Killing the Angel in the House
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How to make time to make art
Virginia Woolf once wrote, first in a speech in 1931, that “killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.” She was responding to the Victorian ideal of womanhood: a selfless domestic goddess devoted to taking care of her family, her home, and her man—a position that leaves little room for the woman to be her own person. Or to make her own art.
That’s all well and fine to “kill” the angel, especially for Woolf—childless, wealthy, and with a supportive husband—but what about those of us attempting to raise children, work, and take care of domestic responsibilities alone? If I don’t fold the laundry, no one will. If I don’t make dinner, my preschooler and I will starve. In these circumstances, how can I prioritize my writing?
You have to clean, cook, and parent, but you don’t have to do it perfectly. When you’re the only adult around, stop trying to be the angel. Be, instead, enough. Here are specific ways to kill your own angel in the house without having the house fall down around you.
Cleaning. My son thinks mopping the kitchen floor and cleaning the car are great fun. Let kids “help,” even if it means they’re simply standing on a step stool waving a cloth around, as my son does.
Try to write in a room, or even part of a room, that is clean and orderly, so you’re not distracted by the messiness of other rooms (or procrastinating by cleaning them). Out of sight, out of mind.
Limit how long you will clean, so your brief free time is not overwhelmed by domestic tasks. Spend that precious time making art, not making beds. For daily tidying up, I give myself the 15 minutes before I have to pick my son up from preschool. I know I won’t clean longer because I can’t be late. You can get a lot clean in 15 minutes. You can get enough clean.
Cooking. Again, based on age, let kids help and share responsibility, including meal planning, as much as possible. My kid enjoys grating cheese and stirring anything. He’s also more likely to eat if he had a (literal, hopefully clean) hand in making it.
“One-pot pasta” recipes can easily be found online. I’ve discovered they’re pretty tasty and blissfully fast. A single pot also means much less cleanup.
Years ago, I dated a man who had worked in the restaurant industry, and I’ll never forget what he taught me about cooking professionally: Clean as you go. If you leave all the dirty dishes to the end, you’ll be overwhelmed. So, while water is boiling, rinse your cutting board. While the casserole is in the oven, put the clean dishes away. Divide and conquer.
Parenting. Take the path of least resistance when it comes to school obligations. I recently signed up to bring forks to the preschool potluck. That’s right, forks. (Hey, the teacher listed it as a need!) Cooking fancy food, volunteering to chaperone each trip, or planning every party is not the way to impress your kid’s teacher. It wears you out and is an impossible distraction. If you want to impress your child’s teacher, show up for what counts: the school play, back-to-school night, elementary graduation.
Take your child to fast-food places (it’s OK every now and then; I had to learn to tell myself that) or to the mall and let her play on the play space for an hour. Bring a notebook or your sketch pad with you everywhere, and use those unexpected, brief windows of time as you can catch them. I’ve written much of my last few books in the car while my son napped.
Use extra money wisely. Recently a writing mom told me I should book a massage or pedicure for myself; I deserved it, she said. I had to laugh. If I have extra money, I’m not going to spend it at a spa; I’m going to spend it on something that actually simplifies my often-difficult situation. If you do find yourself with some extra cash, think about how you could use it to really help your life.
For me, that is a meal delivery service. Fellow Solo Mom and writer Kelly Sundberg introduced me to a company that delivers ingredients and recipes for meals to your house. (She was given the tip by writer Roxanne Gay.) There are several services like this, with more and more on the horizon, including companies that specialize in vegetarian or vegan meals. This is a great help for me as far as meal planning (not one of my strengths). It’s also a relief to know I have all the ingredients for dinner ready to go in the fridge. No last-minute, hungry trips to the store with a child on the verge of a meltdown to pick up yet another ingredient I forgot.
Having a dishwasher for the first time in my adult years has also changed my life. It shaves an hour off my daily housework, easily, and yes, I do stash dirty dishes in the dishwasher when company is coming over.
I can’t afford to hire housecleaning help, but if it fits in your budget, then by all means, do it. Don’t feel guilty; you’re giving someone a job. (Make sure you pay well and tip.)
As a Solo Mom, you have to do everything, usually alone. But you don’t have to be perfect at it. If I have to choose between having the cleanest house, the most impressive dish at the school potluck, or the best body of artwork, I’m going to choose my work, my creativity, my art every time. Kill the angel in the house—and spread those creative wings.
Once you’ve decided it’s OK not to be perfect and you make time for creative expression, share it with other Solo Moms. Because creativity is contagious!
Alison Stine, ESME’s Showcase Writing Curator, is the author of the young-adult novel Supervision, three books of poetry, and numerous essays. A Solo Mom, she lives with her son in the foothills of Appalachia. You can follow her on Twitter at @AlisonStine.
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