Now that I’m a “real writer” (as opposed to my former slacker’s life as a married mother moonlighting as a writer), I’m amazed at all the similarities – besides sleeping late – between tortured artists and me.
The balancing act of writing and mothering is very much the same.
You stay up too late, court your muses in 15-minute intervals while the children are otherwise occupied, feel desperately unappreciated and, on good days, writing happens.
On bad days, you’re gathering material.
Therefore, I think it only fair and kind to say to all those whose letters tell me they too wish to write, that the work is rarely easy. And it is unlikely, even if successful, you will become as rich as you might have if you’d gone into dentistry – or waitressing.
Home time is ‘down’ time. The very thing that draws an otherwise sane person to the writing life will, very quickly, become the down side.
I firmly believe most writers chose a writing career over, say, dentistry, primarily for the lure of working from home – preferably in a bathrobe.
The problem with working from home is that it’s just so – homey.
A wise woman once observed that it doesn’t really matter how many kids you have, because one will eat up all your time.
What this means is that your great novel or even churning out a pithy 700-word column will be endlessly complicated by the presence of children shouting from bathtubs about hair rinsing and “turns.”
Your writing will be put off by children’s reading requirements in a first grade textbook about how Manuel and Margaret put on a play.
It will be interrupted by dinner dishes (or just plain dinner), and by dogs, and cats, and the endless demand for clean laundry.
Parenthood, unlike prison, does not allow time off for good behavior.
No glory. If you are in for some future payoff, give it up.
I have come to grips with the fact that my children will not recall the work-at-home mother who drove them to and from school and was active in their lives.
They will forget the flex-time mommy who dropped everything to produce the perfect jelly jar vase for a dandelion bouquet.
They will not remember the mother who wrote at night, while everyone slept, in order to attend every field trip or field day (“Great job, baby! You almost got the plastic ring over the cone that time!”), and brought – OK, bought – birthday cupcakes for their classes.
Will that mommy get any airplay?
No, I don’t for a moment doubt they will instead recall the mother who would screech, plaintively, “No I CANNOT play the My Pretty Pony game right now, Mommy’s WORKING!”
They will remember the one who once sought silence by shutting herself in the bathroom with a cordless telephone, crouching like a cornered animal inside the shower, so she could convince an editor, via long distance, that she was “professional.”
What’s it worth? So why, then, do so many of us do it, or – judging by my mail – wish to?
Perhaps because one day you might turn, in the middle of trying to wrest a paragraph into some semblance of sense minutes before deadline, to find that the “businesslike” letterhead that was going to make editors sit up and take notice of your obvious brilliance is gone.
It has been spirited away and cunningly fashioned into a booklet (held together by some 1,100 feet of tape). This booklet consists of one letter painstakingly printed on each page (with some letters repeated page after page just to use up the $30-a-pop ream).
As your fury at this trespass on your workspace rises, a small person might slide a finished “book” in front of you, their favorite editor .
As you calculate your lost writing time, paper cost, a permanently derailed train of thought, and the almost overwhelming allure of bagging groceries just to get away from the kids, you will, at last, read the title.
So what has your own, little, in-house staff writer called this homegrown great work?
“I will not ever not love you! Love, me!”
Then you’ll know that the thankless work-at-home world, has, if only for a moment, paid off.
Furthermore, you will discover the full measure of what is meant by the phrase, “read it and weep.”
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt slacks off at home just as well as at work. She welcomes reader comments c/o firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460; or at http://userweb.epohi.com/~kseabolt.)
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