October 13, 2016

Page 246

I had created a life that was bent in service to all my personal cravings.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

September 6, 2016

August 20, 2016

Page 165

It became dangerous to leave her unguarded for even a minute, for her physical drive was like sand issuing from a fathomless hourglass, like time: it flowed from her in a constant stream which we fought to channel and contain, spilling hazardously over when the telephone or a knock at the door occasioned a moment of neglect. I recalled remarks I had carelessly heard other parents use, phrases like she never stops or she's on the go all the time, and pondered what they actually meant. An instant's distraction would find my daughter inching over the top of the stairs, pulling electrical leads that were about to bring the kettle or iron down on top of her, delving into the rubbish. She husked records from their sleeves and shredded letters in their envelopes with the speed of a harvesting peasant. She aimed herself at bottle sod bleach or hot cups of tea, trundling across rooms like a slow but deadly missile and changing course only if someone actually went and stood between her and her target. Suddenly our life was like a drama in which  a bomb is being disabled against the clock. We were, all at once, the slaves of time, and we kept our daughter to the kitchen so as better to contain her ticking, to contain her power to destroy. Only when she was upended, neutralized by sleep, did the ticking stop; interludes which washed swiftly and soundlessly past us like flood waters, bearing away the pleasure of books or conversation too quickly for us to do more than grab at them. 

- A Life's Work by Rachel Cusk 

Page 161

I believed that I would never have lived in such a place when my life was my own; and although it is in the purpose of such places to ensure that it is not, to remove your life from your control and hence prevent it from becoming a public danger, I had to claim my share of responsibility in the matter of relinquishing London and the exitesnce to which over the years my unfettered desire had given shape. I could not tell you how great this share was: I never had time or opportunity to quantify it. ALl I know is that it began to grown me after I had a child: a second gestation, of dissatisfaction, sometimes of actual distress. A feeling of dispossession and rootlessness took hold of me, thrived in me, putative but vigorous, and it was only once I had ceased to house it and actually brought it to life that I saw it was merely a phantom, a construction. I had given, it seemed, concrete expression o my grief at the fact that I could no longer live the life that I had been living. I had moved away because I thought I no longer belonged where I was.

No sooner had I dont it than I found myself remarkably restored. Everything that motherhood had seemed to put at an unbreathable remove now was obstructed by mere geography. The loneliness of hours spent with a baby at home merged with that of moving to a new, friendless and uncongenial place. What was staid and humdrum and restarting and depriving about motherhood found its incarnation in our surroundings. My life shed its burden, passed it on. Imagine, I found myself saying to my partner one day, how much easier it would be looking after children if you weren't stuck in this boring hole, if you had all your friends around and places to go in the evening and things to do at the weekend. You mean in London, he said. 

- A Life's Work by Rachel Cusk

Page 157

All through these weeks I retained an impression of my daughter's eyes, dark and bright an docked on mine as she was passed from one stranger, with their story, their particular body and breath, their indefinable aura, to another… I had discovered, too, that those hours I had purchased back were damaged and second-hand. They were cramped and unsatisfactory; they were hours whose crazy ticking could be heard. Living those hours was like living in a taxi cab. Working in them was hard enough; pleasure, or at least rest, was unthinkable. I couldn't fit my work dingo a space carved, as it seemed to me, from my daughter's own flesh. Besides, I had conveyed to her distinctly the fact that I thought her abandonment was unreasonable, her protests fair: I wasn't ready, it seemed to let her love somebody else. 

- A Life's Work by Rachel Cusk

Page 131-138

There is in truth no utterance that could express the magnitude of the change from woman or man to mother or father, and in the absence of definitive statement the subject becomes peopled with delusions and ghosts, with misapprehensions nd exaggerations and underestimations, becomes separated from the general drift of human conversation, so that parenthood is not a transition but a defection, a political act. Beginning with the object of the baby, like an unexploded bomb in a Hitchcock film its mere, unalleviated presence draws the immediate drama to itself, causes, for the people who live with it, the world to slew in its direction. It is like a social experiment, something a scientist would do: leave a baby in a room with two adults, retreat a, and see what happens. The baby cries. The cry is loud and urgent, similar to the sound made by a fire alarm. The woman picks up the baby. The sound stops. When she tries to put it down again the baby cries. She holds it for a long time. The man grows bored and the woman tries to put the baby down but it cries. When the woman becomes tired she gives the baby to the man. The baby cries. The man walks around with it and it stops. The man grows tired. Both the man and the woman sit down and look at the baby anxiously. They are too tired to speak, but at least hey have stopped the baby crying. They feel as if they have achieved something. It starts crying again. It cries so much that they hate it. Whenever it stops crying the relief is so great that they love it. This happens over and over again, but the experiment dictates that each time it becomes harder to find a means of stopping the baby crying. Soon it is taking all their ingenuity and energy to work it out. They are given no breaks and no assistance from the outside world is permitted. The experiment runs day and night without pause. The couple must work out for themselves who sleeps when, and this is the greatest cause of argument between them. Each feels it is unfair if the other goes out, and even going to work is considered an easy, attractive option. The experiment can be broadened by introducing more babies, and by altering laboratory conditions with the use of all or any of the following factors: progress int he baby's development from crying to rolling off tables, crawling out of windows, choking, falling over and other dangerous, attention-seeking behavior which requires strenuous round-the-clock parental vigilance; the addition to the room of dirt, mess and endemic domestic chaos which no amount of work appears to eradicate; the occurrence, int eh working partner's conversation, of attractive, childless members of the opposite sex; and telephone calls, erratically spaced to promote anxiety, from members of the outside world, who discuss their social lives, offer to come round for half an hour before they go to a party which is apparently happening near your house, make comments you no longer understand such as 've been in bed for three days with a cold" and conspicuously do not say "why don't I take the baby so you can have some time off?"

No matter how much I try to retain my self, my shape, within the confines of this trail, it is like trying to resist the sleep an anesthetic forces upon a patient. I bleive that my will can keep me afloat, can save me from being submerged; but consciousness itself is unseated, undermined, by the process of reproduction. By having a baby I have created a rival consciousness, one towards which my bond of duty is such that it easily gains power over me and holds me in an enfeebling tithe. My daughter quickly comes to replace me as the primary object of my care. I become an undone task, a phone call I can't seem to make, a bill I don't get around to paying. My life has the seething atmosphere of an untended garden. Strangely this neglect troubles me most where it is most superficial; with the baby's birth a lifetime of vanity vanished into thin air. Like gestures of love that abruptly cease, I come to value my habit of self-adornment only with its disappearance: it was proof that I cared, and without I feel a private sense of sad resignation, as if some optimistic gloss has been stripped from my life. Sometimes I think back to that history of caring - as a self-conscious child, an anxious teenager, an attempted woman of fashion - amazed that it could have ended so precipitately, for it was in its modest way a civilization, a city built from the days of my life. The last chapter of this history - pregnancy - was as viid as any other: it contained no hint of an ending, no clue that things were about to change. It is as if some disaster has occurred which has wiped me out, an earthquake, a failing meteor. When I look at old photographs of myself they seem to resemble the casts of Pompeii, little deaths frozen in time. I haunt the ruin of my body, a mournful, restless spirit, and I feel exposed, open to the air, the weather, and to the scrutiny of others. I know that there must be some physical future for me, but it is bogged down in planning problems, in administrative backlog. I hold out no great hopes for it in any case. The bright little body of my daughter takes up all my time. It is like a new house, a new project. Ill be lucky if I ever find the time to make the long journey back to myself, to the old ruin, and hurl a coat of paint over it before the winter of middle age sets in.

My daughter's pure and pearly being requires considerable maintenance. At first my relation to it is that of a kidney. I process its waste. Every three hours I pour milk into her mouth. I goes around a series of tubes and then comes out again. I dispose of it. Every twenty-four hours I immerse her in water and clean her. I change her clothes. When she has been inside for a period of time I take her outside. When she has been outside for a period of time I bring her in. When she goes to sleep I put her down. When she awakes I pick her up. When she cries I walk around with her until she stops. I add and subtract clothes. I water her with love, worrying that I am giving her too much or too little. Caring for her is like being responsible for the weather, or for the grass growing: my privileged relationship with time has changed, and though these tasks are not yet arduous they already constitute a sort of serfdom, a slavery, in that I am not free to go. It is a humbling change. It represents, too, a reckoning of my former freedom, my distance from duty. The harness of motherhood chafes my skin, and yet occasionally I find a predictable integrity in it too, a freedom of a different sort: from complexity and choice and from the reams of unscripted time upon which I used to write my days, bearing the burden of their authorship. It does not escape me that in this last sentiment I am walking over the grave of my sex. The state of motherhood speaks to my native fear of achievement. It is a demotion, a displacement, an opportunity to give up. I have the sense of history watching, from its club chair, my response to this demotion with some amusement. Will I give in, graciously, gratefully, handing back my life as something I had on loan? Or will I put up a fight? Like moving back from the city to the small town where you were born, before exclaiming at its tedium you are advised to remember that other people live here, have always lived here. Men, when they visit, are constrained by no such considerations of tact. But it is not merely a taboo against complain that makes the hardship of motherhood inadmissible: like all loves this one has a conflicted core, a grain of torment that buffs the pearl of pleasure; unlike other loves, this conflict has no possibility of resolution.

The baby's physical presence in my life is not unlike a traveller's custody of a very large rucksack. On the subway people tut and sigh at our double bulk, the administrative headache of us, and stream away at stations leaving us struggling withs traps and overflowing detritus on the platform. We career into tables at restaurants, knock fragile things of f shelves in shops, are clodhopping and clumsy and yet curiously invisible. Because I am the baby's home there is nowhere I can leave her, and soon I begin to look at those who walk around light and free and unencumbered as if they were members of a different species. When occasionally I do go out without her I feel exposed, like something that has lost its shell. The litany of the baby's requirements continues regardless of hour, season or location, and because her proclivities are not those of the adult world, when we are at large routine acquires the distinctive flavor of anarchy. She shrieks uncontrollably in quiet places, grows hungry where it is impossible or me to feed her, excretes where it is pristine: it is as if I myself have been returned to some primitive, shameful condition, being sick in expensvie shops, crying on buses, while other people remain aloof and unpitying. My daughter emanates unprocessed human need where the world is at its most civilized; and while at first I am on the side of that world, which I have so recently left, and struggle to contain and suppress her, soon, like so many mothers, I come to see something inhuman in civilization, something vain and deathly. I hate its precious, fragile trinkets, its greed, its lack of charity. Compassion worms its way into me: but whether it is just sentiment, an annex of my love for my daughter, or a constitutional change I can't really say.

I become confined to one room, a development that represents a surrender, a battle lost. As my daughter becomes both more complex and more dangerous, my respect for her increases in proportion to others' disdain. The prospect of protecting her and the adult world from each other grows dark and unappealing. I can no longer face dragging her around after me. She is crawling now and has likes and dislikes. She has changed from rucksack to escaped zoo animal. Being in places that do not contain her requires me to be her tamer. Increasingly I remain at home with her, and as first stairs and then drawers and bookshelves and coffee tables acquire the potential for danger and riot, we become fenced in, cornered in the one safe space: the kitchen. My daughter zig-zags around it, maddened by confinement. It is winter and the garden is too wet and cold for her to crawl in. She beats on the door with her fists, desrpate to escape. The floor is flooded to ankle height with her toys. Unidentifiable matter describes paths, like the trail of a snail, over walls and surfaces. The room has acquire a skin, a crust of dried milk upon which old food sits like a sort of eczema. The kitchen is pollinated with every substance with which my daughter comes into contact: mess spreads like a force of nature, unstoppable. My clothes are limed with it; I find gobbets in my hair, on my shoes. I wash and rinse and scrub but a strong undertow of entropy appears to govern this overheated little space and chaos is forever imminent, encroaching. Time hangs heavy on us and I find that I am waiting, waiting for her days to pass, trying to mer thte bare qualification of life which is for her to have existed in time. In this lonely place I am indeed not free: the kitchen is a cell, a place of no possibility. I have given up my membership of the world I used to live in. Sometimes I listen to music or read, and it is like a ray of light coming in from outside, bright and painful, making me screw up my eyes. When we go for a walk I see young women in the street, beautiful and careless, and a pang of mourning for some oblique, lost self makes my heart clench. I look down at my daughter sleeping in her push chair, the dark fringe of her lashes forming arcs on her pale skin, and a contrary wind of love gusts over me; and for some time this is how I am, blown this way and that, careering around like a crazy, febrile gauge trying to find north.

- A Life's Work by Rachel Cusk

Page 87

It is not love that troubles me when I leave the baby, like a rope and harness paid out behind me wherever I go. It is rather that when I leave her the world bears the taint of my leaving, so that abandonment must now be subtracted from the sum of whatever I choose to do. A visit to the cinema is no longer that: it is less, a tarnished thing, an alloyed pleasure. My presence appears almost overnight to have accrued a material value, as if I had been fitted with a taxi meter, to which the price of experiencer is inseperably indexed. When I am out I am distracted by its ticking. My friends, whilst glad to see me, cannot necessarily afford me. We meet at the uncrossable border between the free world and the closed regime of motherhood. Though I have for the moment forgotten them, such divisions existed, of course, in the life I knew before. I have spent many evenings with people who were haunted by undone work, by unhappy relationships, by lack of money, by practical anxiety or grief. I have felt their restlessness, their fever, have seen things prowling behind their eyes. The difference lies in the mater of valor, for while it is easy to encourage your friend bravely to throw off the bonds of her anxiety, to forget her troubles and hope for better things, no one is going to cheer a mother's recovery from feelings of responsibility for her child. Instead the baby lies at home like some unintelligible goddess, luminous, pulsing, strange, an icon of lofty requirement. As her disciple I cannot but appear to have undergone some mystic conversion which distances me from those I love. I  must go back to her as to something other people don't understand, and respectfully, concernedly, they let me go.

- A Life's Work by Rachel Cusk

Page 63

"We are in the housewifely slurry of everything that is both too late and too early, of madness and morning television. The day lies ahead empty of landmarks, like a prairie, like an untraversable plain. The baby is roaring. It is the sort of sound that permits no pause between deep sleep and full activity. I leap to my fee,t pick her up and am pacing the reeling room with her within seconds… My thoughts have become rat-like and rudimentary with guesswork, with lack of sleep. Feeding is something I do with a measure of confidence only because I have done it several times before, not because I understand particularly when and who it should be done."

- A Life's Work by Rachel Cusk

Page 62

"I have no difficulty in understand what I read of the early relationship between mother and child. The child's yearning to be repossessed by the mother's body, it's discovery of desire and satisfaction, its exploration of the limits of itself, and of another person and the fact of that person's own will; the mother's impulse both to protect and to expose, to yield and to separate, her responsibility both to love and to sort of steer everything int eh right direction: I can see it all. The problem is that this vision doesn't much seem to resemble my situation. The baby's objections seem both comprehensive and startlingly personal; my own responses random, off-key and profoundly unmagical. It is not only iffiest to believe that I am the object of the baby's desire, an object she is unresting in her attempts to enslave to her own will; it is in fact quite possible that she doesn't like me at all"

- A Life's Work by Rachel Cusk

Page 56

These two trains of thought do not disturb each other. I am surprised to discover how easily I have split in two. I worry; I console. Like a divided stream, the person and the mother pay each other no heed, although moments earlier they were indistinguishable: they tumble forwards, each with its separate life, driven by the same source but seeking no longer to correspond. 

The vision of myself that I briefly glimpsed in the park - unified, capable, experiencing 'the solidarity of life' - is one that I will continue to pursue over the coming months. It proves elusive. Its constituents, resolutely hostile, are equally unruly. To be a mother I must leave the telephone unanswered, work undone, arrangements unmet. To be myself I must let the baby cry, must forestall her hunger or leave her for evenings out, must forget her in order to think about other things. To succeed in being one means to fail at being the other. The break between mother and self was less clean than I had imagined it in the taxi: and yet it was a premonition too; for later, even in my best moments, i never feel myself to have progressed beyond this division. I merely learn to legislate for two states, and to secure the border between them. At first, though, I am driven to work at the newer of the two skills, which is motherhood; and it is with a shock that I see, like a plummeting stock market, the resulting plunge in my own significance. Consequently I bury myself further in the small successes of nurture. After three or four weeks I reach a distant point, a remote outpost at which my grape of the baby's calorific intake, hours of sleep, motor development and patterns of crying is professorial, while the rest of my life resembles a deserted settlement, an abandoned building in which a rotten timber occasionally breaks and comes crashing to the floor, scattering mice. I am invited to a  party, and though I decide to go, and bath and dress at the appointed hour, I end up sitting in the kitchen and crying while elsewhere its frivolous minutes tick by and then elapse.

The baby develops colic, and the bauble of motherhood is once more crushed as easily as eggshell. The question of what a women is if she is not a mother has been superseded for me by that of what a women is if she IS a mother; and of course, what a mother, in fact, is." 

- A Life's Work, by Rachel Cusk, Pages 56-58

August 18, 2015


"Scared is what you're feeling. Brave is what you're doing." -Emma Donoghue


“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” — Mary Jean Irion 

November 21, 2013

Page 154

I think now that being free is not about being powering or rich or well regarded or without obligations but being able to love. To love someone else enough to forget about yourself even for one moment is to be free. The mystics and the churchmen talk about throwing off this body and its desires, being no longer a slave to the flesh. They don't say that through the flesh we are set free. That our desire for another will lift us out of ourselves more cleanly than anything divine.

We are a lukewarm people and our longing for freedom is our longing for love. If we had the courage to love we would not so value these acts of war.
Love, they say, enslaves and passion is a demon and many have been lost for love. I know this is true, but I know too that without love we grope the tunnels of our lives and never see the sun. When I fell in love it was as though I looked into a mirror for the first itme and saw myself. I lifted my hand in wonderment and felt my cheeks, my neck. This was me. And when I had looked at myself and grown accustomed to who I was, I was not afraid to hate parts of me because I wanted to be worthy of the mirror bearer. 

- The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Page 122

There's no sense of loving someone you can only wake up to by chance.


I say I'm in love with her. What does that mean? 
It means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as thought I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read. Wordlessly, she explains me to myself. Like genius, she is ignorant of what she does. 

- The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Page 25

I was happy but happy is an adult word. You don't have to ask a child about happy, you see it. They are or they are not. Adults talk about being happy because largely they are not. Talking about it is the same as trying to catch the wind. Much easier to let it blow all over you.

- The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Page 19

It's hard to remember that this day will never come again. That the time is now and the place is here and that there are no second chances at a single moment. 

- The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

September 15, 2013

Page 192

That's what you have, Harry: life. It's a strange gift and I don't know how we're supposed to use it but I know it's the only gift we get and it's a good one.

- Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Page 81

With women, you keep bumping against them, because they want different things; they're a different race. The good ones develop give. In all the green world nothing feels as good as a woman's good nature.

- Rabbit, Run by John Updike

August 26, 2013

Page 16

It is altogether curious, your first contact with poverty. You have thought so much about poverty - it is the thing you have feared all your life, the thing you knew would happen to you sooner or later; and it is all so utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid and boring. It is the peculiar lowness of poverty that you discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping. 

- Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

August 17, 2013

Page 57

At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others – poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner – young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

Again at eight o’clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were fie deep with throbbing taxi cabs, bound for the theater district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes outlined unintelligible gestures inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well. 

- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Page 56

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove.

- The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

August 3, 2013

August 2, 2013

June 12, 2013

Page 134

To have come on all this new world of writing, with time to read in a city like Paris where there was a way of living well and working, no matter how poor you were, was like having a great treature given to you. You could take your treasure with you when you traveled too, and in the mountains where we lived in Switzerland and Italy, until we found Schruns in the high valley in the Vorarlberg in Austria, there were always the books, so that you lived in the new world you had found, the snow and the forests and the glaciers and their winter problems and your high shelter in the Hotel Taube in the village in the day time, and at night you could live in the other wonderful world the Russian writers were giving you. 

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Page 49

When spring came, even false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway