Life Without Servants

No matter how much you organize things, something is always missing. This week, I cannot locate my best big yellow plastic mixing bowl. I also can’t find one particular official letter regarding my mother’s health issues, which authorizes some essential financial reimbursements. Other than those two items, things are in excellent order. If I can find that paper, I can buy a new mixing bowl. I am extremely aggravated with my maid and my secretary, who have misplaced these important items thus causing me to lose time from my lofty role of The Writer.

Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson. You know what they all had (other than genius minds)? Servants. Other women who took care of their homes, their meals, their mothers and their husbands, to free up the hours they needed to write. Leaving aside the obvious sadly stale feminist observations about men writers and who does their laundry, I think about this often. I work as the modern equivalent of an old time servant, cooking, cleaning and caring for others. I’d rather be writing, but I have to make a living. I love my clients, especially the brilliant artistic ones.

Books: Maid as Muse, by Aífe Murray, about Emily Dickinson and the maids in the Dickinson home. There’s a statistical analysis showing that ED’s periods of prolific and lean writing correlate exactly with when there was, or was not, a maid in the house. Mrs. Woolf and the Servants, by Alison Light. This book shows the complexity of these necessarily intimate relationships. Woolf’s ambivalence about her helpers was partly class-based. The servants were beneath her, she felt, but she needed them. To be cared for, when sick, to be fed and washed, was a difficult despised dependency. When the Woolfs finally got an oil stove, Virginia was able to prepare the evening meal without the cook. She was thrilled to be free of her servant for the day.

My secretary, myself. I am my own cook, maid, gardener, driver. I am these things to my mother also. Other vastly appreciated members of my staff include the dishwasher, the laundry machines, the scanner/printer. I love the miracle of word processing software, so clean and neat, no matter how many times the sentence has been written.

But, there is no machine to sort the bills and prescriptions from the doctor reports and the insurance/medicare/Medicaid documents. Lucky for me, I have secretarial skills. Best advice ever: put every piece of paper in a file folder, labeled, even if there’s only one page in the file. After digging for two hours through the same files I already spent most of yesterday looking at, voila! , the pages I need are unburied. Now, I need another hour to put the newly sorted piles back into freshly labeled folders. And then, I have to file the reimbursement claim, and buy a new mixing bowl. Then, everything will be perfectly organized and I will be able to go back to being myself, The Writer.


Life Without Servants — 2 Comments

  1. I have frequently had similar thoughts! Sometimes, no matter how insistent the muse, the dishes MUST be washed. And the clothes. And cats fed, and dogs walked. The carpets, alas for them, can wait, and often do! 🙂

  2. I would be perfectly organized and never forget anything if I had a personal servant. On the other hand, they say you can’t get good help…

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