Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On being an unsuccessful writer: part two

Eight months into this, I have what I always wanted as a writer: readers. Only it took some time to realize that readers were what I wanted. When I envisioned myself as a successful writer, it was a Didion-esque daydream leavened with a good deal of Berkeley Academia: a house in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood, a quaint bungalow (costing $700,000) furnished with fine wooden chairs and dark corduroy couches. All those bookshelves. The red Le Creuset atop the Viking stove, cassoulet bubbling within. And my writing room a raft of papers, books, and phone messages from Barbara Epstein, begging for an essay. And me, Sontag-like, silver earrings dangling, long cotton skirt swirling round my legs. I did not imagine money. Rather, I dreamed about the things it would get me--that house, those earrings, the laden bookshelves.

Now Joan Didion has lost not only her husband but her daughter. Susan Sontag and Barbara Epstein are dead. And I still cannot afford a house in Rockridge.

I do, however, have all those bookshelves, the Le Creu if not the Viking, and enough silver earrings and long skirts to last a lifetime. I have a day job that eats precious writing time. But it pays well, and I will never have to worry about health insurance.

And, best of all, I have readers. People who read. And sometimes respond. A world has opened to me, one that will be here whether or not my fiction ever sees the printed page.

One reader called me one of his favorite bloggers. I did not pay him, either. We've never met.

This is success. Not the kind I expected. Not the kind I thought I wanted. But undisputed success.

Do I still want my Didion daydream? Sure. Only now I know I can be a happy writer without it.

This brings me to Caitlin O'Neal's article in the March/April issue of Poets and Writers: "The Writer's Triangle: Balancing Writing with Living."

O'Neal was invited to participate in a panel discussion on "the toxic triangle," in her words, "the metaphorical vortex writers get pulled into while trying to balance making a living, being committed to their literary lives, and staying connected to the world around them." (21) Evidently those of us caught up in said triangle must work full time, use up our tiny amounts of "free" time writing, thus cutting us off from other people, thus depressing us.

The panel, held in Boston, received overwhelming response not only from those asked to participate but from the audience. Everyone who isn't Jane Smiley or Margaret Atwood, it seems, is miserably battling the various nasty realites of writerdom: poverty, the need to work, time constraints, rejection, loneliness, etc, etc.

Pursuing writing is like being a working mother: there is never enough time to do everything that must be done. So one of three things happens:

--things don't get done


--things get done, but incompletely


--a combination of the above.

Our society's view of art means government support is unthinkable. If we can't get the feds to recognize that children and the elderly deserve our tax dollars, we cannot expect writers, dancers, or musicians to be deemed worthy of attention.

I don't see a ready solution to the "toxic triangle", though pathologizing the wish to make art might be a good place to start. Nobody is forcing us to write. Lonely? Depressed? Missing out on life?

Stop writing.

Can't stop? Don't want to? Then something's gotta give.

In my case, outside life gives. I cannot remember the last time I saw a movie in an actual movie theatre. Movie rentals? I must have. Can't recall. I last went to a rock concert in July '06. I never watch televsion. In July, we finally caved, replacing our ancient set with a new flat screen TV. Hockeyman now

I don't know how to turn the tv on. It has four remote controls. Four! Why? Who cares? Who has the time?

Neither of us are social butterflies. We have acquaintances that could be cultivated into friends. Which would be very nice, only it would take time from writing.

Lest I sound like a total isolate, let me point out that I do socialize a lot at work. I have a broad circle of people I lunch with weekly and enjoy their company enormously. So I am not a total freak. My primary recreation is reading, which does keep me in reality to some extent. It's difficult to read something like Suite Francaise and live in la-la land.

Still, my choice means isolation. I don't mind that; I don't miss people. I get plenty of them at the office. I do wish I had more time to see movies, attend concerts, explore the city. But my life is a constant balancing act between the laundry and the groceries and the house, work and squeezing in that trip to the recycling center that will take our old television and the call to the electrician. Not to mention the orthodonture rounds and all the other garbage life throws at us that takes time from writing.

Right now--now being an indeterminate amount of time--I have dedicated myself to writing. Even with the blog, this is risky: will I look back at this time of life, this final flush of youthful energy, and regret my singlemindedness? Or will I feel I acted rightly?


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home