The Wednesday Sisters and Thoughts on How to Focus

This morning, my two-year-old son woke up at 5:50. I heard him whimpering a bit in his bed, but held my breath for a few seconds, hoping he’d go back to sleep. He did. I, however, did not. Instead, I  promptly rolled over and reached for my Nook, because I was dying to finish The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. By 6:30, I was done. It was such a great book, but for some different reasons than the ones I usually like books for.

The Wednesday SistersThe book was written from the point of view of Frankie O’Mara, wife of a technological genius, who has moved to Palo Alto, California in 1967 to pursue what would later be known as the Silicon Valley computer boom. Frankie meets “The Wednesday Sisters” in the neighborhood park. They are, of course, really not sisters, but a group of women who live in the same neighborhood and have secret literary ambitions. Or at least, most of them do and the others join in because they are talked into it. The group of women is diverse in a way that makes you think “this could only happen in a book.” Somehow, that aspect didn’t ruin the book for me because it was crucial to the story. I gained some insight about that time period in the late ’60’s when so much about the American culture was changing. Sure, I learned about the feminist movement at the women’s liberal arts college I went to, where we were required to take an entire class on feminism. This book, though, made me realize what it was like to be a woman watching all of these changes happen around her.

The Wednesday Sisters are not openly feminists. Besides Linda, the activist of the group, they are slightly fearful of the women protesters they see on TV. But as the book goes on, the characters in the book, and I as the reader, came to understand a little bit more about why changes were inevitable and some of them very necessary. For example, women’s healthcare was downright scary. Breast cancer was not understood very well and even survivors were crippled after treatment. Infertility was a huge mystery. Premature babies didn’t live very long. Besides the healthcare issue, there were many other ideas that I’m glad changed, such as the one that particularly bothered me, the idea that women who participated in sports were unfeminine.

Politically, I’m not a true feminist in the current day. For starters, I’m pro-life. I may agree with some “feminist” stances, but mostly, no. But I live in a culture that smiles on a stay-at-home mom typing out a manuscript in her spare time, and that claps for women who run marathons, and that really doesn’t take Miss America pageants very seriously anymore (if you do, forgive me, but most people I know don’t). I played sports in high school. I cut my hair short without anyone blinking an eye. These are some freedoms that I take for granted. I have a few opinions about some bad effects the feminist movement had on America. For example, while no one frowns on me for having literary aspirations, many frown on me for choosing to stay at home with my beloved children instead of pursuing a career and “using my education.” That’s an opposite extreme we’re dealing with now. But that’s not what The Wednesday Sisters made me realize. It helped me appreciate some good things about 1960s feminism, even if I have mixed emotions and thoughts about the evolution of feminism and what it is today.

A few things I didn’t enjoy about the book were the descriptions of some marital relations between husbands and wives. I could’ve done without that. I understand the author intended to portray some important ideas about men’s and women’s marriage roles in that time period. I just don’t like that kind of stuff to be in books. There’s a Victorian lady hiding somewhere inside of me, I think. So if you, too, could do without that sort of thing, skip over those pages, but know that it is only a tiny part of the book.

Even with all these historical revelations, the thing about this book that hit me the hardest was something that was not very central to the story. It was this: typewriters.

These women were full time mothers and they didn’t have dishwashers or clothes dryers or all sorts of luxuries we have now, yet they churned out short stories and novels. How did they do that? The answer is focus. They were focused on their goals. Here’s what Frankie says,

I suppose what we did was park our butts down and write any moment and any place our children were otherwise occupied. We got up early and wrote while our households slept. We carried journals and pens and even manuscripts in our purses, and if the children fell asleep in the car on the way to the grocery store, we sat with our writing propped up against the steering wheel, scribbling quietly, careful not to inadvertently honk the horn. We grabbed every minute we could, hoping it might turn out to be five minutes or ten, or maybe an hour if we were lucky. And even when it was frustrating and we didn’t like what we wrote, even when we were just jotting down thoughts about a day that had not gone well, there was joy in it…”

I write like that, I guess, but here’s what I also do: sit down on the computer and write a sentence or two, and then check Facebook. Or I start working on a proofreading project for a while, but then I check the weather. And my e-mail account. And my RSS feed. And then, before I know it, 30 minutes have gone by and I have only written two sentences or only proofread half a page. But it’s a whole different matter when I sit down with my journal. I can write pages and pages there and not realize how fast the time has gone. I know I can’t blame all my focus problems on my trusty laptop, but the distractions are hard to ignore.

Earlier today, I was thinking about how distracted I am in comparison to Frankie and the other Wednesday Sisters. I was wishing for a typewriter like Frankie had–a tool with nothing on it but letters to punch into pages of words. So I determined that I would open the proofreading project I’m working on and focus solely on it for 30 minutes straight. The difficulty of that task is a sad commentary on the state of my mind. After five minutes, I became kind of twitchy, my fingers itching to pick up my i-phone or click over to my web browser. At ten minutes, I had to grit my teeth. Fifteen minutes into it, I was actually feeling kind of panicky. Panicky! But after a few deep breaths (ridiculous!), I got into a groove and the proofreading came pretty easily for the next fifteen minutes. And when I did check my e-mail, Facebook, whatever else, I had missed absolutely nothing. Not one thing.

The Wednesday Sisters helped me think in a new way about the 1960s in America, but what I really appreciate is the insight into how distracted and unfocused I am. I can’t go back to a less media-infiltrated time, but I can make choices. For me, it’s going to come down to practice. I plan to determine times when I will and won’t check e-mail, Facebook, etc. I need to keep it separate. I know the technology available to me is helpful in many ways, but I have to work on how distracted I am by it. I’m looking forward to reading  Sarah Mae’s The Unwired Mom for some more perspective on being a more focused person. It’s free right now on her website, if you want to pop over there and sign up for it. And read The Wednesday Sisters, too! Then come back and tell me what you liked or didn’t like or learned from it.

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One thought on “The Wednesday Sisters and Thoughts on How to Focus

  1. Susie Pease says:

    Alana–as one of those women who started college in 1967 AND learned to type on a (!)typewriter, a manual typewriter, and who witnessed the advent of IBM Selectrics with self-correcting features (!!!YESSSS!!!) and who was there with the birth of “The Feminine Mystique” and all that pranced out after it, I read your entry today with amusement and appreciation. You have nailed a reality of most women (and people in general) of this time in history–distractedness, lack of focus. Good for you for addressing it with vigor and speaking of it so eloquently and with such humility. You have “picked up the quarters and left the nickels” in the mix of themes presented you, and reminded me of the power I also have to aim my life purposefully rather than wander aimlessly, only to lament the passage of the precious time of which the richest and the poorest of us receives only 24 hours every day…

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