Sometimes I read blog posts and I want to comment on them, but I wonder if I can possibly say what is in my head, make sense, be gracious, and not leave a comment the length of a doctoral dissertation (or at least, the length of a decent blog post!) I had that happen today, and I just wanted to share my thoughts.
Today, a writer’s site posted about a writer who, from all accounts, has a superhuman energy level. She produces tons of books under her own name and a pen name, is a songwriter, has a degree in some impressive field, markets her work with incredible energy . . . and has kids.
The columnist writes that most of the barriers we (would-be authors) face are self-imposed ones. In other words, we make excuses for ourselves. “Well, that’s all very well for that author, but I could never do what she does because (fill in the blank with your favorite excuse).”
Most of the commenters seemed to take this column as a kick-in-butt challenge, where they felt that if this woman could do all that, then they have no excuses for not doing it, too. (Thankfully, one agent commented that this author adores marketing and isn’t the best role model for most authors, and there are plenty of ways to “do” a writing career.) But I had one question lingering in my mind.
What’s the quality of her relationships?
(I don’t want to knock this author; I’d never heard of her before today. She may be someone who thrives on four hours of sleep, produces massive amounts of quality work, and manages to spend quality time with each child, and the little ones don’t feel neglected at all by Mommy’s work.)
But every time I encounter people with this much energy, I feel exhausted. (Darn my chemical imbalances! Darn my depleted iron levels!) I also remember something an art history professor told me years ago: don’t just look at what evidence a critic uses, look at what types of evidence he doesn’t use. In other words, what is absent is just as significant as what is present.
So I also wonder, as I study their obsessed-with-one-thing lives, what is neglected. What’s missing? When the deadline looms and the publisher is pounding at the door and the marketing efforts call for more-more-more, what’s the first thing to go?
Too often, it’s relationships. The people around us are taken for granted: they’re here to stay (for better or worse), but the publisher might drop us or the book might tank or the deadline might pass and we’re not ready. All those things (urgent! necessary! critical!) are transient. They might disappear. But those people around us: oh, well, they live with me and they’re stuck with me and they’ll still love me no matter what, right?
But that’s not really true. My husband and children and family should matter more than my work because they are people. They are permanently in my life, and because of that, they should matter more than temporary things. That includes even (especially?) my God-given work of writing.
Years ago, when I wrote my master’s thesis on Moby-Dick, I read about Melville’s family. His relationships with his wife and children were difficult; at one point, his wife believed he was insane (as did the critics) and almost left him. One son died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Another died in a bar fight. One daughter died young. Melville was a difficult man. Brilliant, but difficult.
He lingered in obscurity for decades after his death until someone discovered Billy Budd and critics started to sing the dead author’s praises. His remaining child, a daughter, couldn’t understand the new fascination with her father. To her, he was still the difficult, perhaps violent, man who had brought her up. The accolades for Moby-Dick didn’t matter; all that mattered were her memories of a strained, heart-breaking relationship.
As a workaholic, this cuts too close to the heart. I may not be violent, but sometimes when I become deeply involved with my current writing project, I find myself dangerously close to obsession. It’s a short step from there to neglect of everything else, including my family.
I don’t want my children to look back and feel neglected because of my work. I’d hate to have a shelf-full of bestsellers, a couple of literary prizes, and a massive body of criticism about my work, and have my children remember their mother as The One Who Wasn’t There Because She Was Writing. It’s not worth it.