The Every Other Day Ice Cream Diet and Virginia Woolf

For those of us partial to scarfing down ice cream daily, cutting back to eating it only once every other day is a deep diet sacrifice, especially when we’re forgoing coffee ice cream with chocolate chips on top.

Yet it’s possible. You can get through the odd days sans ice cream by feeling noble and reminding yourself you can have it the next day. What’s more, the system is simple to remember. You can check with yourself by asking, “Hey, Caragh, did I have ice cream yesterday?” If not, you’re good to go.

About now you’re wondering how much I weigh.

I’ll never tell.

The problem arises when we try to apply Puritan discipline to other aspects of our lives, like writing. I’m an English teacher (who isn’t?) and trying to balance the writing and teaching lives is gnarly at best. When you add in the obligatory grading, teaching is a six-day-a-week job. So where’s the writing supposed to fit and what does this have to do with eating?

The writing must happen during lunch, naturally.

I have 25 minutes during Lunch Wave 2, starting at 10:49 each morning, and though I used to eat and chat in the upstairs faculty room with a few droll buddies, these days I eat at my desk with my laptop from home and try not to get crumbs in the keyboard. This is not the most productive way to work on a novel, obviously, especially when I would prefer to take a summer day, write non-stop on my couch until bed time, and repeat for months. Some lunches, I hardly get one sentence revised before the bell rings and I must fold up my napkin around my apple core and go back to Intro to Journalism and Broadcasting across the hall. No matter how charming my students are, it’s a shock to abandon my mental world for reality.

Is it even worth it? It is. By the time I get home, I can curl up on the couch and my ideas are near the surface, not needing to be unearthed from the previous weekend, or worse, three weekends earlier. I know it’s worth it because I didn’t believe I could write anything of substance during the school year, but I managed to finish the first draft of a novel in early December. It’s a beast, unwieldy and desperate for streamlining, but I’m far better at revising than I am at first-drafting, so now I know I’ll make deadline.

You might think the point of this blog is that we can do what’s good for us if we must. It’s true we can deny ourselves ice cream or find the discipline to write a novel during the school year. Yet the thing is, we’re already way ahead of the one billion other Earthlings who don’t have enough food to eat, let alone ice cream. I’m incredibly lucky to have work when 3,000 other Connecticut teachers lost their jobs last year. I’m even more lucky not to live in Haiti right now.

So my point is not about discipline; it is about desire and loss, the two great luxuries. It’s about gratitude. Because I already have enough to eat and a steady job, it’s wonderfully awful to give up ice cream on the odd days. It hurts to stop writing to go be a responsible teacher. The desire to write and the loss when I abnegate writing prove that I am already a person of privilege.

I used to feel safely excused from being a writer because of Woolf’s Room of One’s Own insistence that we can’t even get to our writing unless we have a degree of financial independence and privacy.  In fact, a kind of reverse logic is true.  Once we start craving our art, the craving alone proves we already have enough money, enough privacy, and enough time.

Even if that’s on a lunch break.

Caragh O’Brien’s futuristic, dystopian story, Birthmarked, is due out from Roaring Brook Press in April, 2010. It is her first young adult novel.


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