Pantomime of Normalcy

I’m managing myself and my household, just trying to stay well and keep the ones I love safe. In these uncertain times daily routines give my life a rhythm and create the illusion of predictability. I may be folding socks on a falling airplane, but I need to be busy and I find comfort in the ordinary, the repetition of tasks in a pantomime of normalcy. Up before the sun, make coffee and write in the dark quiet. Darkness gives me focus. Silence expands my thinking. Then pop! The sun is up, the day opens, light becomes noise, the dog stands smiling at the front door. Outside I inhale the cool damp air. Then I feed the dog. Feed the birds. Then more coffee, more writing. Crack eggs into a pan, drop slices of bread in the toaster. Eat my breakfast, drink more coffee, clean up the kitchen. Then back on the computer. Every day. Day after day for the past 100 days, mundane habits like links in a chain that hold me in place here. I am moored. The mirage of safe harbor is soothing.

Billie Best writes about staying sane.

In my younger days this life would have been my worst nightmare. As a budding adult I feared disappearing into domesticity, losing my independence, going beige. In the 1960s, my formative years, I watched the half-hour housewives on TV with their theme music, tidy homes, happy families and perfect hair. June Cleaver, Donna Reed, Laura Petrie and Samantha Stephens in cautionary tales of staying home, self-sacrifice as a calling, the undervalued righteousness of caregiving. I was determined to shun that life.

Now I’m full on Donna Reed living in service to my household, offering kind encouragement, making sandwiches and packing lunch in a lunch pail, cleaning up after meals, addressing issues demurely, without so much as a slightly snarky tone of voice to indicate my superiority, looking straight at the camera with an arched eyebrow and a steady gaze, undaunted, queen of solutions to other people’s problems, doer of good. Boring, boring good. Steely Donna Reed. Unflappable bed maker, kitchen wiper, food wrangler, stalwart helpmate nurturing others through the day. Pushing a vacuum cleaner in kitten heels, pearls and petticoats. Yep, that’s me, just another housewife laying pipe for Western Civilization.

My sanity depends on a visual sense of order. I chop vegetables into neat mounds of color. Wash, wipe and put away dishes. Sort dirty clothes into piles, launder and fold them into stacks, stow them into drawers, hang them on hangers. These acts of homemaking are done without fanfare, without accreditation, without academic degree or professional certification, and yet entirely necessary to the continuity of our lives. My loved ones depend on me to provide stability, a framework of interlocking routines that knit food and shelter into home, a place for rest and renewal. I am a homemaker. My inner feminist gives a deep cringe, but right now, I find this work to be essential. It’s not about my gender, or the traditions of womanhood. These routines are about survival, keeping my head screwed on straight as the Earth trembles beneath my feet and chronic uncertainty screws with my brain chemistry. The pantomime of normalcy dilutes my anxiety and improves my balance. I like it. Peace of mind. Fake it ‘til you make it.

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10 thoughts on “Pantomime of Normalcy

  1. I really like this blog post. I especially like the down-to-earth way you are dealing with COVID. Taking the life you have at this moment and doing the best you can with it makes such good sense. One thing I want to point out is that generally I read your posts in my email ONLY because the gray color for your font on the website is difficult for my 70 year old eyes to read. A bit bigger would be nice too. I really like your writing!

    1. Thank you for reading, and for this comment. I appreciate the issue of text color. I think there is a keyboard command to increase the size of text anywhere on the internet. On a Mac it is hold down the Command key and keep hitting the Plus (+) key until the text is the size you need.

  2. As a retired formerly single professional woman I’m glad for a partner who shares the work in our household. Being a team is satisfying. Sharing / alternating what needs doing and who’s doing what is important and I like taking care of someone and of our chores and routines….. but I also appreciate reciprocity …. does your guy also do these things or does he have a full array of chores/activities that contribute equitably to the wellbeing of the family? We have some of both.

  3. I totally agree, Billie. You put my thoughts into words. I find the humdrum repetition of everyday stuff to somehow even-out my days. I’ve never been so spot-on with grocery ordering, making the bed and thinking about starting dinner at 2:30 in the afternoon. Thank you.

  4. ‘Repetitio est mater studiorum’ (repetition is the mother of students). I always quote that shit self-observing my quiet regimentation. Kinda like an endless waking mantra.
    ‘The only thing I’m afraid of is routine.’ – Moxie Marlinspike

  5. Yep, that’s me, just another housewife laying pipe for Western Civilization. I love that turn of phrase, Billie. Hazel Henderson called it the “Love Economy” – the hidden underpinning of capitalism. She was quite something – I had the great privilege of spending a weekend seminar with her, years ago. It shaped my thinking, particularly her book “Paradigms in Progress”. I also like your phrase about folding socks as the aircraft goes down. It’s a bit like the one I use – re-organisingm deckchairs on the Titanic. I envy your writing discipline. My second book is becalmed.

    1. I am familiar with Hazel Henderson. She was a leader in new economics and the idea of happiness as a metric better than money. Thanks for this comment. I hope you keep writing.

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