The Housewife Uncertainty Principle
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The Housewife Uncertainty Principle

Here in L.A., you have to keep a firm grip on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: you know, how you can never know the exact speed and position of a particle at the same time.

After all, it applies to everyone you meet. Your turbaned taxi driver may actually hold a PhD in biochemistry or have a hot Punjab memoir already in the can. That dapper exec may actually be betting his last nickel. That shining star may yesterday have started her descent.

Since you can't determine anyone's precise velocity and trajectory simultaneously, you can never say they've "arrived" anywhere. You can only call them fellow travelers.

But then there's Jane, my friend who occupies a tiny tract home deep in the San Fernando Valley. Jane's raising three kids with a husband Jack, wears her hair up in a bun, drives an old Ford Aerostar, and forthrightly identifies herself as a housewife. "I love to say that word to people," she laughs: "Housewife. I don't say 'I'm between jobs' or 'Working on my degree.' No, I just say housewife. I love to see them flinch at the word."

Jane would appear a contradiction to the uncertainty principle, but me I was over there late the other night for coffee, the kids tumbling randomly in the background, when I started in about quantum mechanics. I'd been reading one of those pop physics books—you know, the kind that explains life, the universe and everything in 200 swifty neato pages, with a dash of metaphysics tossed in lightly. For some while, I'd been going on about paradoxes. For example, I enthused, the late Richard Feynman pointed out that for a particle moving at the speed of light, time does not exist—so perhaps G-d made only one particle, which paints and repaints the whole heavens, every second, like a cathode ray tube. Or maybe there's no such thing as time, only the illusion of change created by physical motion across an expanding universe.

As I spoke, Jane started taking down her hair, which shocked me by unwinding nearly to her knees. I grew a little distracted as she brushed it out with exquisitely long blond strokes. At last she interrupted: "Of course what you're saying is nothing new," she began with some impatience, "I have always understood eternity. All existence represents eternity and does not change. Only we are moving, back and forth, up and down, across it.

"For example," she continued, "People imagine the life of a housewife must be boring because they think a household a static thing, nothing more than a safe refuge from the shifting outer world of careers. But that's only an illusion. Me, I recognize that my household is completely dynamic, a ship of time moving across the dimension of existence. One does not maintain a household. That is a total misunderstanding. One steers a household across an infinite plane on a route of perpetual change. I may do the laundry twice a week, but it's not the same laundry: the shirts have frayed, and the knees have gone on the boy's jeans. I feed my husband, but he's not the same husband, one day to the next—see, already he's getting some gray. If I look at it properly, each day is a different destination, like an island, and even if I never leave the front door, I am perpetually pulling up anchor and moving on."

At that, Jane got up to reheat the coffee. Jack gave me an amused look, and for a time he and I simply watched the kids playing perpetual motion in the living room, all unaware that their lives were moving across the glittering grid of the San Fernando Valley in a fragile space/time minivan driven by their mother.

"You should read this book," offered the Urban Man lamely. But the housewife shrugged, and started putting up her hair again.

Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.

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