I have not written in a couple of weeks.
Sure, I’ve rattled off a few blog posts, though you’ve doubtless noticed a decline in quality. And lists: ’tis the season for list-making. But my novel has sat, neglected, inside my laptop. My journal is empty, my mind filled not with whimsy and dreams, but numbers, time frames, estimations.
For me, this is an aberration. It happens occasionally, but pragmatism is not my status quo. It baffles me that there are people who always live in this mind space and not just because they have to. Perhaps it shouldn’t–my husband is one of them, and without his attention to detail we would be in a whole heap of trouble–but while I understand the necessity of all this infrastructure and organization, and even revel in it from time to time, it will never give me the thrill I get from creativity.
At least, I hope it won’t.
A lot of the numbers and lists lately have had to do with my online business: selling vintage books and handmade creations, attempting to figure out what people want to buy, trying to learn to think like a business person. It’s the kind of thing I’ve long known I could do, but have avoided because of the immense amount of time and energy it requires. For me, writing has always come first. I’ve had mostly mindless jobs, partly because I didn’t want to drain my brain and come home too exhausted to write.
It has occurred to me several times over the last few months that what I’m doing now, pushing for an actual career outside the literary world, is a form of giving up.
I am thirty-three years old. I’ve been writing stories off and on since I could hold a pen, but I’ve been serious about it since I was nineteen. I’ve always been an ambitious person and hoped for more than I could possibly get, dreaming of literary success at a young age and aspiring to be a full-time novelist. After getting my MFA in fiction, I published quite a few stories and then began work on my novel, which eventually led to signing an agent, which seemed like the first step to “making it.”
However, my novel has languished. Editors have had a lot of positive feedback for me, but they haven’t published it. It’s good, but it’s “quiet.” I’m working on cranking up the volume: a difficult task for a more literary writer like myself, who works with characters more deeply than plot. I know I can still get there. But the older I get–
I have been laughed at, openly, twice in my adult life. Two different adult men have actually laughed in my face–loudly–when I told them I was a writer. There was no mistaking it for any kind of amusement other than mockery; both went on to say what a ridiculous idea that was, though neither of them really knew me or had any knowledge of my creative work. In both cases, I was working in customer service, the hotel front desk and coffee shop counter providing these men with just enough distance to know they could treat me this way and I wouldn’t punch them in the face. In one case, I was able to walk away, into the back room; in the other, there was nowhere to hide.
My own grandfather recently contacted me to tell me how much he did not like the main character of one of my stories. He is not a literary person; I don’t think I’ve ever seen him read anything but the newspaper. He just disliked her so much he felt compelled to tell me so.
When I talk about writing with certain family members–which I only do when someone asks, because it is not a topic anyone seems interested in–most every face in the room goes blank. Eyes glaze over. Sub-groups form. I’ve seen people roll their eyes. Amazon is invariably brought up, and the tale of a woman who made a million dollars selling her books for ninety-nine cents.
These things happen the most near the holidays, when we are forced into contact with large groups of people, or just people we don’t see most of the year.
I hear these voices in my head sometimes, when I’m working on my business. Of course, a lot of people don’t understand that, either. I’ve gotten similar eye rolls about Etsy, especially regarding my drawings (creative work only seems valid to many people if it makes a million dollars), but at least that stuff isn’t so close to my heart. If I fail at business, well–that’s not my thing, anyway. If I fail at writing, my heart hurts.
I used to think that when I gave up on writing, I’d open a bakery. And I’d love to–but there’s a line from the TV show Weeds that runs through my head when I think about it. Nancy is still hoping to get out of the marijuana game and maybe make her front into a real business, when Andy says (though maybe not verbatim, in case you feel like trolling me about my inaccurate quotation), “How many people eat carbs anymore? And the ones who do buy their scones at Starbucks.”
The holidays used to be my favorite time of year because it was a time to totally absorb myself in magic and twinkle lights and the fantasy of Santa Claus. Now that I’m a mom and am in charge of creating the magic, it can have the opposite effect: I am the man behind the curtain, so I have to focus on all the switches and levers to make everything go right. It can still be a lot of fun but there is little time to languish in my fantasy world.
The older I get, the more I see why my family members want to roll their eyes at me.
But I truly believe in the importance of art and fiction. I know a lot of people who don’t–who view it all as a waste of time. And maybe they don’t need it. Maybe they’re stronger than I am, smarter, better–they certainly seem to think so.
I used to write every day. Now I’m happy if I consistently write once a week. I commit a lot of my “mommy time” to other endeavors–I don’t even read very often. Life, reality, other people: they’ve crept into my brain. I wonder if this is what it feels like to be assimilated into the Borg.
But I am a writer. The Borg got Jean-Luc Picard, but he came back from it. (Trekkies–how did that happen? It’s been a long time since I watched the show.) And if Jean-Luc can do it, I can do it, too.
Well, maybe. I mean–Picard is pretty awesome. But I’ll hold my head up and say that I am awesome, too.