I am a woman who writes and reads, who was educated to compete and be successful - academically, financially and politically - in the world. And I am also a woman who has chosen to have children and look after those children, not pass them on to a full-time nanny or institution but be the one who's elected herself to open up the homework bag, arrange for the little friends to come to tea. To kiss the bruised knee at the moment when the knee is bruised - this has been my choice.
The world for which I was educated, therefore, at this time of my life, I can no longer say is my world.
"You're wondering if I'm lonely," wrote Adrienne Rich in that beautiful collection of poems of hers, Diving into the Wreck, "OK then, yes, I'm lonely," and for sure this choice of mine has put me somewhere else that's far away from the competitive bustle of profession and career, where men and women compete for advantage ... I am not present there. I have made the active choice to "disappear", if you like, in this way. I no longer make money as I used to, have power that way."
I see now that I, too, have been consumed by my bearing, my giving birth to, nursing and caring for my two children. To hold them, for as long as I can, always to hold them: this has been my choice. To feel myself break with tiredness at their needs and still want to crawl into bed beside them and feel my own breath at the soft base of their necks ... This my desire, my burn.
Yet it seems pretending is what we who are so burned are supposed to do. As someone I'll call Will A put it recently, so gently and cleverly, as we were sitting next to each other at a publishing dinner talking of these things, "You women," he said, "you mothers, when you come here, like tonight, when you enter the world to come to one of our meetings, or to a lunch, whatever ... You look wonderful, you talk, you've done your hair, you've got shoes on ... And all I can think is: you've just left your house behind you with your children in it and that must be like you've left somewhere ... that's like a war zone, somewhere I can't even imagine ... " And this is it entirely. For the world of home, of children, the world I've chosen, is this kind of other fenced-off land, a zone. When you're in it, it surrounds you. And as you walk away you hear its crashes and cries and tumbling down of walls - "Mummy! Come here!" - long after you've turned the corner of your street.
I may be tying back my hair as I go to the car, looking for change in a nice little bag for the bus, but in my head I'm still back there among the wild grab of legs and arms around my legs, the spilt food, the tears, the complaints, fights, desperate kisses. It takes me a while, really, to try to disentangle.
I wonder now if I ever will. For something occurred with the bringing of my daughters into the world, and it fixed for me the night of my 44th birthday. I don't want to pretend, act like it's easy to do this, have at once the professional public world and the other intensely private at-home one. As I said the night of my 44th birthday, I don't want to complete a novel, "get back to the big book". I don't want to be part of something on that scale right now that would require me to function in ways that were in accordance with the expectations that that choice would bring. Instead, I want to respond to the world as it has become for me - a smaller world, perhaps, domestic, day-to-day, but vivid to my mind with possibilities and with chance, with changes and new ways of seeing, passion of a wild and delicate kind ...
This is my world.
I saw my face reflected in the mirror that night of my birthday and saw a woman who, as she sorted out the french fries and was not a lead columnist for the London Review of Books, as she wiped spinach off a shoe and did not make a viable income, had everything she wanted. Though in the world for which she'd been educated, this woman was nowhere, was invisible, almost, not even close to approaching the doorway through which she could re-enter the place she'd left. "You're wondering if I'm lonely ... " Still, she has everything.
Kirsty Gunn is not working on her next novel. She is not a columnist for the London Review of Books. She has chosen instead to disappear from the professional world and embrace a domestic life just as rich and interesting and inspiring ...
Saturday February 24, 2007