This is a slightly revised version of my very first blog post. Back in January of 2013, I was ramping up to self publish a novel called Living by Ear, and knew I should start a blog. But what would I write about? People advised me to consider the themes in the book and blog about how they applied to my life.
Now, Living by Ear has lots of themes, including music, divorce, alcoholism, parenting, and infidelity. But when I really thought about it, the theme that resonated most heavily with me was that of balancing parenthood with creativity. The main character in Living by Ear is a soon-to-be-single mom attempting to re-establish her music career while also trying to be a good parent to her two teenage children. Which wasn’t all that different from what I was doing. Thankfully, I’m happily married, but as the mother of two teenagers myself, I was publishing my first written work since college and learning firsthand about all the changes in the literary world.
So now that Living by Ear is being republished by Booktrope—complete with a new cover and a bit of an edit—it seems appropriate to take another look at that blog post. I’ve made some updates, but it’s essentially the same.
As I prepared to graduate from college in 1986, I discovered that I didn’t share the same goals as most of my friends. It was quite a shock. For four years, we’d been hanging out in dorms, partying, traveling around Europe, and finding various other ways to have fun. (Oh, and managing to slip in some studying too.) But as graduation approached, everything was changing so fast. Suddenly, my friends were talking about having it all. Fast-track careers, business suits, money, and family.
I couldn’t relate. These bums, these partiers, these people I’d seen drink beer out of funnels were accepting positions at banks and big corporations. They were gushing about the wonderful benefits offered by their new jobs: health insurance, vacation time, maternity leave. Some were actually investigating childcare options near their offices. And although I knew that was normal stuff for women in their twenties to think about, I was filled with terror and self-doubt.
Because it all sounded so foreign to me. Sure, I wanted a family—at some point—and I wanted to be a writer too. But the pursuit of wealth and power? No. When I thought about the future, I imagined myself typing novels—on a typewriter, of course, as personal computers hadn’t been invented—with a couple of happy, artistic kids running around.
I should also mention that I was dealing with a serious eating disorder back in those days, and wasn’t healthy enough to focus clearly on long-term goals. Still, I did my best to find ways to support myself and work at jobs I found fulfilling: I canvassed for MassPIRG, taught middle-school English, and worked as a writer at a local software company. And then, when I was in my late twenties, I got really lucky and met a wonderful man. We fell in love, he helped me with my health issues, we got married. And when I became pregnant with our second child, he encouraged me to quit work, stay home with the kids, and pursue my writing dreams.
That was thirteen years ago, and I don’t regret that decision at all. Thankfully, our kids are healthy, smart, and generally happy. The writing’s been coming along well too, and I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.
So what’s the problem? Well, there are a few. First, there’s the financial aspect. For all the years I’ve been writing, our family has been surviving on my husband’s income, but with college not that far in our kids’ future, it’s a little scary. If you’ve heard it said that nobody working in the arts is doing it to get rich, well, that’s almost a hundred percent accurate. Not that writers can’t make money, but most of us don’t make a lot.
Which leads to the next question: should I get a job-job? I haven’t worked outside the house in a while, and with both kids now full-blown teenagers, I feel like it’s very important to be available in the afternoons when they get home from school. I mean, if Anne-Marie Slaughter can quit her job in the Obama State Department to be closer to her teenage sons (for more on this, check out the 2012 cover story in Atlantic magazine titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”), then surely there are valid reasons for me wanting to be there for my kids too. Right? Then again, I could get a part-time job, work mornings, and take a break from writing for a few years.
My final two major concerns are related to the way my kids view my work. I’ll write more extensively about this in future posts, but here it is in a nutshell: on one hand, my kids aren’t particularly comfortable with the knowledge that I write about sex and other adult topics. On the other hand, my daughter would like to read my writing, and I’m not particularly comfortable with that either.
Anyway, all of this has made one thing imminently clear to me: I do want it all, but in an artistic way. I want a fulfilling, creative career, but I also want to be able to afford college. I want to write the material I’m inspired to write, but don’t want to embarrass or horrify my kids. And although I’ve never forbidden them from reading anything before, I haven’t allowed them to read my books.
I’d love to hear how other artistic parents of older kids deal with these issues. How do you make ends meet? And how do you and your children deal with the adult themes in your work?
Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments; I can use all the help I can get!