I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately on the nature of a writing career (or merely aspirations for one) during the early days of parenting a toddler. I’ve never been one to believe that a parent needs to give up her/his career aspirations, even if s/he feels it’s important to stay home with the kids. As for me, I always planned on being the stay-at-home/work-from-home parent. It’s what my mother and my mother-in-law did, and as a kid, I loved having a parent pretty much always available if I needed them. It was an important safety net for me, growing up, so from very early on, I’d pretty much assumed that’s what I’d do. My mother was never bored at home. She had tons of artsy hobbies (early on, writing was one of them, and I caught the bug hard from her), read like Steven King does, cooked tons, and was always a shining example to me that staying home with the kids doesn’t mean scrubbing the floorboards all day (ugh).
But I’m finding, now that I actually *am* a stay-at-home mom, that my situation and my mother’s is somewhat different. For one, my mother just recently finished her Masters and is pursuing a career as a (very busy!) mental health therapist. Both she and my dad started their masters in their 50s, and their drive and dedication is something I greatly admire. But while my mother was always a jack-of-all-trades, figuring out what she wanted to pursue professionally while me and my sister were little, I’m much more single-minded. I submitted my first story at 19, and ever since, writing professionally has been my one shining goal. I’ve worked at this more or less dedicatedly the last ten or so (really, last five more seriously). Save for a few whimsical months in high school when I considered being a manga artist or an architect, becoming a career author has always been my shining Polaris.
This presents a problem of sorts: I have fearsome aspirations and a pretty intense competitive drive to succeed as much as I possibly can with the writing, but my current lifestyle is a serious hinderance to getting much of anything done in that arena. To start, my husband’s in the first year of his medical residency, which means I’m essentially (for all intents and purposes) a single mom. A sixteen hour day for him is actually a pretty good day in which he gets off “early”. We’ve had twenty-hour days before. There are weeks that pass when he’s doing wards that he doesn’t even see our son awake for whole weeks at a time because he leaves by 5:30AM and doesn’t usually get home until 10PM-12:30AM.
This does leave me with a fair amount of “time” on my hands, but the little lad is 1) an unpredictable napper, which scraps any hopes of endurance momentum for any creative project since at any point I may not be able to write for two to twelve days in a row, and 2) VERY ACTIVE AND SOCIALLY DEMANDING. That means, when he’s up, he’s UP, and he doesn’t want to do anything unless someone’s watching (he’s a bit of a ham), or *not* watching, if he’s getting into trouble, which is always. Lately, he’s been averaging one hour to an hour and a half just to go to bed at night, which means I may not get downstairs until 9:45-10PM, at which point there are all the household things that seriously need to be done (a.k.a. overflowing sink of dishes/food all over the kitchen floor/toys all over the living room/laundry piled three feet deep at the bottom of the basement stairs/trash to be taken out/litter to be scooped/etc.) because if I don’t do it, no one will, and then in the morning, we’ll be digging out before we even get started. So there’s only so much I can put that stuff off to write without seriously inconveniencing myself the next morning and thereby making the next day even harder to get through.
Add to that the toxic levels of stress and anxiety kicking about between the walls here, both brought home from the hospital and generated here all on my own, and by 10:30PM, I need a break. A break from thinking. A break from doing. A break from life. Lately, because of the horrible bedtime routines in which nothing seems to help smooth things out, I’ve come downstairs almost completely emotionally and physically burned out.
I’m not precisely making excuses, but I am still trying to wrap my head around my own life scenario currently, what it’s demands are, what I’m able to give back, and what little bit I have left over for my own creative pursuits. I actually *did* write some today during the lad’s brief nap. But it’s left me wondering: where am I headed, and what are the best ways I can make even a tiny bit of progress in developing my career, despite everything that’s weighing me down for now? I know that someday, things will lighten up a bit, time will be more available, the lad will be able to entertaining himself from time to time, and the amount of stress should (*oh please*) go down, too.
Recently, I ran across this post on Peter M. Ball’s blog (which I highly recommend if you’re a writer–he ties in the most fascinating outside-of-writing sources and finds new and interesting ways to integrate them into what it means to be a writer), about Neil Gaiman’s now famous Make Good Art speech from 2012. Specifically, the post is about Gaiman’s advice to aim for “the Mountain”–the writing career you want to have in that shiny, snow-topped future in which you’re exactly where you want to be.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and sometimes I feel completely ensnared in a bramble-infested ditch facing DEAD AWAY from the Mountain, which in and of itself has been challenging for me to define. But I’m working on figuring that out and determining what steps I can honestly and realistically take during this phase of my life. I’ve started examining flash fiction, because in the sparse hour or two when the lad *does* nap, I can bang out a rough draft of a 1,000 word story, even if it’s crap, and editing I find much easier these days, if only because I can chip away at it sporadically without losing much momentum. I’ve also been taking some of the advice I gleaned from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, specifically the “one square inch” mantra of sitting down to write one description, one snatch of dialogue, one character, and just seeing where it goes. This is something I can do on my phone, even, and more than once this past week, I’ve used a snippet of description typed on my phone during bath-time or when I’ve been pinned under the napping lad unable to move or reach my tea because he’s sleeping so shallowly. I’ve been trying to read more, because I can actually do that and relax, and have even gotten a few of my to-read list on audiobook, which prior to it getting so cold, I managed to listen to while taking the lad for walks around the neighborhood. I’ve been slowly picking away at a novel edit, which is proving more challenging to make progress on due to the need for more mental continuity. I’m also reading a lot of writerly advice, often by blog, which probably doesn’t help with the dread that I’m not getting enough finished and submittable work completed.
But I can recognize that I’m trying, and that I’m actually getting little bits done now and then, even if my drafts are quilted together by different segments of various writing sessions. And that’s something, at least. Now just to define what “the Mountain” is for me, and take baby steps to get back on the path towards it.