has much to do with
repetition. How often we have to repeat or be the recipient of repetition
determines the quotient of error. Night after night, day after day
we give a command performance drawing kudos and boos in turn, but sooner
or later the error occurs.