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. 


Back to Contents