A Week of Silence

“The world is only tolerable because of the empty places in it…when the world’s filled up, we’ll have to get hold of a star. Any star. Venus, or Mars. Get hold of it and leave it empty. Man needs an empty space somewhere for his spirit to rest in.” Doris Lessing

I spent almost all of last week entirely alone. No work, no friends, no family, no baby. No distractions. My very own writing retreat.

At first, it felt strange. I noticed the passing of every hour. Teaching is hardly a profession for clock watching, so I’m not used to being so aware of the passage of time. Breakfast, lunch, nap time, dinner, lessons, break time, my daily life is usually fitted around a fixed schedule dictated by the school day or my baby’s needs. Suddenly, everything was possible.

I went a bit manic. Changing activities every hour or so to cram in as much as I could. Reading, scribbling notes, eating, writing, watching TV. It felt like I had to make every minute count.

And how the words poured. On the first day, 3,000. Then 5,000, then 6,000. After three days I’d managed to write as much as I thought as I’d get done all week. I would have the luxury of reading it back over, making notes.

As the week progressed, the pace changed. I went and sat on a bench in the sun and read my book for a whole hour. I sat in a pub garden and had a ploughman’s with a cider.

Once the words were done I started looking into other things. Events I could go to. Friends I could meet up with. Opportunities to be a little bit more of the activist I would like to be.

But then, an interaction in the pub garden led me to realise that there might be something else behind my need to scrabble around and do as much as possible.

He could see me, making notes on printed pages, reading things and making notes. I’m sure he was just being polite. He asked what I was doing. I cringe to say it now, but I replied with, “I’m trying to write a book.” What a response. I still have such a lack of assurance in my status as a writer that I had to use the word ‘trying.’ He then proceeded to mansplain to me how to drink cider. Apparently it needed ice. Or I should drink halves when it’s hot. And I just sat there. My need to not make other people awkward overriding any sense of annoyance. To be what he expected a woman to be. I’m way more defiant in my head than in person.

I started to wonder why I was so desperate to account for every day. That I would have something to show for my time away. It occurred to me that, as I had left my eighteen-month-old daughter for a week, I needed to feel that it was productive. If not, what kind of woman leaves her baby?

It’s absurd. All the times I’ve taken her to visit family or friends without him, so he doesn’t see her for a day or two. Or the fact that he has been away several times without us. What underscores all of this is the bizarre belief that a mother is entirely necessary to a child and a father is a welcome but not fundamental addition.

I’ve just read Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. Not only is it an amazing feat of non-fiction in terms of how she devoted eight years of her life to researching, talking to and living with these women, it’s also a fascinating insight into female desire. How it manifests itself, how it can be moulded and shaped by childhood experiences. But mostly, how it is a feared and mistrusted thing, even a disgusting secret, to be subdued and hidden away. I recommend it for the wonderful writing as much as the stories, but it got me thinking about my own desires and their place in my life.

Even if I had just spent a week, sitting in my pyjamas and watching TV, eating endless bags of salt and vinegar crisps, I should not need to justify it. I have been with my daughter almost every day for the last eighteen months and if I need time away from her, for whatever reason, then I shouldn’t feel so tied down to a sense of duty to achieve something great while I’m away.

I know, next week, it will all resume. In a matter of hours, minutes even, it will feel as though I never left the classroom. The things I have put in my calendar and booked in this lovely quiet time will feel like burdens when they approach, extra things that will just make me feel more tired.

Only, this week has reminded me that I need them. Even if they wear me out and mean I need to go to bed at 7:30 the following evening. Maybe, whether you have kids or not, stepping outside the people that need you, if only for an evening, feeding your own desire, rejuvenates the energy that you need to go and be all you can to them the following day. Everyone needs to be able to make their own memories.


2 Replies to “A Week of Silence”

  1. Our culture still expects women to make many sacrifices once they have children. We live in a supposed equal society, but it is still true that – in most cases – it is the mother who has to suspend their career, social interaction, .education etc as soon as they push a new life into the world, while Dad can still continue his career, social life etc largely uninterrupted. Sadly it is still a source of amazement and congratulation if Dad plays a larger than average part in their child’s physical and emotional nurture, particularly in the early years.
    We need to continue to make it easier and more acceptable for Dads to take on more of the responsibility for the care and nurture of their children, if only because they – and their child – stand to gain so much.
    But we must be careful not to minimise or dismiss Mums who are fine about suspending other things in their life in order to spend time with their babies in those early years.
    Mums and Dads can learn so much by a little bit of sacrifice of their own needs and drives to nurture the new life we are blessed and honoured to have the privilege of helping to grow.
    On a very basic level, a walk with a toddler may remind us how amazing & beautiful that pebble or dandelion is!
    The development of motor skills, language etc is a joy to witness and be part of encouraging and nurturing, and an awareness of the enormity of shaping and assisting in the growth and development of the next generation is exciting and awesome.
    But there is no doubt that it is very demanding and can be draining, and no parent – female or male – should feel guilty about having ‘time out’ from their child. Indeed, it can be very beneficial for parent and child, time away generates the joy of reunion and appreciation of each other.


  2. Other thoughts – ‘no man is an island’, ok so not politically correct, but John Donne was writing in a different age so for ‘man’ just read ‘human’ because it was written in a different time.
    Time out can be a good thing but we are largely defined – through good or ill – by our relationships and interactions with others. It is our relationships that teach us so much about the world, who we are, our beliefs, and how we fit in the whole scheme of things.
    We have so much to learn from other people, but occasionally time away to digest and formulate that is very helpful – perhaps especially for writers, musicians artists etc. and a vital part of of our growing and understanding about relationship and our learning and interaction with other people and cultures.
    How sad it is that our politicians don’t understand that, and habitually cut funding for the arts.


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