Having graduated from Evergreen State College with plaudits from a wide range of teachers, I was exposed to all kinds of theory. Feminist theory, film theory, Marxist theory, cultural theory, sexual theory, Marxist feminist cultural film theory; theory wrapped in iceberg lettuce and swallowed with Ranch dressing. There is a lot of theory in an institution like Evergreen, and I read scads of it.

Much of the theory is interesting, if, ahem, completely theoretical. Often it doesn’t have any real-world application, but if you live in the academic ivory tower, it gives you a lot to think about in your citadel.

I’m a big fan of cultural theory: I love reviewing the detritus American culture has thrown up in the last sixty years and scratching my head at the wonder of it all. I love picking apart the semiotics of the latest television commercials, hence my essay about the bizarre intersection of Walt Whitman and Levi’s jeans. And feminist theory, wide field that it is, is a necessary evil when tangling with “glass ceilings” and “the politics of housework,” inequities of all kinds, the politics of rape as a form of warfare, etc. There is no shortage of fodder for feminist theoreticians to chew on, and the mastication has been great and wide.

But I’ve been out of school a long time. Maybe the theory has been written but I haven’t found it because I’m not bathing in academia anymore. But it would explain why we’re always talking about the division of housework, the realization of two careers, but never our collective inability to keep a family from going kookaburra because there just aren’t enough people to get all the jobs done.

I have been a kick-ass housewife. I mean it. Once my son was born, my husband was bringing in the bacon and I was hanging with the boy. Not only was I hanging with the boy, I was buying our new house, dealing with our finances. Landscaping our yard. Learning construction. Painting our house in a wide array of murals, washes and faux glazes, including glow-in-the-dark paint for the boy’s seascape scene, moonlight reflecting off the water when he turns out the light. Buying and raising chickens. Cooking food well enough that people asked when I was going to open “Chez Q.”

I did my house-wifely duties with the seriousness of a heart attack. I hosted dinners for small gatherings, threw parties for thirty. I was no Betty Draper, mostly because I don’t have the hysterical devotion to maquillage and won’t put on anything like “nice clothing” or “make-up.” But you wouldn’t either if you were always covered in olive oil or compost or paint. It was hard work and I relished it. We have a great home to show for my dedication to my job, and our son has had an interesting, well-rounded home-life with one parent (often both) who was always available. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

But here’s the rub: I’ve moved on. My “career” (or whatever this is that I’m doing now, this clickety-click typing thing) has turned away from strictly an interest in our home, and is now focused upon the words that rattle in my head all the time. And wow, it really takes up a lot of time. Plus, jeez, a lot of energy too. So the house and our quality of life has taken a pretty substantial hit. And I’m not laying any blame for this on the inequitable distribution of housework–my husband has no problem doing dishes or laundry–or on slacking.

Nobody is slacking. There just aren’t enough hands to do the work. Which, digging in the annals of my brain’s “Theory” section, is not dealt with.

Having a housekeeper is scorned, of course, because you are assuming an unequal position with another person, to whom you’ve apparently handed off your least-loved jobs. Feminists love to talk about the economics of feminine work, and no small attention has been paid to the droves of women immigrants being taken advantage of by their wealthier whiter neighbors. So housekeepers are out.

Then there is the distribution of housework between the sexes; men undoubtedly fair better in feminist studies than women in this arena, though this is changing as many women are hanging onto their jobs better than men in the economic downturn. Even when men make a conscientious effort to divide the work of the household in a fair manner, women still often feel they’re picking up the slack.

I’m not talking about any of this though. I’m just talking about the sheer quantity of work that goes into running a household, and there not being enough hands to do it. America and its staunch individualism has screwed me out of my extra hands.

Back in the old days, we were all stuck with each other. Brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, aunts. Tumbling extended families that all had to put up or shut up when it came to bringing home the literal bacon. You didn’t put in your time, everyone suffered. It was just the way it was.

Now we have been given so many opportunities for a cushier life, but at the end of the day our tiny, far-flung families are so removed from the extended families of old that we don’t benefit from our largesse. My son’s grandparents live in town, but they aren’t here to pick up the slack in our household. He benefits from a relationship with them, but no real distribution of household duties for any of us. We’re all vacuuming and sweeping our multiple floors in multiple houses, doing our separate but equal loads of laundry, cleaning up three different kitchens of their breakfast remnants. Spring tidying three separate yards. Driving across town to babysit.

And we aspire to the American Dream, emphasizing the individual over the collective. I’m a fairly autonomous person; I like my space, I’m private, I’m easily put off by crowds. But I’ve been raised to embrace this way of living. I’ve lost my ability to connect, share space, duties, responsibilities, stuff. I feel guilty and neurotic when my husband does the dishes, though he doesn’t mind at all. I feel like I’m failing my unspoken contract if I let the laundry go because I’m burning with the fever to write a new essay on housework.

But perhaps more sinister than my leaving dishes in the sink to write this essay is the abandonment of illness to our individuality. This is acute now that I’m about to re-engage with my father’s cancer, which seems to be making an encore appearance after months of no peek-a-boo. And in a complete coincidence of my essay about the need for more bodies to portion out the work of living, Dad handed me an article called, “Letting Go of My Father,” (The Atlantic, April 2010) which addresses the author Jonathan Rauch’s own isolation and confusion in caring for his dying parent.

Where are the hands on deck? Who, other than me and my brother who lives six hours north of here, and a bunch of hired guns sometime in the future, are going to be able to foster a good death for my father? If it’s important to create a good life and we need many hands to accomplish our basic living requirements, surely it’s the most important thing to accomplish the same goals for someone who is mortally ill. But we are alone or alienated much of the time.

This culture has failed me in that respect. Far flung families who have to fly or drive everywhere to see one another is not a conducive environment in which to accomplish the unpleasant business of dying. I do not know how my father’s illness is going to unfold; he may have years or months, it may be quick or slow, painful or peaceful. No crystal ball has arrived to give me a prognosis, but I’m confident that I will feel a profound sense of confusion at the lack of hands available to me.

TAGS: , , ,

QUENBY MOONE used to be a graphic designer who wrote once in a while. After her father came down with a touch of Stage IV prostate cancer, she became a writer who did graphic design once in a while.

She's written a book called Living in Twilight (no relation to vampires - unless dying of cancer is a part of Edward's story) in which her design skills came in handy, and includes some of her stories featured on The Nervous Breakdown.

70 responses to “The Curious Case of the 
Missing Theory”

  1. I, for one, am glad you’re sticking with that clickity-clack typing thing!
    Yes, there aren’t enough hands/bodies/willing participants to do all the things that need to be done in a house with kids. I struggle with this same problem myself.
    I happen to disagree about the cleaning lady thing. If you can afford it, there are plenty of women who would have no other work if you didn’t hire them. It is noble, respectable work. You did it yourself for many years. I did it, too. Now I rather do the clickity-clack typing thing.
    I figure at the end of the day, month, year, life, I’ll be happier having written something that doesn’t dissolve into its original messy chaotic state immediately upon completion (ie: make a bed, hours later, someone messes it up again; do the dishes, moments later there are more to do!). So I say ignore the house, love the kid, kiss the husband and go, go, go on that computer!

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Ha! You’re onto something there! But the money for the work has to come from somewhere, and I wouldn’t have to pay Uncle Jim-Bob (I have no Uncle Jim-Bob. Not that I know of, anyway!).

      We’d just all be stuck with each other because we’re family. Instead we’re all over the city, or in my husband’s case, country, and we have to hope we don’t need family in a super important, “wow, life is really going to the dogs” kind of way because we won’t be able to help them, and they won’t be able to help us.

      It’s a strange thing. I embrace my independence, and think we all deserve the best shake we can get, including a housekeeper if it keeps the chaos at bay and the clickety-clack going. But I also sigh when I realize that I would like more family in my life. Closer, blood-sticky relatives who are going to the dogs with you if you ask it of them.

      Maybe this is maudlin, but it’s pretty maudlin stuff thinking about what the hell I’m going to face with my dad in the next few weeks/months/years. It isn’t pretty, whatever the prognosis. I love my friends, and I love my neighbors. But I can’t ask them to help much with this.

      At the end of the day, people need people. I need people. I miss having lots of people.

  2. Greg Olear says:

    I just read somewhere that there is less relocation now than at any point since 1962. Perhaps the migrations will stop, now that Gen X has left for greener pastures and settled in places chosen for reasons other than “I’m from there.”

    Your point is well taken. It is so much more expensive now to raise a family than ever before, and much of the tax codes and etc are tilted to help retirees rather than young families. (Does a 65 year old really need a discount on coffee at McDonalds? Really?) Not a day goes by when I am now panic-stricken about the future.

    Re: housekeeping. If you can find someone reliable who actually shows up and does a good job, go for it. Don’t let your theorizing interfere. Housecleaners need work, just like everyone else, and I’m sure someone would be happy to land a job at Casa Fox-Moone. If you can afford it, do it. Seriously. It’s a win-win.

    Also: this is a terrific piece, as per usual.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Just had a look at this piece and all my formatting is gonzo. WTF, Universal God’s of Webbiness?

      I’m looking into it…because it makes my eyes bleed.

      But despite the terrifying formatting, I thank you for your kind words. Looking, at the very least, for a housekeeper for my father who deserves it. Then he’ll just get down to the business of…well, enjoying whatever is left. As it should be.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Yikes. I have no idea why my formatting went Kablooey, but I think I fixed it.

      Money, time, help–there’s too little of it for everyone. I was talking about this essay with Dad Moone this morning because, well, I exploit his illness often these days and feel I need to share with him before I share with the entire planet…anyway, he remembered sharing a rusty old lawnmower with two other neighbors on our block because really, why do you need three lawnmowers? I would completely aspire to this simple act of cooperation and sharing. It’s so silly and small but can make a huge difference, if I could only overcome my own conditioning towards doing everything on my own, by myself making my own way.

      Stupid primate. All other primates live in troops.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Except for the primates who live in condos or, in New York, co-ops. But they are fraught with their own difficulties. You pay for some individual expression in a place like that. Goodbye, chickens.

      • Becky says:

        Not true. Some primates, most often nocturnal ones, are solitary. I know for sure some Lemurs are this way, but I’m sure there are others.

        Of course, humans are not nocturnal (at least not by nature) and we ARE social, but I’m just saying.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          Okay, “The Great Apes, Chimpanzees, and Bonobos, Mandrills, Baboons.” But most of the lemurs live together too. I take your point, but really, the devil is in the details.

        • Becky says:

          Chimps and Bonobos ARE great apes, aren’t they?

          Chimps and Baboons, in particular, but also Gorillas, are also known for their incredible (and perfectly natural) outbursts of violence within–and especially outside of–their troupes.

          So the natural fallacy is a dangerous one. Generalizations that what is natural is inherently best.

          In this case to say that humans do best with support structure and companionship is probably not problematic or incorrect, but people tend to pick and choose what they justify (and what they will allow to be justified) with this logic (the natural fallacy) based on their pre-existing values and ideologies.

          And none of this really has anything directly to do with your piece, just a totally unrelated tangent that interests me, based on your offhand comment. I’m not trying to take you to task. Just prattling on about something that caught my eye.

          Or maybe it does have something to do with your piece. As far as anthropological or evolutionary theory is concerned.

        • Don Mitchell says:

          Pongo, the SE Asian orang, is almost always solitary. I had two grad school friends who studied them. Interestingly, though, within the last decade at least one orang social group has been found — it seems to be a matter of resources. Under the right conditions, they’ll be social. Otherwise, you find one here, another one there, except for the obvious pairings for mating and raising dependent offspring.

          Ex-professor that I am, I have to add the standard definition of “social:” a group including both sexes, all ages, staying together most all of the time.

          Anyway, human social organization is amazingly varied. Nuclear family, urban life, division of labor, occupational specialization . . . ugh. It takes away an awful lot of what happens in other societies. If you lived among the rainforest horticulturists I know best, Quenby, you wouldn’t be having these worries. But you also wouldn’t be having many other things that I suspect you value greatly.

          No free lunch, I guess is the bottom line.

          Apart from the dying parent issue, I feel as though I’ve experienced what you have. Once when I was married to a woman with a career, while I was pursuing my academic job, running a small business, and trying to write, I remember saying “We need a wife!”

          I’m with the others about the housekeeper, too. No shame there. Perhaps you could find someone who would barter.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          You’re absolutely right, re: human organization. I love the panoply, but our American one (or my middle class white American one) has emphasized the individual over the collective, and I miss the more extended, less far-flung system of my ancestors. Although, mutt that I am, that too would be varied between French immigrants who lived much differently from my Jewish relatives, and my English stiff-uppers would compete with the Swiss thises-and-that’s.

          Interesting about the orangutans though, that it’s dependent upon resources. I wonder if ours is dependent on resources and we’re too close to see it? Tell me mighty anthropologist!

          It’s funny that everyone is recommending that I just get the housekeeper. But I want an extended family! (Which, of course, might be fantasy. I might actually want to murder a bunch of people breezing in and out of my life all the time. Grass is greener, etc.)

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    Theories tend to have terrible trouble with the unquantifiable, or the simple ‘It’s not about gender division, it’s about the fact that there just aren’t enough hands.’

    It’s not their ouvre!

    • Quenby Moone says:

      The ineffable or the obvious: that’s what eluding all the theories!

      Am I asking too much of theoreticians? I always ask too much of thinky people who think things all thoughtful and thinkfulicious. All I want is more hands to do the things that make life livable! Like having toilet paper! And food! I can’t write all these thinky words and do all that worky work too!

  4. Irene Zion says:

    Goddammit, Quenby,
    I wrote you this whole long, well-thought-out comment and now I look to see if you responded and it’s not here anymore.
    I am at a crummy motel and have spent 15 hours on my ass in a car yesterday having been awake 23 hours out of 24 and today hasn’t been a whole lot better. I just don’t have the energy to try to remember what I said and I’d probably put in all kinds of typos anyhow cause I’m so wiped out.
    I’ll try again tomorrow.
    You probably won’t even know, cause this won’t post either.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      It posted, Irene! Please, don’t worry about the previous post–that you read it and it made you thoughtful, despite the horror of your last couple of days is more than enough!

      I’m not sure why you’re in a crummy motel, nor why you’ve been up for 23 out of 24 hours, but I have to assume that it’s not some awesome vacation. My guess is, anyone who’s awake for that long at our age is suffering. So I hope you’re well, and if you want to write another comment YAY! And if you’re stuck in hell, please don’t bother yourself! We’re sympatico.

      Humbug reneged.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Relax, Quenby, I’m perfectly fine. I am actually going to a good vacation, the beginning has been difficult because I don’t sleep anymore, hardly, and I didn’t pack right and it’s been raining and freezing my butt off up north here.
        I’ll try again,
        but bleary-eyed I may very well not get my point well made.

        You’re right
        there aren’t enough hands anymore
        we don’t live in a farmhouse
        surrounded by family in other
        It really used to be that way
        but that was then
        and this is now

        There is not enough time
        for you to take care of your family
        and your writing
        and your house
        and do right by your dad.
        accept that
        it’s a fact.

        I took care of my mom
        I have a brother
        but he didn’t feel the
        but he was there
        for the funeral
        never misses one.

        It’s hard
        you need to take care of your son
        you need to take care of your husband
        you want to have some respite
        in which to write
        but still
        he’s your father
        and you already know
        what you have to do.

        You can’t get everything done
        even in the best of times
        and this is the worst of times.
        People you love will lack for you
        they will miss your special touches
        they will notice the empty space
        where you used to be
        they will feel a certain emptiness
        you will feel guilt
        in your chest
        they will eat lots of pizza
        your house will look like a stable
        get over your house
        so what
        you’ll clean it
        some other day
        but still
        he is your father
        and you already know
        what you have to do.

        email me when you need or want to
        we’ll talk

        • Quenby Moone says:

          Ah, Irene. What a beautiful comment/poem/meditation. I’m fine, I’m whole, and my family will soldier on. I miss me cooking –not the cooking part, maybe, because that took a lot of time, but I surely miss my own food!

          Human beings are all going down the same path and none of us is immune from suffering, grief, sadness and stress. I wish that more of it was shouldered upon more people, but maybe we’re all coming to the same conclusions separately and will change things for our kids and kid’s kids. I hope that we learn how to share more in general: more meals, more stuff, more fun too.

          Thanks, Irene. I’ve got a soft spot for you, for sure.

  5. At university I was overwhelmed by theory… I studied literature and history and everything through time seems to have been fought by people with theories and ideologies, all think their own way was best.

    I took the route of believing that all theories and ideologies are just that: ways of explaining the world, rather than truths. And I got along fine, although my head was always full of too many ideas.

    Now I’m older I think that people fight because instead of seeing the world through facts and observations, they apply blanket statements and ideas. Religion and politics are probably the worst offenders.

    Er, I’m just rambling… Your essay set my brain in motion and now I’m be thinking all day, thanks! And there I was planning to turn my brain off this weekend.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I think that you’re right on the mark. If the Bush administration hadn’t been working from a purely ideological standpoint when the US invaded Iraq, they certainly would have known what was going to be wrought. None of them asked any Middle East specialists, nor did they bother themselves with reviewing the facts on the ground. Hubris.

      Theory is great for making sense of the world, but when the world changes the theories need to change too. I feel like the world has changed, our lives have changed, but the theories haven’t caught up to our needs. I need my thinky thinkers to work out my situation!

      Although, as I admit, I haven’t been in school for a long time and maybe the theory is there and I’ve missed it. Not that it matters a lick.

      • Exactly – it’s impossible to collaborate because theory blinds us. For an extreme example, look at the Republicans and Democrats in America. They fight over things they hardly care about, simply because they’re on opposing sides. Their predetermined theories prevent them from ever actually discussing the situation with any civility.

  6. Gloria says:

    I took theory too: literary theory, post-colonial theory, and queer theory. Queer theory was my favorite and wonderful, even if reading Foucault was like running full-tilt through a bog of molasses. And yes, none of it matters out here. I have eight year old twin boys who are with me half time and a seventeen year old daughter who is married and about to give birth, so I’ve only got a part-time family to tend to and I feel like I’m drowning half the time. And yes, the dishes go untouched so that I can write or read or foster the online relationships that keep me sane, since my family is scattered far and wide in the four directions. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, since they’re all in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado, which are all still 2,000 miles away from me and so they may as well be on Mars. And yet, I chose this. I’m still shaken by the comments over on Marni’s post about personal responsibility, so I know that I chose this. But whatever. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel an acute absence of hands.

    I’m sorry to hear about your father’s ill health, but I am heartened to read your words about preparing an honorable departure for him. I think that is beautiful and kind and lovely.

    • Gloria says:

      Dude. You’re in Portland, too? I have hands!! My boys have hands, too! Perfect, nimble little hands! Little sweatshop hands!! In other parts of the world, they’d be employed full time because of their deft little hands! Just sayin’…

      • Quenby Moone says:

        Little sweatshop hands? I hear they can do the detail oriented work that eludes our ragged old hands and eyes!

        I don’t really need your sons’ hands, but I would love to meet you! I’m in SE; where are you located?

        • Gloria says:

          Right around the corner from The Pub At the End of the Universe.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          Ha! We practically live at Yoko’s sometimes. Mmmmm. Taka’s Tuna!

          Well, we can certainly arrange a playdate for you and me some evening/afternoon! We can talk smack about all the TNB’ers! It’ll be great fun, as we envy the TNB’ers who are collecting like dust in Denver for the next event.

        • Gloria says:

          Not only do I vote “hell yeah!” for this idea, but I think perchance we should see about arranging a Portland literary event! (Not that there aren’t already dozens happening here on any day of the week. Only, ours will be good and fun and inclusive.)

        • Quenby Moone says:

          New pic RULES! Look how cute you are!

          I’m pretty hectic these days, but I’d love to meet you. Maybe next week sometime? Week after? Do you have a real job that requires real planning or are you a nut like me that has skirted such pedestrian limits such as “9 to 5?”

          My boy is in school until 2 ish.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Ah, Foucault! I still think on his theories once in a while. The Panopticon is often relevant in thinking about pretty much anything to do with the internet, culture, security. But beyond that, Foucault won’t be able to help with your boys. Nor can he alleviate the worries of having a teenager who’s about to be a mama herself.

      As to the comments about personal responsibility over on Marni’s post, I have to go look to see what all the hubbub is! I haven’t been here much in the last week because of spring break/dad’s illness/husband out of town trifecta, but sure, we choose some things, and some things choose us. Fate is unbiased on what it doles out to people. We control much in our lives, but some things will always be beyond our reach. Who can anticipate car accidents, illness, random violence? A friend of my husband just found out he’s got stage 4 colon cancer. He’s 45 years old. His doctor told him it’s essentially an “Old Man’s Cancer;” they have no idea why a man his age would get this kind of cancer. Who can say?

      So yes, we’re responsible to a point. And then the rest is pot luck.

  7. Becky says:

    As a student of feminist theory, I can say that your aversion to a house keeper may be essentially rooted in some of the patriarchal assumptions/inequalities it is meant to avoid.

    For example:

    Feminism, when it comes to domestic occupations is primarily concerned with at least two things: 1) Housework and the running of a household is just as valuable and important a type of job as any other and 2) there is no reason why men can’t do this kind of job.

    So, you know. Your assumption that it is menial, unimportant, or degrading may be a relic of the very attitudes feminism is opposed to, rather than a consequence of feminist thinking. Though I can certainly see how feminist theory would lead to this bizarre contradiction.

    And of course, we hand off tasks to professionals all the time when we lack the time or the interest or the expertise to do them.

    Sure, you COULD do your own taxes, for example, but maybe you don’t like it, you don’t have time, and you don’t know as much about it or couldn’t do it as well or as quickly as a CPA.

    So you trade a few bucks for their professional help and hire a CPA.

    To assume that hiring a housekeeper or housemanager or whatever you like to call it is somehow different is to make an assumption about the value of the work.

    And, frankly, provided you can afford a house keeper and there are people out there starting housekeeping businesses in order to make a living, in your attempts to respect them, you may simply be denying people income. I mean, it’s one of the few small-business professions with limited overhead and a real potential for growth that are out there. Which is why so many immigrants choose to do it.

    Just because you hire a housekeeper–even one who is not white or not American or female–doesn’t mean you have to treat him or her shabbily.

    Of course, you could get around all of this if you called the housekeeping company and told them that you wanted a white, American male to do the work. But this seems to rather defeat the purpose of all the feminist and racial equality theory that got you there in the first place.

    So you know.

    The value of theory, as you say, has decided limits.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I didn’t say housework was menial–I admitted that I was myself a kick-ass housewife, took no small amount of pride in my work. I think it’s the most underrated profession out there, and feminism has struggled very hard with the contradictions inherent in the work possibly being desirable. Some have argued for distribution of duties evenly between the sexes/partners, which is egalitarian but often impractical. We all have skill sets; mine happens to be in the house-wifely arts. I mean, I’m an old punk rock rebel, but damn if I don’t know how to fix everything around the house, make a killer gumbo, design a garden hideaway and make it come to life around us.

      My husband has a different set of skills, and forcing him to take on making us a well-run home is not going to make anyone happy because we would live like monks. It’s not his ken.

      I don’t have an aversion to paying for services, either. We have our taxes done by other people, we have had housekeepers in vacation-ville. I had my groceries delivered yesterday. Why? Because those 2 hours that I would spend struggling keeping my bored son occupied as I went through the aisles is better spent in other ways. Ten bucks is a small price to pay for the time it affords me. The economy has hit the delivery service, and I will be sad if I have to go back to the store.

      That wasn’t what the essay was about–the essay is about our isolation, our lack of hands and personal resources, not an ability to hire help. I will hire the help when we need it–my dad will need it very soon–but I can’t hire a community. I can’t hire a family. I miss those things, and I wish that we hadn’t lost sight of the good things that come with extended families, not just the burdens of them.

      • Becky says:

        I understand that it’s not about our or your ability to hire help. And I wasn’t accusing you of anything. Just trying to discuss the relative practicality of theory, and how, when adhered to too rigidly, it tends to defeat itself, never mind us.

        I thought there was a part in here about that. Maybe I was wrong.

  8. Becky says:

    Okay, just saw that Greg made essentially this point in about 1/20th of the words.

  9. Time is infinite when we are younger and somewhere along the way it fractures — splintering further as we age and never again– never– can we capture that feeling that we have the time to do it all, and do it well. Without guilt. Without pause. Without a feeling that somehow in the washing of the dishes or tending to the home and family – that we have somehow left something of ourselves behind– even if the task is worthy — even if it is something we really want to do– something we signed up for– so to speak. When illness and death invade to remind us that, indeed, time is only a concept — we panic at the limitations — we panic at what we have left — we panic at the thought of not being able to honor the passage of time and we panic at the thought of not having enough hands – of having to go it alone.

    Quenby– this piece is so eloquent in its longing and in the questions it raises about choice, needs, desires and obligations. There is never an easy passage as much as we want one — but I have a feeling– when the time comes– hands will present themselves. ~ R

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Being alone is a remarkable chunk of experience for all of us–it seems we all share that, at least! I wish it was otherwise, but it isn’t. I’m good with that. Time is fleeting for all of us, but I can say that for Dad who lived as though he was going to live forever because he was rarely, if ever, sick, has taken the long view now that he’s ill. He’s pensive, thoughtful, contemplative. He’s probably less lonely than he has been in a long time because he’s cognizant of what we do have, not what we don’t.

      In that way, it’s both a revelation and a gift. Weird, but there it is. Even if the only hands are mine, we’ll have each other until we won’t.

  10. Irene Zion says:


    I haven’t read it yet, but I won’t have computer access when I have read it, but today, March 27th, The Wall Street Journal has a whole section (R) on what you are dealing with. It is called: When Siblings Step Up. Actually, after a quick look, there are other things in the section, but the article is a full page and a half long and may be something you want to read.
    Just FYI.

  11. I like this: “I like my space, I’m private, I’m easily put off by crowds.”

    That’s me.

    I don’t have a house, or a home. I don’t have any things, really. Not even a car. Just a Mac Book Pro, a camera, a phone, some clothes, and my imagination and drive to succeed. And some spare change here and there.

    I understand what it’s like to be a disheveled writer who bucks the system. I think all of us here at TNB battle that everyday.

    Keep up the good fight. You can do it.

  12. Quenby Moone says:

    You’re like my husband in the monk-like lack of stuff! I aspire to that, but I’m too in love with art and doobobs to not have a wealth of oddities around me. My family are all like sticklebacks; we just grab whatever strikes our fancy and stick it to our backs to drag with us where-ever we go. It’s a curse, but a well-adorned one.

    As to the disheveled writer, I’m disheveled even when I’m not writing. It’s an occupational hazard with as many projects as I make up for myself. Things are always at an operational level of barely controlled chaos, which at least makes things lively.

    I’ll fight the good fight though, to the best of my disheveled abilities. Thanks.

    • I first learned that I wasn’t alone in my disheveled livelihood upon reading John Gardner’s “On Becoming A Novelist.” Since then I kind of bask in it, lizard-like, in the light of my unorganized artistry.

      • Quenby Moone says:

        Shit. I clearly need to read this!

        • I think you would like it.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I own it, though I’ve never read it in its entirety. It was given to me by my now-dead ex, and I recently went looking for it when I was thinking of what to say in Bakersfield, Nick. I was looking for it because I live in a rat’s nest, with books and CDs and magazines piled everywhere.

          At any rate.

          This piece was beautifully written as always, QB. I’d be curious to know if you had much, if any, contact with the underground-music scene in Olympia when you were attending Evergreen. If my calculations are correct, that would have been around the time that riot grrrl was starting.

          About theory, I can only reiterate what I said to a brilliant friend (a concert pianist who retired when she became a mother x 2) who once quoted Nietzsche to buttress some point or the other: “Nietzsche sounds great on paper,” I (oh so cleverly) offered. So much does, including Marx and Freud, but at the end of the day, the goddamned dishes have to be done, yes?

          But I’m not adding a jot to what you said in the post.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          Hmm. Riot grrls. A few have breezed in and out of our lives, but we had more contact with the male factions of rock because my husband was the lead singer in a band when we met (which was when we were in Olympia). Dudes seem to attract other dudes in the world of rawk. But my guess is, since we seem to have a fair amount of crossover in our worlds, it’s completely possible that we have a riot grrrl or two in common!

          Sleater-Kinney was just getting big when we left; we ran into one of them in Portland sometimes in some grimy bar for punk rock trivia night where she and her table would cheat by looking for the answers on their phone’s browser. My husband did some sort of work for Kathleen Hannah briefly before we moved, so she showed up a couple times in our shabby casa. I don’t know if she’d remember us though. And she was dating someone else at the time, so I hope it wasn’t her, dude! My husband’s band played all the time with Seven Year Bitch (and would crash in the Bitch’s house after the shows in Seattle). Did you date a Bitch?

          As to the rest, thank you. And rat’s nest or no, it sounds like we all could join the ranks of Disheveled Writers R Us!

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I’ve dated bitches, but never a Bitch, to make good use of the foundation you laid for that remark.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          We’ve all dated bitches, even male ones. But you would definitely remember dating a Bitch. Pretty unforgettable bunch.

  13. Judy Prince says:

    Well done, Quenby. This country and culture have given many of us what we most want—and those same things are undoing us. We have wanted to live in one-generational family units, so we patch together childcare, dying-parents-care, other generations’ triumphs and tragedies, and hopeful lives after partners’ deaths. It’s a dilemma similar to that of us wanting a loving partnership—and a loving aloneness.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      It’s such a strange dance people have to do to get their needs covered. I have a friend who has to work a job that covers the cost of the daycare that she needs when she’s working. It’s literally a break-even deal. The rest of the hours that she works obviously brings in some money, but those three hours of her shift basically go straight into the childcare fund. It’s such a conundrum!

      And I opted to stay at home to do the great rewarding work of raising our son, but now I have this enormous hole in my resume which can, at this point, practically only be filled by my becoming my own boss; I don’t think many other people would hire me. Do I have enough time to dedicate to a self-made career between the hours my son is in school? Because I don’t want to relinquish our relationship in our after school hours if I can avoid it. Plus, of course, the increasing needs of my father over the next weeks, months, years…we’re all struggling with balance and there seems to be a dearth.

      Ah, well. I try to remember that sometimes less is more and to simplify. It’s all we can do.

  14. Joe Daly says:

    Cool piece. I recently read that in the earlier phases of virtually every culture, it is the grandparents who were charged with the raising of children. Mainly because back in the day, the parents were younger- too young and immature to take on such an important job. Grandparents, on the other hand, had accumulated decades of practical experience, wisdom, and patience. So the grandparents were far better suited to form the emotions and intellects of children, while the parents were charged with hunting, gathering, and pro-creating. Just a theory, tho. 🙂

    I’d be lost without my housekeeper. I think that being a single guy, I can get away with bringing on some help, simply because I don’t have the bandwidth to keep the house as clean as it should be. Aw, who am I kidding- I’m just lazy.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I would love for the grandparents to be in charge! And truthfully, they all would benefit from more exposure to each other–but we’re all cursed with this damned individualism and not wanted to “interfere.” My mother is a fun grandmother, but not “hands-on” and my father is reticent, plus not feeling his plucky best, as is obvious from this piece. But even still, we’re across town from each other, they don’t drive, it’s just not easy to make them an integrated part of the childcare process. It’s a real loss.

      I love that you have a housekeeper! Who cares about lazy? You know what you’re willing to do and what your limitations are. We all would be better off with this self-awareness.

  15. Erika Rae says:

    Quenby, you and I are on exactly the same wavelength right now – only you have been able to come out with an eloquence I currently lack. I’ve got 3 kiddos – ranging from 8 months to 6 years – two dying grandparents, a mother who needs attention (dad died 5 years ago from a brain tumor, you may recall from an earlier comment), a growing business, another starting business, a sister with a small child, another sister in law with a small child, and all this while I live at 9000 ft in the Rocky Mountains. I need help. At the same time, my family needs help. Just this morning I was thinking how wonderful it would be if we all moved to the same city. To the same land, even. Build ourselves a nice compound so that we can all take care of each other.

    Oh, and I’d be all about a housekeeper. I just can’t afford one! Aack!

    My heart goes out to you for your father. It is clear you two have a special relationship.

    Awesome post. And now I must sign off so that I can clean my house which is falling apart under the control of three small children. Seriously!

    • Quenby Moone says:

      There’s the rub: no money for a housekeeper! We just got handed our asses by the tax man. There’s no money! I would get you a housekeeper too, but I don’t have enough money for my own! I too fantasize about the compound. I have a friend who actually managed to realize the dream; her parents bought the house next door to her, they knocked down the fence and when her parents are in town they all share the bumptious child-rearing in their admittedly chaotic haphazard way, but it works because THEY HAVE MORE HANDS!

      And I hope that our neighbors are willing to stick to our neighborhood for the duration, because we would all like them to fill the breach where the extended family has not. We love our neighbors, but we’re all so sheepish about really needing things from other people, esp. if they’re not blood relations, that we want make each other our anchors, but aren’t quite sure how. But in the aim of this goal, we spontaneously had them over for dinner last night, all of this stuff being in the front of my mind all the time these days.

      I’m glad to share this with you, although granted, I can’t help you up in your Rockies, nor can you help me in my non-compound. But at least we can share the confusion! My heart to you and yours.

  16. Richard Cox says:

    This piece left me thinking that I don’t think enough. Like there are so many theories and possible outcomes from them that I am not considering in my daily life, and yet I should be, and what else am I missing that you haven’t covered here?

    As far as the housekeeping issue goes, I’ve always felt the same way about paying for something that I should be doing myself. Then there is the issue of someone coming into my house and seeing it in its natural state, instead of the clean way everyone else sees it. I fear I would clean up before the housekeeper arrived.

    Anyway, as always, excellent post.

    P.S. Can you tell me if your initials are QB or QM? The latter seems like a good guess but it seems I see the former more often?

  17. Quenby Moone says:

    Re: the QB. Strange history, possibly boring. Mr. Olear, with whom you are familiar, inadvertently called me QB in my first post here on TNB, not realizing that it was a nickname that I hadn’t been called in about 20 years. I mentioned it was a nickname of old, and it stuck with members of the tribe. My status as QB was resurrected!

    I’m not actually a “Quarterback,” nor are my initials QB since I don’t have a middle name. I mean, would you want to have a middle name with a name like “Quenby Moone?” Smartest thing my parents ever did. I can’t imagine what they would have come up with.

    I have a million nicknames. QB, Q-ster, Q-ber-dinks (although that one is reserved for my father–too embarrassing) and the simple “Q.” My name seems to lend itself to strange permutations.

    RE: Housekeeping. I would totally clean the house before the housekeeper showed up! At least the first time, when she/he would be shocked and appalled at the level of dust we’re apparently willing to tolerate. When I’ve had housekeepers in the past, in a couple of temporary corporate housing type situations, I would follow her around making chit chat nervously, hoping that she knew I assumed no superiority. I must have bugged the crap out of them. They must have just wanted to shake me off like the bedspreads they snapped efficiently.

    Theories are only practical if they apply to real situations on the ground. When the situations change, the theories aren’t practical anymore. Machiavelli remains practical because his observations are still relevant to styles of leadership, but a lot of theories become outmoded as culture evolves. Plus, much theory is an inscrutable slog to read. There are way better things to read.

  18. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Quenby, this is a wonderful piece. It is a very personal and truthful counter to a lot of received nonsense that seems to plague not just academy, but also the basic cultural expectations with which we send off young people to start families. The social theories you cite are for the most part abominable, solipsistic masturbation, and I must say that to the extent that these leak out of the ivory tower, they represent cankerous, self-inflicted wounds from progressivism (though to be fair not as cankerous as their reactionary counterparts).

    I think your attitude is spot on towards the shifting configurations of a healthy relationship. There is nothing wrong with a woman’s deciding to “nest”, and to put aside a career at one point in her life, and then later on deciding she wants to return to her career, and the beauty of equal opportunity and education is that this becomes a negotiation between equal partners in the household, and that came not from theory, but from women demanding the most practical lineaments of equality, and from society as a whole’s gradual (and still not complete) realization that it would be destructive and unproductive to deny these lineaments to a full half of its able hands and minds.

    My biggest beef with big-F Feminism is that I think it too often confounds common-sense individual aspirations with perceptions and pressures derived from over-sized application of social formulations. I have the same beef with theories of racial consciousness, and such. What the fuck good is Afrocentrism to my children whom we have carefully brought up to be both white, and black, Nigerian and mainstream American, out of respect to the heritage of both parents? In setting up all these social “versus” zero-sum games, we often only confuse and punish the individuals we’re hoping to empower.

    As for the reality that the mobile society complicates things by spreading out family units, that is another very sharp insight. To be fair, that one comes less from theory than from practice, with children going here and there to seek education most suited to their means and individuality, also from seeking jobs in a global market, and then establishing relationships and families with those who have been just as far flung. Greg makes a good point about how it has become more expensive to raise families for this reason. I do wonder whether that is a natural offset to the clearly ever-increasing standard of living. In other words, the modern society gives, and it also taketh away. That in itself I find to have the benefit of being natural, if not always ideal. I can’t say the same thing for social theory.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I love it that you wrote an essay in response to my essay! Holy macaroli, this is one hell of a comment! I’m awed and (I admit it freely) flattered.

      This is my whole beef with theory: it doesn’t deal with the facts on the ground. It never seems to capture the framework that real people are actively working within. I think theory is incredibly important, but in the end I haven’t found one that’s applicable to my/our situation. For that matter, policy wonks don’t seem to get it right either.

      I remember not wanting to move away from my family. I thought they were pretty awesome and thought it might not be so bad sticking around. But think I felt the pressure of urbanity and independence; I was a weenie if I didn’t strike out to at least another city to get away from my family. But what an unnecessary loss. I could have stuck closer to the nest, it wouldn’t have killed us.

      I can’t be the only one who thought their parents might not be perfect but were better than nothing. I wanted to see them, be with them. It’s sad that part of the ritual of being American is fleeing as far as you can get from the family.

      On the other hand, I have my own family now, and managed to uproot both my parents separately to make their way out to my adopted home town. I wouldn’t change that, either. But I wonder if we can recapture some of the rootedness that has disappeared in the last century. We seem to be in perpetual conflict with our nomadic hunter/gatherer primordial selves, constantly seeking a migration to greener pastures and our agricultural roots which kept us anchored to both place and people. I for my part hope I never have to move again, and that I can entice my son to stay a little closer than I did.

      As to cultural theory, much of it seems facile and defensive. I studied Mexico, the Middle East and African Studies, and a lot of the theory introduced was great, but a lot of it was downright bizarre. I remember actively engaging one of my professors because the theories she presented just didn’t make sense, and she in turn became defensive and hated me as a result. She was the only professor who gave me a smackdown in my evaluation (no grades at Evergreen; instead a multi-page booklet illustrating your every success and failure in blistering detail), and even then her real criticism was essentially that she thought I was “uppity.” Whatever. I just didn’t think what she was preaching had much real-world application.

      Anyway, no matter. I feel like I’m alienated in my time of need by our weird culture, but on the other hand I can write pieces like this and have wonderful comments like yours to keep me warm in the howling wind.

  19. Quenby, you might consider, as part of your long-term plans, ways in which money can substitute for labor:

    Replace anything that is hand-wash-only with dishwasher-safe equivalents, and get a dishwasher that really can handle the worst stuck-on stuff, with a built-in garbage disposal. If you have the room, get two (one for loading dirty dishes, the other so you don’t have to immediately put the clean ones away).

    Similarly for clothes: Get rid of items that require ironing or dry-cleaning, and get the largest-capacity washer and dryer (and spring for HE while you’re at it) you can. Buy extra whites, so you can do larger loads less often without running out (if this grosses you out, consider that the new washer probably has a ‘sanitary’ cycle).

    Hard floors + area rugs are a lot easier to keep clean (really clean) than wall-to-wall carpeting.

    Good air filters for the HVAC will reduce the need for dusting.

    And so on.

    Of course, this is all a stopgap until we have affordable household robots. 😉

    • Richard Cox says:

      If I get rid of items that require ironing or dry cleaning, will I be left with anything I can wear in public?

      Let’s not contribute to Justin’s perception that writers are bad dressers and no fun at parties. Haha.

      • Quenby Moone says:

        I’m incredibly fun at parties, though I suck at dressing myself. Fifty-fifty can’t be that bad, right? My only problem with parties is that I often think I’ve embarrassed myself at them, which then scars me and my sleep pattern for at least a couple days.

        That’s probably just the mark of my belated good sense and possibly remarkable “fun-ness” at parties.

        Also, I own a Roomba, but the little bastard doesn’t do dishes no matter how many times I scold.

  20. Carl D'Agostino says:

    I am astonished how many people think evolution is a theory and that global warming is a theory. My theory is that evolution is fact because these people have mutated or branched off into idiots and global warming is proven because they are such hotheads in spewing their ignorance. But they have moved beyond silly to dangerous.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *