The temerity of suggesting that my partner and I will be together here in this house long enough to watch the linen of our tablecloth soften is, quite frankly, too much for me to bearby Eli Goldstone / February 20, 2020 / Leave a comment
I am bombarded by advertisements for miracle cleaning products, bespoke kitchens and reclaimed Spanish tiles. The algorithms have conspired to show me a very confusing version of myself. I keep pressing my finger to the screen. Why don’t you want to see this ad? I try to remember what sort of ad I was served before. Dating services, obviously, and disposable razors. Those sort of fripperies aren’t shown to me now. Why don’t you want to see this ad? I brought this upon myself. I’ve searched for Berber rugs on eBay. I’ve asked my friends to recommend seed catalogues. I’ve replaced the nudes I used to post on Instagram with glamour shots of cut tulips, iced cakes and semi-peeled fruits. Why don’t you want to see this ad? I don’t know exactly. Maybe for the same reason that I don’t want to see photographs other people have taken of me: I don’t recognise this version of myself.
My friends and I would imagine the types of houses that we would throw future elaborate dinner parties in, fantasise about orangeries, ice tongs and farmhouse tables—things that we knew existed because we read books about people with money who had affairs. In the meantime, we hung out in claustrophobic London flats, ate at other people’s discarded dining tables. For fifteen years I moved every twelve months or so, shedding my belongings a little each time. There were things that were indicative of my bourgeois desires, wrapped in newspaper in the boxes that I packed and unpacked. Champagne coupes, for instance. A Sabatier knife. A down-stuffed pillow. I had these things around me like charms while I jumped from moment to moment, struggled to pay my bills, lived recklessly. They were a dowry I was keeping for myself, little convictions towards a different sort of life. But the longer it went on the less convinced I was that this life was waiting for me.
Just before Christmas, I left behind what felt like the inevitability of renting, and for the first time in my life aged thirty-three, I am able to physically lay claim to my domestic space. The house is old and has been neglected. The wiring is faulty and the garden is overgrown. I love it dearly, quietly, obsessively.
I am lucky, but anxious too. I am waiting for this feeling—that someone is going to take it all away from me at any moment—to pass, and in the meantime, I plant sweet peas and make plans, pick up a lamp and put it first in one corner and then in another. It is more than imposter syndrome. It is a complex fear of wanting both too much—that which doesn’t belong to me—and too little—that which is of no real worth.
A propensity to designate more or less worth to work carried out is arbitrary and driven solely by my own anxieties of how best to spend the modicum of time I’ve been given to walk this earth. To admit that I find pleasure in menial tasks—in washing and folding clothes, changing bedsheets, pruning roses—seems to succumb to the unimaginable, something close to babyishness, a desire for the banal. I don’t consider myself to have a particularly rich intellectual life. I love trivial things, I choose to sleep late and watch reality TV, and I don’t feel particularly conflicted about that. So, what is it about domestic tasks, about homemaking, that makes me anxious?
A lot of it is work. It’s work that has to be done little and often, for not much reward, and I’m not inclined to do too much of that. I buy a fridge magnet that says “A clean house is a sign of a wasted life!” and give it to my mum, knowing we both semi-believe that to be true. Replacing toilet roll, scrubbing the ring of oil from the bath, sweeping crumbs that collect around the corners of the kitchen floor—it’s the everyday Sisyphean nature of the domestic that makes it all feel like something of a trap. “When woman suffocates in a dull gynaeceum she is bound to take refuge in comfort and well-being… she finds consolation in creamy sauces, heady wines, velvets, the caress of water, of sunshine…” Simone de Beauvoir writes in The Second Sex. I can’t help but agree. In order to cope with the drudgery, we reward ourselves with pleasures of this nature. I don’t consider domesticity to be anti-feminist but I do suspect it of being a waste of time. I know there is more to life than the consolation of creamy sauces, and I feel embarrassed about spending so much of my time on making a roux.
When I hear myself remark to my partner that a tablecloth is linen and so “will age really nicely,” I find it hard to understand how those words have come out of my mouth. How do I know that what I’m saying about linen is true, where have I picked up such a thing, and why do I think that it’s worth saying out loud? When I try to make a home, there is a tension in the fact that I am not only daring to imagine a comfortable life but, crucially, a life that outlasts the present moment. The temerity of suggesting that my partner and I will be together here in this house long enough to watch the linen of our tablecloth soften is, quite frankly, too much for me to bear. That sort of projection doesn’t make sense. It frightens me. For many years, like many people, I have felt my life rested on shifting sands. For economic and social reasons, things have been insecure. I learned that the only way to be happy was to accept my circumstances, never hope for them to improve, and adapt quickly to change. It is a type of Buddhism, I suppose.
Perhaps it is time to unlearn this way of living. There is a performative, role-playing quality to the pleasure I feel in homemaking. For a person like me who finds it difficult to feel truly ‘at home’ in any one particular place, a peripatetic dirtbag who three months ago had never even painted a wall, I can’t help but occasionally feel like I don’t belong in my own life. Is it because I pride myself in being feral, unpredictable, the manic pixie dream girl of my own story? Or is it because I don’t think that I deserve the comforts afforded to others? Maybe I am merely doing an impression of a person who bakes, a person who makes their bed, a person who pays their bills and turns up to appointments they have made. Nevertheless I reap the rewards of these behaviours: my bed is made, there are baked goods, nobody is banging on my door threatening to take my belongings.
I’m not sure I will ever be able to reconcile my perception of domesticity as both aspirational—part of a life lived with loving care—and uninspired. This question is fundamental to me in terms of self- examining. But I also want to be part of something and to commit my time to it, to allow myself to imagine a future, setting the same table over and over again with a person who loves me, and finding out whether what I said about linen is true. To be bored is a privilege, I remind myself, after all.