Sunday, 2 March 2008

Alone March 2

Despite believing that a woman can do what she likes and be who she wants it has become obvious to me that there is one thing a woman should never be. Alone.
I’m about to disappear for a few weeks to Venice, Italy. Alone. It’s the best news I’ve had in years that I’ll be free to wander the canals of Venice and tap away on my laptop for hours pausing only to cater to my needs, not anyone else’s.
But as news of my trip has spread the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. One person close to me inquired if they had ashrams in Venice, dropping a huge dollop of suggestion that I might be having a mid-life crisis. Another person, also closely related, wondered why I would even consider travelling anywhere on my own when I had a nice husband to go with me, and suggested Hawaii would make more sense. I’m not sure why Hawaii, perhaps a woman is better alone wearing a coconut bra?
Someone else, on hearing my reasons for wanting some time out as translated by a friend: “she never gets a moment to herself,” managed to make me feel so much better by highlighting how awful, indeed, my life really is.
“I could never live your life,” she said with the dread more commonly used for conversations discussing cancer diagnosis.
A colleague, live on the radio, stated that he was worried about my family. The inference surely being that when the woman of the house was away the children starved, the power was cut off and the Ebola virus moved in.
And then there was the expense. “I thought you were paying off the mortgage,” smirked a very brave person. Necessitating a long explanation about my previous book proving a little controversial which meant I ended up with a bit of an unexpected windfall, most of which went on the mortgage actually and some of which I was putting into the next book. Beat that.
And then there were just the looks. From various people searching my face for signs of a marriage break-up, a terminal illness prompting me to get out my list of 100 things to do before I die, or an assignation with a lover of indeterminate nationality, but most probably Italian.
“No seriously, I just want some time alone to write my novel which is set in Venice,” I repeated until I was blue in the face.
Which then prompted a thought bubble above their heads which said: “She’s taking herself a bit seriously isn’t she?”
I will never be one of those pale women who waft across the stage at the Montana Book Awards looking like they need an intravenous drip for basic nutrients and a sense of humour. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let my novel be set in mystifying Karangahape Rd when I have Venice at my disposal. I’m a popular fiction writer with the sole aim that one day someone might curl up with my romantic thriller on a rainy winter’s afternoon and have a pleasant read.
But as the time draws near I am outraged that I have had so much damn explaining to do because I am stepping out of the antiquated expectation hat a woman’s place is in the home. We have obviously not progressed since the 60s when the only reasonable excuse for a mother to leave her family was to go into hospital for a hysterectomy or to attend the funeral of a distant aunt down country.
Hours were spent preparing freezer meals labelled: “Beef stew, Monday night, defrost then heat slowly on in the pot on medium” or “Macaroni cheese, Tuesday night, defrost then heat slowly in the oven on 150 degrees.” And brave souls left notes suggesting fish and chips on Friday. Other women in the neighbourhood rallied around and invited hubbie and the kids over for a meal to save them “fending for themselves.”
Men however, have always been allowed to travel alone. Far and wide they go conquering deals and takeovers. My travel writer husband does a fair bit of it with no such reaction from anyone about being alone or being any more odd than usual.
The only people who are quite happy for me to disappear are my five children. The very people I am escaping from with their love of interruption, need for nurture and givers of conversations I never regret finding time for. And that’s why I love them.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

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