Multi-tasking 101? Find hired help

by Yule Heibel on February 2, 2004

(…and the seasons on the hamsterwheel they go ’round and ’round and the painted ponies they go up and down…)

As a PhD’d homeschooling mother who doesn’t have a career — but who did for a while have au pairs for the duration of her brief teaching career at MIT, Brown University, and finally, the end of the road, Harvard Extension School — I LMAO when I read this article in The Spectator by Rachel Johnson, Mother of all inventions (via Arts & Letters Daily).

Johnson is rather nasty but also very truthful, in this our grim Prozac-ridden age where you take anti-depressants to get over the fact that you’re depressed because You Can’t Do It All and still Smile, Smile, Smile. She writes about writing smart columns for newspapers about how to have an interesting job at home such as writing columns about how to be a successful-mom-with-career-at-home:

You write a searingly honest piece dealing with the self-esteem issues that loom when men ask, ‘And what do you do? Or are you just a mum?’ halfway through a dinner party, after you’ve interrogated them over two courses about their golf handicap and City job, and you start idly imagining whether they would look more attractive with an axe buried in their skull. Or you write handbooks (or run websites) for mothers just like you. [read more]

And if you’re not capable of writing any kind of self-help bullshit, Rachel Johnson’s very wicked explainations of who these wonders of career opportunism really are will make you feel a bit more even-keeled, and leave you chuckling:

So you want to know who these women are who seem to be having it all, but not walking the walk, only talking the talk? After all, we are peddling a cosy fiction, an apple-pie lie, that our columns and books somehow get written between the morning school-run and an afternoon spent chiselling mashed banana off a high chair; for as we hymn the delights of home-made Play-Doh from our panic-room-style workstations in attics, our column-fodder kids are more often than not sitting in front of the DVD under the care of a Croatian au pair or Filipina Gastarbeiter who is working her socks off to send money to her seven children back home in Manila. [continued…]

Read the article, it’s funny. And BTW, I read this not as an attack on feminism or women-having-careers, but rather on the insane notion that, man or woman, you can have it all, at discount, or for free, even. Johnson simply points out that there is a price, and that we’re paying the salaries of those peddling the dreams.

They are writers, but as part of the machine, they’re not necessarily writing stuff I want to read.


Is there a woman I admire who combined many diverse things? Definitely Carol Shields:

There’s an early quote from Shields about how she only started writing because she couldn’t find any novels about the women she knew. ‘Women in fiction were either bimbos or bitches.’ She recalls a talk she once attended by George Steiner. ‘I stood up and asked about women writers and he said there weren’t any from the 20th century. He could think of a couple from the 19th but that was that. It’s all so dispiriting. I went to another talk by Martin Amis and pretty much the same thing occurred. I didn’t bother asking any questions that time.’ There’s a spiky passage in Unless about how men simply aren’t that interested in women’s lives – are these Shields’s own sentiments? ‘Pretty much. I think men want to be around women. They enjoy their womanliness and get relief from it. But I also think they may not care much about how the synapses of a woman’s brain operate.’ [More…]

Yes; for one thing, everyone’s too busy working…


Joel February 3, 2004 at 4:18 am

The problem is that there are people who do have it all and they keep taunting us with it. What they conceal is the fact that they’ve done nothing significant or helpful to society to earn it.

Joel February 3, 2004 at 4:30 am

Yule, remind me to get you a Liberty Ball.

Betsy February 4, 2004 at 8:16 am

If they say they’re not paying a price, and I know of a few like this, then they’re either lying or delusional. Give me Carol Shields any day- now SHE could write!

Joel February 5, 2004 at 5:00 am

What are some of her titles and which are the best? (I’m gearing up to read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. This woman is better than any narcotic: she intoxicates, she comes cheaper than even the most base of street drugs, and she has no known effects other than stimulating long periods of couch potato-hood as you read through her novels.)

Jon Husband February 7, 2004 at 11:45 am

Beauty ! – as Bob (or was it Doug?) Mackenzie would say, for whom real, honest meaningful work was finding the bottle opener between periods in the televised hockey game, while the ads were on.

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