Three weeks ago, I re-folded a scrap of a note left on my bathroom counter and scratched “velveteen rabbit” on it just before I went to bed. Or maybe that was four weeks ago; I’ve been looking at it every day since, so time has blurred.
Today, I’ve re-ordered things so that I can color my hair (a thousand thanks, J, for swapping appointments!). My day thus swings open mentally as well as practically–I can think to write instead of only thinking to school!
Yet first I emptied the dishwasher after staring at the social medias. In a way I’m surprised I didn’t mow the backyard; that’s been overgrown since four and a half weeks ago.
And like the dishwasher, that’s “real work.” Not this. This is not “real work.”
Do you know The Velveteen Rabbit? It’s a classic, holding up well over the decades largely, I think, because it beautifully describes an interior reality true for many children… a reality that the adults they grow into can remember. Absorb it if you haven’t; its pictures matter as much as its words.
But for our purposes, here’s the précis: a plush rabbit “sleeping friend” worries about getting worn out and therefore thrown away. A still-more-worn and wiser plush friend counsels that truly beloved toys, as the two of them are, become transformed by the love of the person who cherishes them, transcending their outer toy-reality and becoming Real. This kind of Real is capitalized, because it’s not creaturely-real but a transcendence of substance without a change in form. (Hey now, there’s a reason theologians use the words they do!) The plot thickens, the child gets near-fatal (I think) scarlet fever, and in the wake of recovery all fabrics that the child was in close contact with — which naturally includes Velveteen Rabbit, the supreme comfort — are burned. (This was the standard of care at the time of the tale, so while tragic, it’s not unexpected.) My memory breaks down here, but I believe Velveteen Rabbit not only gains heroic Real status, but (for reasons I don’t recall) becomes a creaturely rabbit as well.
I’m more interested in the Real.
Real things are treasured, conserved, attended-to where not-Real things are left to fill in however they fit… or don’t. The not-Real can be ignored for days/weeks/years with light consequences. The Real draw attention, period. They have priority.
It’s been too long a gap; I no longer remember what My Sweetie’s and my pre-note discussion centered around. We were running through logistics, a common task of ours. Maybe it was an errand to be run. That seems probable, because our errands tend to be Things That Must Be Dealt With or we’d simply ditch them — both of us have stripped away the activities we feel ‘meh’ about that hold consequences that don’t matter to us.
And here’s the thing: from I-can’t-quite-recall-when until Fall 2018, I ran a preponderance of the errands. If meds had to be picked up, if something needed to be sent registered mail, if we were out of toilet paper or an ingredient had been overlooked, by default (which is another word for “we don’t discuss it”) I would take care of it.
In fact, a seminal Fall 2018 moment for me was the collateral from yet again dropping my phone in the toilet (late September; retrieval was swifter and it dried out ok). Rice, as a desiccant, is no longer the material of choice because it’s so dusty. Silica gel, which is also tucked into shoe- and other boxes (you know, small packets of “Do Not Consume”), is what you use. Thrifty folk that we are, My Sweetie turned to me and said, We could get some from DSW. I’m sure I nodded–lots of shoes, lots of silica gel packets. You could go there in the morning, he said. I thought about, but didn’t enumerate, the school-related things already slated for that morning. I said: What about you? My Sweetie looked… shocked? probably just startled… and said But I’m busy. …So am I.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been writing-primary since 2013. Which in theory has meant I’ve continued to have full-time work… of writing things, editing things and feeding the writerly mental compost pile.
In the moment after the late-October task convo, I looked squarely at my complicity:
None of us considered that Real Work.
To be a degree-seeking student, now that is Real Work.
Starting this fall, for school I claim priority. I push back; I “don’t have time” until I feel balanced in my schoolwork.
Last fall, I didn’t claim priority for my classwork; it was one more fungible activity, like volunteering. Last fall, school wasn’t Real either.
Last fall, the Real things were house-manage. And family support… maybe…? There wasn’t the right kind of support needed to test that theory. But Real Work was not classwork, and not writing.
This fall, when I claim school-priority, My Sweetie adjusts. I don’t know what the calculus is, where the weight lies, or how the unconscious determination is made. I just observe the result.
I haven’t tried to claim writing-priority. I’ve barely tried to claim “shh leave me alone I’m writing” …though I like to think I would, were I sitting down to write when others are around.
But I don’t. I avoid the tension, skip the negotiation, save the pushback for “What did you do today? Oh, is that all?” [Not that My Sweetie has ever, in 25+ years of relationship, used those words. He has, however, looked disappointed upon finding that I’d skipped some hoped-for house-manage to choose something else.]
What would it feel like if I claimed this writing to be as Real as my schoolwork?
What would change?