The great, unwritten poems that took a backseat to polished floors

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

I think of this often, the civilization that could have been, had gender relations been different:

Unlike the male artists, who moved through life as if unfettered time to themselves were a birthright, the days and life trajectories of the handful of female artists featured in the book were often limited by the expectations and duties of home and care. George Sand always worked late at night, a practice that started when she was a teenager and needed to take care of her grandmother. Starting out, Francine Prose’s writing day was defined by the departure and return of her children on the school bus. Alice Munro wrote in the “slivers” of time she could find between housekeeping and childrearing. And Maya Angelou got away from the pull of home by leaving it altogether, checking herself into an unadorned hotel room to think, read and write.

…I think of all the books, paintings, music, scientific discoveries, philosophy I learned about in school – almost all by men. The conductor Zubin Mehta once said, “I just don’t think women should be in an orchestra,” as if they didn’t have the temperament, or the talent. (Blind auditions put an end to that notion.) I think of an interview Patti Scialfa gave on how difficult it was for her to write the music for her solo album because her kids kept interrupting her and demanding her time in a way that they never would of their father, Bruce Springsteen. And it strikes me: it’s not that women haven’t had the talent to make their mark in the world of ideas and art. They’ve never had the time.

Women’s time has been interrupted and fragmented throughout history, the rhythms of their days circumscribed by the sisyphean tasks of housework, childcare and kin work – keeping family and community ties strong. If what it takes to create are long stretches of uninterrupted, concentrated time, time you can choose to do with as you will, time that you can control, that’s something women have never had the luxury to expect, at least not without getting slammed for unseemly selfishness.

…Feminist researchers have also found that many women don’t feel that they deserve long stretches of time to themselves, the way men do. They feel they have to earn it. And the only way to do that is to get to the end of a To Do list that never ends: the chores of the day, as Melinda Gates writes in her new book, killing the dreams of a lifetime. Indeed, I’ve been trying to carve out time to think and write this essay for more than four months. Every single time I’ve sat down to start, I’ve gotten a panicked call or email from my husband, son or daughter; my mother, dealing with the strange frontier and endless paperwork of the newly widowed; a credit card company; or a mechanic about some emergency or other that requires my immediate attention to stave off certain disaster.

…The poet Eleanor Ross Taylor lived her life in the shadow of her husband, the Pulitzer prize-winning novelist, short story writer and professor Peter Taylor. “Over the years, many times I would say to poems, ‘Go away, I don’t have time now,’” she told an interviewer in 1997. “But that was part laziness. If you really want to write, you can. I did keep the house scrubbed and waxed and that sort of thing.”

I feel such a sense of loss when I think of the great, unwritten poems that took a backseat to polished floors. And for a long time, I thought the expectation that others be tended to first and the floors be polished and that she was the one who was supposed to keep them that way was what kept those untold stories coiled inside her, compressed, as Maya Angelou writes, to the point of pain. But I wonder if it isn’t also that women feel they don’t deserve time to themselves, or enough of it that comes in unbroken stretches. I wonder if we also feel we don’t deserve to tell our untold stories, that they may not be as worth listening to.

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