I’ve said before that people exhaust me, but I ought to qualify that statement. There are a few people who don’t. I have a great family, not so much in terms of membership numbers but rather in terms of quality. That is to say, few as they are, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. That’s a good thing, really, and yet… yes, they also qualify as a hindrance to my writing life. A welcome hindrance, but a hindrance all the same. For example: I had an opportunity this summer to spend two full months away from my day job. I fully expected that I would spend much of that time catching up on my writing. Instead, in the whole two-month span, I wrote perhaps a chapter. I’m not even sure I wrote that much. That’s because I spent those months staying with my family.
You see, I’m not one of those fortunate people who can write anywhere, under any circumstances. For one thing, I cannot focus my imagination when the TV is on. I just can’t. When I’m at my family home, the TV is almost always on. If I want to do any work, I have to put on headphones and play music loudly so that I can’t hear anything around me. I have to recline with my feet up so that my laptop screen blocks the television screen. Then, as soon as I get all arranged for writing, I hear a voice raised, calling my name. Sure enough, somebody has been trying to talk to me despite the headphones. Since it’s rude to ignore people when they talk to you, I always have to stop, remove my headphones, and engage in conversation. Goodbye, train of thought.
For another thing, I love to cook. I don’t get much opportunity, living on my own in a tiny economy apartment, to prepare lots of dishes on a regular basis. So, when I’m with my family, I end up in the kitchen most of the time. I have a grand time cooking up the kind of meals that I just can’t manage in a compact kitchenette—but again, at the expense of my writing time. I want to write, but I also want to take care of my family in whatever limited capacity I can manage. It’s a very mild form of being pulled in two, I grant you, but there it is.
I have come to the conclusion that there’s no escape from this tension. Who would want to become the kind of person who neglects her family in favor of a job, no matter how compelling—become a workaholic, in other words? As long as I have my mind, I will have my stories. As I see it, who knows how long I’ll have with the people I love? More than that, they are my best—sometimes my only—encouragement when it seems as though I’m wasting my time trying to force upon the world something it doesn’t want. Many a time I’ve been so discouraged by rejection in its multitude of forms that I’ve been tempted to give up trying altogether. I mean, I’d never stop writing. I’d have to stop being myself first. But I could easily give up sharing what I write. At times it feels like nobody would even notice if I did stop. That’s when my family steps in, prodding me out of my grim pessimism, because they believe in me.
So, in the end, I see that I’ve made another statement that needs qualification. My family is both hindrance and help, and I do believe that the one is as essential as the other. After all, a good writer ought to balance factors like work and relaxation, imagination and reality, solitude and society. I tip too far toward work, imagination, and solitude; my family tips me back the other direction. For that, I thank them. (And to show them my gratitude, I really should make for them the recipe for skillet lasagna that I found recently. Maybe with parmesan crisps and fresh garlic bread, or a nice green salad… ooh, and apple crisp for dessert…. Mmmm…)