Why Women Must Make Jam



Livvy reminded me of this. In a recent post. So eloquent and graceful and honest and generous in its delivery. Livvy reminded me that most of us – lots of us – lose our way. Sometimes. It’s not surprising. Not when you’re a woman. Our route maps might as well be roughly sketched on the backs of cigarette packets: you could be any number of the following: daughter, sister, career girl, lover, wife, mother, carer, grandmother … or something like that … roughly speaking … if you see what I meanand not necessarily in that order either, by the way … sorry I can’t be more specific …


But how will I know when I ought to shift gears, move from one to another: marriage to motherhood? From job to job? Career to career? One kids to two? Two to three? Is there a right time to change roles between career, say, and motherhood? Ought I work or stayathome? How do I even do my new job, come to think of it?


Quick, desperate glance at back of fag packet clutched between trembling fingers: … sorry I can’t be more specific …


Nobody knows.


It’s why titles at Amazon on Parenting abound (36,751 at last count), where those on Rocket Science do not (678).


It’s why, at least I think it’s why, women are more likely to succumb to Depression than men. Their myriad, merging, multi-faceted roles begin to smudge the boundaries of Me.  That’s what happened to my mum. We moved. The last of her babies, with shy beating of newly stretched wings, flew the nest and Mum was sunk into a chasm of What Now? What Next? She lost her particular copy of that hastily drawn map and before she could confidently pick up the path again, Depression had slipped a cold clammy hand into hers and dragged her off into the dark.


I lost Me once. I remember it clearly. Not just because I wrote about it but because I remember what prompted the words. Changes. Mostly. Like with mum. And more role manipulation. No longer a full time mother because children were no longer at home full time: my days were emptied of demands to read, to feed, to watch Pingu on the telly.  Pingu bugs the hell out of you until you’ve got nobody to watch it with.


I especially remember the moment the realization that I didn’t know Me anymore hit home: I sat on the kitchen counter consumed by an overwhelming feeling of disorientation. Loss of direction. Loss of definition. Loss of enough to do to the point of near-redundancy. Loss of self-esteem. 


Just loss, really.  Mum agrees: that’s what did it, she remembers, Loss.


And I cried. Great, big gulps of sadness and confusion and fear.


My husband looked on askance, regarding me with a peculiar mixture of sympathy and horror but mostly horror.


‘What’s the matter?’ he asked as gently as he could.


I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t tell him that I had Lost Myself. You lose keys, Goddamnit (at least I do, often); you lose your glasses; you don’t lose yourself. Not if you’re a man. (My friend B, a man and dad of two, tells me men can’t lose themselves because they lack the emotional intelligence to know how).


So I didn’t test the fine veneer of his trying-to-be-patient-and-understanding facade by saying I have lost Me. Instead I said, ‘I don’t know what to do next’.


My husband is dear and kind and clever. And – above all – eminently practical.


‘Make jam?’, he suggested.


Make jam? Make jam!


I was indignant (which at least arrested the sobs, briefly) that he presumed knocking up preserves should replace the busy, important, involved, mothering, nurturing person I had – hitherto – been for ten odd years.


I didn’t make jam.  I mean I do. Occasionally. Really, really badly. So that either it won’t set at all and slips and slides all over your plate and cannot be spread obediently on toast. Or else it cements itself inside the jar and won’t be coaxed out.


But I did begin to write; I began to fill hours with words. And I wrote my newspaper story about how it felt to lose your way. Its publication, of course, was gratifying. But much, much, much more gratifying than that were the letters I received subsequent to its running. Women aged early twenties to late eighties wrote to me. (Their messages are archived carefully, too). They’d all been there. Where I had found myself. In the wilderness of lost, wandering, women. Some were still there, flailing about, groping their way through the dark, trying to find somebody who could explain the Job Spec for wife or mum or whole, happy women, trying to find somebody who knew what the hell they were doing, who would be happy to impart a little wisdom without sounding smug. Others had navigated their way out the other side and were able to shine a light on my stumbling journey, ‘it gets better’, they said, ‘it gets easier’.


And it did. I continued to write. I still write. It’s My Thing; my metaphorical Jam Making.


It isn’t the jam that’s important, it’s certainly not how you make it that counts. My husband -wise boy – knew that. It’s the purpose, direction, happiness, engagement and occassional real achievement that comes with it, whether it’s fat glossy strawberry preserve winking at me from a hot jar, or a screen full of words that I have threaded together to make a pattern that suits my moods. It’s not big or important or even, usually, a money spinner (jam would earn me much more).


But it helps me to make sense of my world when life knocks the edges off and leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable. It keeps me company when I feel lonely. It reminds me who I am when I am no longer sure.


I think, girls, we all need to learn to Make Jam.









54 Responses to “Why Women Must Make Jam”

  1. Mud Says:

    Beautiful and eloquant. I ahve a close friend suffering from depression at the moment and this helps to understand something about how they are feeling. We all need a purpose; sometimes the one that takes up our time, emotions and santity seems purile and pointless. But it is needed.

    And you can never have enough jam,

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Mud. And I am glad that it might lend some small insight into Depression. We all need whatever it is that grounds us to us. And you’re right: never can have too much jam x

  3. cat Says:

    ah, a resonance. Can’t really say more.

  4. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    I’m glad, cat. And thank you for reading.

  5. nuttycow Says:

    Thank you for this post RM. I’m trying to deal with a loved one admitting the fact that they’re suffering from depression at the moment.

    I think the most difficult thing for them is admitting they’ve lost themselves and that they don’t know who or what they are anymore. For me, the important thing is a realisation of the problem and then working, as you say, on the little things to make your way through.

    Hope this comment makes sense. My head certainly doesn’t.

  6. tatatimbo Says:

    That’s an excellent post. So much insight. Would not have thought to describe depression as loosing oneself – but it hits it, it really does. Thanks for sharing your insights and experience.

  7. Wednesday miscellany XIV « Parlez-vous moo? Says:

    […] Why women must make jam by Reluctant Memsahib […]

  8. minx Says:

    I am jam making at the moment – redefining what I had known, adapting to change and getting used to being a new single flavour. It has taken me three months to decide that jam production can be quite good fun.

  9. daisyfae Says:

    yes. resonance. well captured… Kathryn Bateson (Margaret Mead’s daughter) wrote an amazing book Composing a Life, which told the stories of some remarkable women. All different. Life as improvisational dance… making jam.

  10. Mom de Plume Says:

    Thanks for this RM it is so true, so well written and something all women should know is normal! I love the way your words always paint such a vivid picture. I have never suffered from depression but I lost myself. Marriage was the catalyst. I went from being highly independent, self assured and spontaneous to meek, mild and agreeable. We fought a good deal and didn’t really know why. Poor communication meant that I never said I didn’t feel like me and he never said the girl he married had gone. I don’t remember how it dawned on me but it did, I mentioned it somehow, and I worked on reassessing who I wanted to be. Now I am a perpetual work in progress 🙂 I am told, however that when the children leave home, no matter how aware I am that it happens, it will still happen again. Hmm I will take a leaf out of your book and keep writing.

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    nutty: I am sorry that somebody close to you is battling with Depression. It’s a horrible condition for suffers to deal with and a difficult one to understand and sometimes, even, no matter how much you love a person, to have patience with when you are looking in from the outside. I am glad this may have lent a little insight.

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    tatatimbo: thank you. i have stolen words from mum really: she felt her first episode of Depression was about loss. I always feel, when she is ill, that we lose her. For a bit.

  13. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    minx: it takes courage to make jam. I am so, so glad that your new flavour is begining to taste quite good. Bon chance x

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you for that daisyfae: a(nother) title to add to increasingly heavy basket at amazon.com xx

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    What kind and generous praise, Mom; thank you. I lost myself too. I think marriage is frequently a catalyst for loss of identity: like you I went from being, ”have you met A?”, to ”have you met A’s wife, A?”. Little words. Big BIG difference. Perpetual work in progress is good; perpetual work in progress must be optimum. That way you’ll be better prepared for change. And keep writing. Keep Making Jam x

  16. Rob Says:

    Great post. There is a saying out there: “Meaning generates energy, lack of meaning, depression”. I am convinced the only sure way to fight depression is through action/activity/occupation – something which not only gives us purpose but also occupies the mind so that there is less space there to be filled with negative thoughts.

  17. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you, Rob. I like that saying. Robert Burton in his anatomy of melacholy warned, ”be not idle”. same thing really. empty minds mean there’s too much thinking. which isn’t a good thing x

  18. Roberta Says:

    I have read a great deal on the subject. I’ve written about it. I’ve cried about it.

    I have never read anything as perfect an explaination of what we all go through. I have had such a difficult time trying to explain it to my husband. Now, all I have to do is forward this to him. Maybe it will explain what I can not put into words.

    It will at least explain my need to gather food and perserve things.

  19. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Aw Roberta. That’s so kind. Keep gathering, girl. And they call men ‘hunters, gatherers’? Hah! x

  20. livvy u Says:

    Gosh, I’m honoured and thrilled that one post of mine brought this beauty of yours! Imagine my suprise to come over and find it! You write with such clarity and elegance and I relate wholeheartedly to everything you have written.

    I am so, so glad that I have come back to my blog in this tricky time, not only for the inestimable solace to be found in the writing itself, but also, so importantly, for the solace to be found in the kind and good and wise things that people like yourself write in response.

    Thank you so much, for the post, the links and furthering the conversation in my head.

    By the way, I haven’t changed my Blogroll yet – but only through time pressure and having to remind myself how to do it!

    Best of everything,

  21. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    XO for Livvy.

    Oh. And a jar of jam x

  22. Tash Says:

    Bloody brilliant. That’s all I can say.

  23. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Tash xo thank you.

  24. Gwen Says:

    Wow. I’m so glad you commented on my blog so that I could find you and read this, because it’s amazing, and for me, really timely. Thank you.

  25. Potty Mummy Says:

    God, RM. That is fantastic. Msg follows.

  26. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Gwen. And I’m glad: I’m glad if it helps to know there’s lots of us who’ve had to learn to make jam.

    Thanks PM X

  27. R. Sherman Says:

    Much wisdom here, methinks. Thanks for this.


  28. mzunguchick Says:

    Yes, I think jam making may be what I am in the process of doing myself although it seems to keep getting too mixed up and runny. I think a little less stirring is required, but I spend my life with the “What if’s” and the “If, but’s” dogging me …… Argh.
    Fabulous words RM. Thank you and sorry we didn’t get to share coffee at Dormans in our slippers x

  29. Expatmum Says:

    Phew! Don’t know what to say really. I’m knitting a lot at the moment, which is my jam equivalent I suppose. Knitting to raise money for various causes too, which makes me feel even more worthy than if I were just to wear my own creations. It’s funny that men don’t seem to go through all this as much. I wonder if we shouldn’t all just sit back and ‘go with the flow’. Do we all over-think our lives?

  30. Janelle Says:

    or, um, drink a good cab sav???? XX j

  31. Dad Mzungu Says:

    Even us men suffer depression, but it is more difficult for us, as we don’t make jam. We don’t admit to the problem – and we don’t seek solutions. Problem? What problem?
    On the second occasion I lost me, I immersed myself in a new life, having lost my way in the old one. A new country, with new friends and new interests. My partial life in Kenya could not be more different to the old one in the UK. Although my body still lives in the UK, my mind, my heart is in Kenya. All I do in the UK is for my life in Kenya.
    It will happen one day – my life and my ME will be united.

  32. Daphne Wayne-Bough Says:

    Depression is nature’s way of telling you something is wrong and you should do something about it. Blogging is a good remedy – as long as you don’t blog about your depression! Divorce worked for me, but I would advise it only if you really can’t think of a better alternative!

    I think men suffer from depression as much, if not more, than women, but won’t admit it to themselves or others, talk about it or change anything. With respect, if anyone thinks it can be fixed by stopping thinking or getting hammered they’ve never experienced real depression. It comes over you like a tsunami when you’re least expecting it. The trick is to learn how to recognize it, how to manage it, and above all, wait it out.

    Not sure about jam, though. What if it doesn’t set? You could end up more depressed than before! DIY is my major cause of depression these days.

  33. valley girl Says:

    Brilliantly written and so true. I was directed here by Potty Mummy, and will bookmark your blog immediately…

    The comment about Pingu particularly resonated, as my two little ones are obsessed with it. Made me realise there will come a day when I will actually miss it – I’m going to go and watch it with the Littleboys right now.

  34. Retired Memsahib Says:

    This is the most stunning description of the female condition that I have ever read! We’re all somebody’s daughter, wife, mother… and more often than not we’re defined only in that role. So often there’s no chance to be a clearly defined “Me”. We always put the needs of others first.

    Before I found my “jam” I was prone to somewhat tearful sessions and, when asked what I wanted, replied that I had forgotten how to know what I wanted. I firmly believe that this is something that all women suffer. I intend to keep this page from your blog and read it again whenever the going gets rocky.

    “Long live jam!” say I.

  35. Annie Says:

    WOW! As someone struggling right now to figure out where on that map she should be, or heck, what the map even looks like – THANK YOU!

  36. Teena Says:

    Oh so comforting when women share. So much wisdom here. t.x

  37. Merry Weather Says:

    I came to you from Livvy’s page, inspired by your comments there. You write beautifully and so truthfully. I am glad I read this. I can relate to these feelings, this time of being lost so well. And I also know the relief of coming out on the other side, smiling and wiser.

    Good luck to you, weaving your thoughtful words and making sweet jam… Shine on 🙂

  38. Iota Says:

    ‘…happy to impart a little wisdom without sounding smug…’ That is you to a T, Rel Mem. This post is a fine example – packed full of wisdom (jam packed, I might say), and as far from smug as it is possible to be.

    I guess it’s at the heart of why I started blogging. What do you do when it’s possible to carve a glimmer of time out of each day to sit at the computer, when for years that would have hardly been possible?

  39. Maggie May Says:

    I have been off line for nearly three weeks & have found myself getting really tearful. I really feel this blogging keeps me sane & then the blasted Server provider let me down & I had to wait for cab;e to be put in.
    There are still teething problems.
    I thought your post was really good & I felt in tune with you.

  40. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Mr Sherman, I’m not an especially wise person. I’ve just made jam before.

    Mzungu – me too; I’m sorry we didn’t get to drink coffee. I think perhaps don’t stir as often. Or as energetically. Let the jam find its own consistency? x

    ExpatMum: we do, absolutely: overthink. Hat’s knitting too. ”why do i like knitting?” she asked. Because it’s therapy I told her. She’ll understand one day.

  41. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Janella – or drink a good Sav Cab. Indeed x

    Good for you Dad Mzungu. Not often a bloke will admit to losing himself. But in essence you ARE making jam. It comes in a zillion guises, remember.

    Daphne, thank’s for dropping by. Yup blogging’s good. And if the jam doesn’t set, i think one needs to improvise. Couldn’t unset strawberry jam be chucked over ice-cream? or ladled into a cake? tweaking it. Think that’s the key. It is for me. And you’re right about Depression and men too.

  42. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Valley Girl: thank you very much. And yes, enjoy Pingu. Now. Whilst you still have company to enjoy it with.

    Oh thank you Retired Mem: I am so glad. I really just described my own journey, prompted by that Livvy is making. But I am glad that it has resonated. And relieved: it helps to know others have felt similarly (lest we fear we are going mad). I heartiily agree: Long Live Jam! x

  43. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Annie, Teena: thank you. For reading. And for volunteering similar sentiment. So that, as I said to Retired Mem, I am reminded I was not going mad. Just trying to be wife, mother, Me all at the same time x

  44. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Merry Weather: for visiting and for commenting. It’s a good feeling that isn’t it: coming out the other side. Like wading thru mud and suddenly finding you can stride out easily and confidently again.

  45. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Iota: that’s very kind. I really don’t deserve the flattery, though. Just the description of a journey I once made (and am quite liable to make again), prompted by Livvy’s generous words. I agree about the blogging. It’s filled a gap and simultaneously, oh joy, helped unearth Me. Hope you are home safe. x

  46. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Oh Maggie May, I am so sorry. It is frustrating, to frequent point of tears, to find oneself cut off. It can be so isolating, especially when one has grown to really enjoy the community of blogsphere. I hope problems are ironed out pronto and you are back uninterrupted and for good soon x

  47. tartetartan Says:

    Beautifully said.

  48. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you tartetartan

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