Killing the Angel in Order to Write
January 29, 2018 § 17 Comments
By Shannon Hageman
“Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of women writers,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her essay, Professions for Women (1931). I’d like to believe that women have come a long way; I wasn’t even born until forty years after Virginia Woolf advised women writers to kill the Angel of the House. I know we’re not expected to be Angels anymore, but there are expectations. Expectations I picked up from the housewives in my family –grandmothers, godmothers, and aunts. Expectations I built while scorning my own mother who worked full time, let my father do most of the cooking and cleaning. There’s a constant nudging: be the mother portrayed on social media with her perfectly assembled outfit and frizzless hair in the carpool lane, who sends her kids to school with well-balanced, organic cold lunches packed in Bento boxes. Mothers who don’t just pin, but create Pinterest masterpieces. The mother who balances the full-time career while maintaining a full time housewife status. A mother whose children do as their told, look adorable, make the grades, and function without therapy. I’m supposed to be the Angel of the House; the mother, nurturing, accommodating, serving, sympathetic, pure, and utterly selfless.
I killed her, my Angel of the House, back in undergrad, so I could write essays for my creative nonfiction class. In a fit of frustration and procrastination, I etched her onto the lined paper that was supposed to hold my shitty first draft. I drew her, shaded her wings neatly. Then I jabbed that pencil right through the center of her tiny dot eyes. I pinned her to the cork board hanging above my desk. Every time I wanted to return to my domestic duties, I paid homage to Woolf and once again stabbed the Angel corpse hanging on my corkboard, killing her and my guilt. Eventually, the corpse was battered enough to earn her final resting place in the recycle bin.
But she’s back, haunting me from her grave, as I sit at this dining room table where my laptop taunts me: write something, anything. I worried this might happen, when I decided to register for the grad program at my local university. I worried she’d return to haunt me with guilt and expectations. There are laundry piles surrounding me, neatly folded and sorted by bedroom. There are homemade pumpkin energy bites cooling in the kitchen, something I’d put together for tomorrow’s breakfast, a request from my teenage sons. Across from the table, an overstuffed chair holds my sewing box and my youngest son’s school uniform shorts that still need the button reattached. Spread out on the other end of the table are an array of school papers needing checked over, a permission slip waiting for my signature, a handprint turkey drawing my daughter doodled while waiting for help with her homework. I have twenty minutes before I’ll pack my husband’s lunch and send him off to work the third shift. My middle son hollers from down the hall, “Someone grab toilet paper from downstairs! This bathroom is out!”
And the laptop taunts me: write something, anything, I dare you.
If I am to be a writer, what purpose does it serve? I’m a wife and a mother and a teacher and those vocations easily serve a purpose. But what purpose does writing serve? Most days I want to preserve specific moments, my side of the story, my view from this little corner of the world in which I live. That’s a selfish reason to write, that isn’t really the purpose. So I try to find purpose and put more intention to my writing. I set out to challenge myself to write better, to write more, to seek publication. Then the guilt seeps in. Guilt over perfecting my craft of writing rather than perfecting my mothering, wife-ing, homemaking. I should be nurturing my children, not writing about them. I should be cultivating memorable experiences, not preserving them. If writing serves no other purpose than self-preservation, then every time I sit at this computer, I am being selfish and avoiding my purpose-driven vocations.
When we have a spare moment, I’ll tell my husband about the Angel that haunts me. He’ll remind me we’re a team. He’ll throw in a load of a laundry. He’ll grill some steaks and help our kids with their homework. He’ll make sure that everyone has their school things ready before they go to bed. He’ll send me to my room, with a charged laptop and coffee he brewed fresh. “Write something, anything,” he’ll say. He’ll close the door and leave me alone with the Angel.
And then, I’ll kill her.
Shannon Hageman lives with her husband and their six children in a small town near Omaha, Nebraska. She is an English teacher at an alternative high school and is a graduate student at University of Nebraska-Omaha. Her essays have been published in Saint Mary’s Review and Catholic Digest.