Writing, Researching, Creating: Times Guiltily Seized

It's 2018, so why am I still ruled by the dinner bell?

Posted Aug 22, 2018

©2016 C. Malchiodi, PhD
"Multitasking" ©2016 C. Malchiodi, PhD
Source: ©2016 C. Malchiodi, PhD

I have been fortunate in the past several years now to have the privilege of traveling around the world to teach and talk about my passion—how the expressive arts have the potential to facilitate change, manifest health and transform mind and body. On a recent panel before a large audience, a respected male colleague asked me, “Cathy, why haven’t you been on this program before with us?” He asked this question with the best of intentions and respect for my collective body of contributions and work as a practitioner of expressive arts therapy. But the question hit me like a bolt of lightening—yes, just why had it taken me this long to get a seat at this table? While the answer to this question is complex, for me it comes down to how culture, society and my own world views have impacted how I divide my time within the pendulum swings between the needs of others and seizing moments, often guiltily, for myself.

Ten years ago I wrote: “Like many women, I cannot begin to count the times I have been waiting for water to boil while thinking about the composition of a painting, or running back and forth from the studio to the stove to make dinner or the laundry room to put the clothes into the dryer. Certainly, all artists may engage in this dance between the pursuit of art and the domestic life, but women in the arts know what I am talking about. One of my favorite authors bell hooks captures much of this internal struggle when she writes in Art on My Mind, “We worry about not giving enough of our care and personhood to loved ones. Many of us still labor with the underlying fear that if we care too much about art, we will be companionless, alone. And some of us who have companions or children make sure that when they come home there are no visible signs of our artistic selves present."

bell hooks is correct – in spite of various movements, past and current, women are still conflicted about how to divide their creative and career energies and still pay attention to the home front. I know I continue to wonder just how these decisions about where to put one’s passion have impacted the imagination and passion necessary to fuel artistic creativity, inquiry, career aspirations and personal development.

So, in full disclosure, I am married to a man who is much more sensitive than many when it comes to domestic duties. He does all the baking [albeit a love of cookies drives that], loads the dishwasher and cleans the Instant Pot, and will even start the rice cooker on occasion. He rarely complains about a partner whose wanderlust and work takes her around the world, sometimes for weeks on end. But traditions in my generation die hard and even when I just arrived home from 24 hours of airplane travel for work and my body still believes it is on the other side of the international dateline, he quietly asks, “What are you making for dinner tonight?”

That “dinner bell” [aka: domestic responsibilities] has been part of the dance of our lives for several decades, stealthily becoming part of the story of the challenges to my own development as a writer, independent scholar, researcher, and artist. In contrast, my man’s career as a geneticist required long hours in the lab, often cutting short time at home during his most active years—well, again, that rarely came to question. It was understood that scientific inquiry takes time and that it comes first and precedes the domestic life. Meanwhile, I pressed on, taking care of family members, including several aging relatives, like most women do. I have no regrets about my commitment to his work and take full credit for colluding on that dynamic to support what a scientist has to do to keep a laboratory running and experiments in process.

In a lengthy article on Medium, Kimberly Harrison asks the question, “When Will It Be Time’s Up for Motherhood and Marriage?” noting that “we’re asking men who haven’t been able (willing?) to meet women halfway on the significant labor of running a household and raising children to also catch up on the intricacies of gender and please do it yesterday for the love of God.” And the proverbial dinner bell is by no means the sole influence and many women have multiple and much more difficult circumstances that challenge the amount of time they can devote toward their own creative, professional and/or personal development than I have ever faced.

When asked by colleagues, “just how is it that you finished up yet another book this year,” I still continue to say “I have a superpower. I can wield a wooden spoon to a stir fry pan at the same time I write notes for a new book project, outline a research study or make a quick sketch for an art piece.” I am less a prisoner of the dinner bell these days, but it still calls me to the kitchen duties like a monk to temple, I will not deny that. And in all fairness, depending on the nature of any relationship, what I am stating here may not only be true for women, although the need for superpowers among women to seize time for self is still a dominant narrative.

In this period of “times up” in terms of recognition of societal violence and assault against women, many other issues are or should be up for discussion regarding power, privilege, and oppression on all levels. It's well past times up that we begin to dig more deeply into the many societal roots of these power differentials that impact all parts of life—including how many of us continue to feel that time for self, as Adrienne Rich once said, is time “guiltily seized.”