I’m back to talk to you about “having it all” again. This conversation is everywhere and I can’t escape it, especially when it keeps happening in my own head, especially when my ideas on this continue to evolve.
It feels that recently, in my world, a lot of people (big and small, loud and quiet, public and private) are talking about working for yourself. The glory and freedom and happiness and relief of being your own boss, doing what you love, being a full time artist or living your art to make money, walking away from the structured job in an office and living the dream. I know a lot of wedding photographers, so I’m looking down the barrel of that lifestyle every time I open instagram or facebook. I know writers and bloggers and artists. I know a lot of people who set their own schedule, are chained to a different type of work clock than the 9-5, and who decide when and how to take vacations – not based on PTO schedules but based on money and convenience.
I see these lives and worlds and I have 2 immediate feels: I first feel like “Aw, man I wish I had that. That seems so incredibly awesome.” It’s the grass is always greener, right? My second feel is, “Why didn’t you do that? Why don’t you just work harder, Lauren? Why don’t you just think smarter? Why don’t you just figure it out and make it happen.?” I can beat myself up over it. If only I was more innovative or more willing to take a great risk. If only there was something about me I could change to make it happen.
Many people have suggested that I just work for myself, selling words. In a way it’s kind of a joke. Unfortunately, the value placed on words is not very high at the moment and the amount of work I would have to do in order to make even a dent in what looks like a livable wage would be overwhelming. That is, if there was even enough work to be found. It’s frustrating to hear it all of the time. Ultimately, though, it’s not what I want.
I look at women who are not so different than me, but who are living light years apart from where I am – making livings off of their blogs, writing on the side, having their whole lives about words. I’m really tired of not seeing myself reflected back in that at all. Where are the writers who work? And have kids? And families and obligations and hobbies? Where are the women who didn’t fall into some magic writer hole? Where are the working writers, scrounging evenings and weekends, and more than that – where are the ones who are talking about it? Because I am not seeing me out here. Where am I?
From the time I first started writing, the trick for me has always been to construct a life in which writing could occur. I have never been blocked, never lost faith (or never lost it for longer than necessary, shall we say) never not had ideas and scraps sitting around in notebooks or on Post-its adhered to the desk edge, but I have always been slow and have never had a protracted run of free time. I have always had to hold down a paying job of some sort and now I’m the mother of a small child as well, and the ability to make a literary life while teaching and parenting (to say nothing of housework) is sometimes beyond me. I don’t feel completely outwitted by it but it is increasingly a struggle. If I had a staff of even one person, or could tolerate a small amphetamine habit, or entertain the possibility of weekly blood transfusions, or had been married to Vera Nabokov, or had a housespouse of even minimal abilities, a literary life would be easier to bring about. (In my mind I see all your male readers rolling their eyes. But your female ones—what is that? Are they nodding in agreement? Are their fists in the air?) It’s hardly news that it is difficult to keep the intellectual and artistic hum of your brain going when one is mired in housewifery. This is, I realize, an old complaint from women, but for working women everywhere it continues to have great currency.
– Lorrie Moore, Paris Review, 2001
When I really think about it, I guess I am actually the definition of a sell out because I am choosing the ability to save for a house in a big city, the ability to eventually live debt free, I’m choosing the make money path over the make no money path but write all day.
Sometimes I read about other successful writers who don’t have kids, who lived in studio apartments scraping together bits of money here and there so that they could continue writing and do only that and I think, “But I could never do that now, I have a child. I have a husband, I have a life.” And then I think about the choices I made in order to have those things when I didn’t even know what having those things would mean for the other parts of my life. Would I have chosen differently? Could I have? I don’t think so. Maybe. Who knows.
When I was in grad school I told my professor that I wanted to have a first novel published by the time I was 30. That was my goal. She said, “Absolutely. I don’t doubt that for a second.” Well, newsflash, that’s not happening. Is that bad?
I look at successful writers who seemingly do nothing else but write. Who, seemingly, know people with great cabins and beach houses, seemingly, just so they can lend out a quiet writing retreat for writers who happen to also be friends. Seemingly.
Well. I don’t want to do it that way. (I mean, if you have a beach house you want to offer me as retreat space, I wouldn’t turn you down…) I’ve never wanted to give up the babies and the people and the life part in order to be really, really, really good at something. Live the isolated life? That was never me in college and that wasn’t me in grad school, that was never me even when I knew I was the best writer in the room.
I want to talk about being a writer in the real world, the world were you pay bills and you have friends and you have a family and a job and you still write.
So, I’m here. I’m not working for myself, I have a job that I go to Monday through Friday and I have a kid that I tuck into bed every night and I have this blog and I have a few other projects and I would love to write for more things, give voices to more characters, tell more stories in more places for more eyes and ears and people.
And I’m not ever going to be the artist who works for themselves and has the interesting loft with the exposed brick and wears clothes from vintage shops or from their clothing designer friends. I’m never going to be that cool.
I wear my jeans until they have holes on the seam where my thighs rub. And I rent an apartment that is probably considered expensive for most of the country, but coming from the bay area is a freaking steal. I take hour long lunch breaks to either read or meet my husband for a mid-week date, and by the end of the week my eyes are blurry and puffy from overuse. I stay up too late crafting blogs and I do fun sponsored posts not for money but for experience, for fun.
I might write a book one day. Honestly, I’m probably going to write a few. But it won’t be by the time I’m 30. And I work. I write and edit for companies and I freelance on the side, but I don’t make my own schedule and I’m limited within the constraints of sick days and paid leave. But I like having a 401k and stability.
And that’s real. That’s how it is. Everyone needs to do what they need to do, but there isn’t just 1 way. It’s exhausting having to hold myself up to the 1 way I see most often as the key to success and not see myself there. So I’m done doing that. I’m going to breath a sigh of relief knowing that I haven’t missed my chance or my boat or whatever because I didn’t do it the way someone else has done it. I make my own success the away I make it.