Friday, January 23, 2015

Writing Life/Family Life

"I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions . . .woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life or contemplative life or saintly life." 
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, A GIFT FROM THE SEA

I have no hope of being a saint, but at times I find myself sinking in the chaos of distractions and jealousy--Oh! I'm so bone-achingly jealous!--of younger writers, those with fewer family responsibilities, the kind of writers who can draft an entire book in the month of December.

What did I write in December? Less than 5000 words.

From jealousy follows doubt and self-criticism: I started too late. I was too lazy when young. If I had been more motivated and harder-working, I would have had a book published before I hit my forties. How many books will I never write now? Also, I'd be so much cuter at book events if I were fifteen or twenty years younger. No one cares about a writer who looks like--and is!--a suburban mom.

Then I take a deep breath. And I remember that December brought the only two weeks of the entire year when all my children were home, when I would wake in the morning wondering what we would do and went to bed at night secure that all my baby chicks were in one place.

And I also find the veins of gold that run through those twenty years of motherhood. What did I, personally, gain from writing seriously and publishing only after I'd had four children? (And I do mean personal! This is NOT, I repeat NOT, in any way a treatise on how any other writer in the world can or should live!)

I gained patience. Everything in publishing takes forever. So does potty-training. Four times.

I gained perspective. Before 2008, I received some rejections that so shook me so badly I teetered on the edge of quitting. And then my second son was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eleven. Ever since, no professional rejection could ever again have the power to break me. Ironically, only after I accepted that writing would never be the single most important thing in my life, was I free enough to write precisely as I liked and damn the consequences.

Do you like to be in control? So do I. Publishing is one long path of things NOT in a writer's control. You know what isn't in a mother's control? If your baby sleeps at night. If your toddler eats anything other than string cheese (you can put food in a child's mouth, but you cannot make her swallow!) If your pre-teen fights with her friends. If your child gets cancer. If more than one of your teens inherits your own major depressive disorder. You cannot make your child happy. You cannot make them not suffer. You cannot give them a perfect future. When they need you, they need you right that minute--whatever you happen to be doing.

Compared to that? Well, for me at least, it means that I am very much more Zen when it comes to things like reviews and how well my books are selling.

So December was not a stellar professional month for me. So what? We went out to dinner and movies, we baked cookies, we read poetry and biographies and personal letters on Christmas Eve. We laughed at the fact that I bought my oldest son The. Exact. Same. Book. I bought him for Christmas last year.

All that joy at the cost of four weeks of writing time? That's not such a bad trade-off.

(NOTE TO FAMILY: That is not a bad trade-off ONCE A YEAR. There is a reason I am spending January locked in my bedroom with my laptop. Feel free to interrupt me for fire, blood, or vomit. All other interruptions will be met with violence!)

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