Beautifully written and powerful essay, thank you. As the mother of an 11- and 7-year-old, I’ve found more personal/writing time as my kids have gotten older; older kids generally need less constant attention, and by age 10/11, often prefer to be with friends. (This of course may not be true for many special needs children.) They still need their parents a whole lot, but it isn’t the overwhelming, suffocating kind of need I felt when they were newborn/toddlers. But in my experience, it does not get easier to “do what we want.” This essay reminded me to keep asking what I want (do men ever question this?), and that I deserve help (from my partner, etc.) to get it.
A student asked Donald Barthelme how he might become a better writer. Barthelme advised him to read through the whole history of philosophy from the pre-Socratics up through the modern-day thinkers. The student wondered how he could possibly do this. “You’re probably wasting time on things like eating and sleeping,” Barthelme said. “Cease that, and read all of philosophy and all of literature.” Also art, he amended. Also politics. There are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year, and X years in a life. Solve for X.
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I find comfort in this insistence on the terrestrial nature of the problem and therefore the terrestrial nature of its solution. Time is the issue, not some metaphysical conflict between art and motherhood. But another part of me worries that being a writer isn’t exactly like being a factory worker or a nurse. In Dept. of Speculation, Offill writes:
Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. :-)
She raised me alone. When I first wanted to go to a boarding school, my grandmother chastened her—“It’s cruel to let the girl look at those catalogs when you could never afford to send her.” But send me she did, and paid for four years of college, and supported me again and again as I tried and failed and tried to have a career as a writer. I have lost count of how many times I have moved back into her house. I am living there now with my husband and children!
Please– leave the underwear on the bathroom floor.
Which is not to say that Jodi Picoult hasn’t chosen her role. She may very well want to spend all day with her children and stay up at night working. Aside from our cultural expectation that women should spread themselves thin in order to spend time with their children, there is also the bald fact that some women want to. God knows, even if we could afford a nanny or daycare, the idea of someone else taking care of the baby makes me uneasy. He’s my baby. The three year old is my boy. If he told a nanny that he and the other boys saw a leprechaun spit on the slide, she wouldn’t get to the bottom of it; she’d just let it go because who even knew what that weird little boy was saying now. It takes a mother to continue questioning all the way until you ascertain that the leprechaun spit is actually bird poop. You cannot pay someone to care about your kids the way you do. You cannot pay someone to be you.
IN solidarity, and with so much heart,SARA
And she has not published a book. And I have published two. It is not because I am a better writer. It is because, when she solved for X, I came first. And if I came first, she came second.