Let’s start this off with what I think has become painfully, bleeding-on-the-floor obvious, but may still be a little fuzzy to others: There is no “right way.”
Maybe there used to be. I mean, for most people. Back in our parents’ or grandparents’ generation, depending on how old we are and when those people had kids — which is probably about the same range for 80+% of them because that was the “right way” to do kids back then, — there may have been a right way for almost everyone. Sure, if you were some sort of maverick, or too mentally ill to blend in, or were in some other way “different” or “defective,” which, let’s face it, for that generation was pretty much the same thing unless you were super wealthy (and maybe even then, you just got better shock treatment). You went to school, you met your sweetheart, you had 2.5 kids either before or after “the war,” whichever one applied, and settled into the suburbs or the exurbs or someplace with enough strip malls and station wagons to prove your job at the factory or the office supply store or phone company paid what it should. You may have hated your job at the factory or store or company, but you got paid enough to feed and clothe your kids and go on vacations once a year to someplace that made the wife and kids happy, but made you sunburned and tired when you went back to the factory or store or company and you did that until they graduated and you sent them off to college and eventually collected your pension and social security and gold watch and settled into a nice routine of summering up north and wintering in Florida.
And while almost all of us can now see that’s no longer desirable or true or remotely even possible even if someone did desire it. We graduate high school and our parents encourage us to go to college to get “good jobs” by which they mean ones that will pay enough we won’t live under bridges but they can’t afford to pay for it so we leave college as indentured servants to loans until we’re older than grandpa was when he died. Or we leave high school and decide “fuck that” to the college track and get a skill of some sort — photographing fashion models, designing web sites, writing game code, plumbing because that’s how Uncle Eddy had enough money to buy that boat he drunkenly sunk last summer — and muddle along looking for some kind of work-life balance that involves enough travel to boost our Instagram follower numbers.
And yet, despite the fact that there is, fairly obviously, no “right” way anymore (if there ever was), and we’re all clearly just hustling and muddling and striving every which way we know how in that ever-illusive search for a way to make enough to make a life worth living, we persist in judging and degrading people who are hustling differently than us.
To which I say, stop it. Do what you do. Talk about what you do if you want, but don’t talk about it like you have the ONE RIGHT ANSWER to life. Because you don’t. There are too many variables. (Yes, that’s a math reference. I used to teach math. And I don’t anymore. Not because I wasn’t good at it. I was. The math part. The instructing part. It was the mind games and political bullshit and endless ass-covering paperwork that perpetually changed without improving, the adults behaving worse than the students, the constant testing that never allowed for time to actually teach, the unreasonable expectations, the stuff that people have put up with for so long that they just shrug and say, “that’s how it is, deal with it,” instead of recognizing that it’s insane and impossible and downright stupid and petty and cruel.)
There was a Salon piece about a month ago where a woman acknowledge that she doesn’t have a day job and it helps her write more than she did when she worked for someone else. This was followed by a million-point-seven blog posts about how she’s a terrible person, a terrible role model, and just plain bad at life and math and adulting. Because everyone else has day jobs and they manage by getting up at 2am or staying up until 3am or by getting spouses or roommates or parents or confused sex slaves into cleaning and cooking and bathing babies or dogs so they can have free time to write. Or they “prioritize” writing and act as though those who don’t choose writing over eating or pooping or that second job that keeps the lights on or sleeping or doing the laundry so the people at the two jobs don’t fire them for stinking… are all doing life poorly.
Some of these were couched in terms of feminism because the Salon writer had referred to herself as “kept.” Except feminism should be open to all possibilities and if one likes having someone pay the bills, that someone should get that option — whether the someone is male or female or some other identity and the person paying is… you get the idea. Feminism is about equality and having equal choices.
Many were written by men, whose own words seemed to suggest that their only responsibilities outside the day job were eating and sleeping and maybe catching up on Netflix. (I’m sure that’s not true, but it’s the illusion created.) Huffington Post had a listicle recently about how even guys who think they’re participating equally often aren’t. I’m sure there are stay-at-home dads out there or dads with spouses or partners with higher-demand jobs who also feel these additional burdens, but I haven’t met many of them. Which means if you’re a guy with a wife and a kid lecturing people on how they prioritize writing, maybe step out of the writing cave for a night and find out what your wife is up to while you’re writing and then imagine what would happen if the roles were reversed and she was the one with the dreams of seeing her name on a novel or a collection of essays or short stories. What would have to fall through cracks? And if you’re both seeking creative destiny in the small moments between laundry loads? Then what?
Stay-at-home moms who write? If that sounds easy to anyone, please give it a shot, because unless you’re wealthy enough to have a nanny or at the very least a bi-weekly maid service, children are a tremendous time suck. Sure, they love you and they can be cute, but they require attention and food and clean clothes. They make noise and messes and ask questions. And apparently you can no longer just throw them out the front door and tell them to come home for dinner like my parents did. Look, I just live with cats, but they still require litter scooping and feeding and trips to the vet and I swear every time I look in the cabinet they’re out of food.
Yes, I know that anyone who isn’t Stephen King or James Patterson who thinks writing pays as well as working at McDonald’s part time and panhandling on a rural road just outside town, is delusional and you feel it your moral duty to steer them back into the workforce like a parent herds children away from the path of oncoming traffic. Yes, I know what you’re doing is hard and you want everyone to know your Sisyphean struggle with unsaleable novels and unpaying story markets in the hours after fixing servers and Pontiacs and forty-seven Thursday Special meatloaf dishes. Yes, I know deep down you want all the wannabe writers back at the factory and store and company so you have less competition. Yes, I know you’re staring at that group of people who just keep writing books about being the best you and 1001 branding strategies for writers and creatives who like llamas, wondering what makes them think their ebook is worthy because don’t they know what’s not how it works. Yes, I know you simultaneously want people to accept whatever genre you’re writing as “real” literature while also hoping someone will elevate your work to “literature” or maybe just make a movie with a big name start who may or may not look anything like your character’s described.
My point is, none of us are doing it “right.” NONE. Because “right” doesn’t exist anymore. Whatever your’e doing or giving up or getting by on? It’s great if it works for you. It might not for someone else.
If you want to keep bitching and moaning because things are hard and you’re struggling, that’s okay, but could you stop with the finger pointing and the scolding and the judgmental tone? I think maybe we’ve all been judged harshly enough by now. It’s time to stop that and accept each other.
Can we learn to stop buying into the idea that everyone who isn’t us is wrong, that if one of us is working himself into an early grave, we should all be doing that too instead of helping out the guy who’s doing it? Can we stop shooting each other in the foot so we’ll all feel the same pain?
Great, go give someone (you know and who is willing to accept it) a hug.
But if you’re going to sing Kumbaya, you better bring the Thin Mints.
I suspect some of this has to do with the pressure we’re all feeling to Do It All, as part of our cult of busy-ness.
I may come back to that topic, but for now, this just popped up and speaks to that aspect: Exhaustion is Not a Status Symbol