'Day Job' Yields Info for Nonfiction Book
A Broom of One's Own
Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life
By Nancy Peacock
Harper Perennial, 2008, $13.95
Beware and be wary of who you hire to clean your house. They (he or she) could very well be a writer in disguise or simply one earning a way to support the writing habit until they get their book published. Your dirty linens could end up in print.
That said, I'm suggesting you'll love Nancy Peacock's "A Broom of One's Own." You will feel like a safe and distant voyeur peeking into various and sundry lives as you follow Peacock with her mop and pail, her keen observing eye and later her very pointed pen. What fun! What delight! She's got the lowdown on real dirty dirt and public-faced, private sorrow. Of course she changes the names and places.,
In chapter one, she explains why she cleans houses, that even after publishing two highly acclaimed novels, she could not support herself simply by writing. She had to have what's known in the trade as a "day job." Cleaning houses not only gave her a decent income, but also gave her characters and situations for her fiction. The quiet act of mopping and dusting gave her time to think.
In the chapter "Diary of a Mad Housecleaner," Peacock confesses that she thought if she could just get a book published she'd "never be thought of as a laborer again. Just one book could do this forever. Publishing would change everything, like winning the lottery. It both did and didn't."
After her novels were published, she had something real and solid, a book her clients could read and put on the shelf for her to dust. At the same time it made her "crazy" to have to dust her own books on clients' shelves. Publishing was supposed to be her ticket out of that "work-for-hire" world. It wasn't.
People's reactions to real writers down on their knees cleaning kitchen floors were often harsh and unreal. Somehow they seemed to think all writers who get books published, get rich overnight and go sit in ivy-covered towers writing their days away in financially independent bliss.
"I'd have more money than Oprah if I had a nickel for every person who suggested I write a book for her book club, as if Oprah ordered books like pizzas," Peacock writes. "Cleaning houses paid bills."
Peacock writes of cleaning in the gated communities, which she calls "The Promised Land." She ponders the difference between her life holding the mop bucket and those who dash off to offices, boardrooms and lunches. She begins to know herself, both her strengths and weaknesses.
"I've always needed to move. And loved my imagination. These two things, moving my body, and using my intuitive imagination, have always worked best together. In this way, being a housecleaner and a writer has been a good marriage."
In her advice on writing, she notes, "Often writing is not thinking, it's noticing. And by working a job that allowed me to use my body and be in solitude and quiet, I opened my life up to noticing."
To amuse herself, Peacock, after noticing one client's array of 44 pairs of shoes, 363 shirts and so on, began to count things. And among all the "things" in all the houses, there was not one decent broom. Reading this I go check my own kitchen, back porch and garage brooms.
You will love "A Broom of One's Own," laugh and cry and learn a lot about writing, cleaning, but most of all life. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Buy an extra copy for anyone who has ever cleaned for you. Get Peacock to autograph it especially for them. Enclose a thank-you note with it. House cleaning is not a job for just anybody. Only make sure they're not a writer.
Ruth Moose is a longtime reviewer for The Pilot. She teaches creative writing at UNC Chapel Hill.
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