Monday, May 1, 2017

When two worlds collide: motherhood and writing

I told a fellow writer recently I would not be attending two appealing conferences this spring and summer because of conflicts with my children's lives. One falls on the weekend of my son's first-ever prom and the other clashes with summer camp drop-off.
She commended me on my "sacrifices," but suggested I reconsider.
I need to put my writing first, she said.
I need to ensure that I am taken seriously if I want to succeed.
I was taken aback.
I just don't see it that way.
I chose my career, but I also chose to have children.
I believe in balance, but when I am forced to tip those scales, they will always tip in favor of my four kids. My husband is no different in his approach to his career, though it's less obvious because he doesn't have as much flexibility.
Motherhood has made me a better writer, so if it slows me down a little, that's okay.
My perspective is unpopular, at least that's what I gather from forums, blogs and books on the subject. We female writers are supposed to protect our writing identities at all costs and forgive ourselves the selfishness required by our career choices.
Don't get me wrong.
I am selfish sometimes.
Um, plenty of times.
Just this morning, I encouraged my sick ten-year-old son to watch YouTube videos so I could write in peace. The house could be a lot cleaner. I could put better meals on the table. I could be doing art and science projects with my kids during school breaks and on the weekends to keep them off their iPods and computers.
I could also take a regularly paying job and earn money for after-school activities, upcoming college costs and educational summer outings. I have sometimes worked part-time when our finances required it. Most recently, I was a taxonomy specialist for a media company.
But as soon as our finances allowed, I quit.
Why?
Because I'm selfish.
I want to write even if I can't guarantee that my writing will sell.
But I have my limits.
No conference is worth missing my son's first prom.
I want to see the flush in his face when I tell him how handsome he looks in a tuxedo. I want to see him give his date her corsage and wave as the two of them head off for a night of dinner and dancing with friends. I want to hear all about it when he gets back.
No networking opportunity is worth missing camp send-off.
I want to hug my twins before they disappear into their cabins for their first full week of overnight camp and squeeze my daughter before we let her go for two weeks, longer than we have ever been without her.
And no novel of mine is going to suffer because I didn't go to that one workshop.
Look at all the real-life experience I am getting through my kids.
You can't buy that.
We women have good reason to be protective and defensive when it comes to our identities as writers. Despite all the strides we have made as a gender, society as a whole still tends to see male writers as professionals and women as hobbyists.
But we don't have to deny one identity in order to reinforce the other.
I completed four novels while my children were in the most physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding stages of their lives. They still need me now, but their needs have changed. These days, the conflicts with my writing are more about the schedule.
Achieving a balance is easier and it will only get better.
If I get published now, my youngest kids are old enough to understand that I will have to travel for signings, to teach workshops or to participate in conferences. They are old enough to be excited for me, to be proud of me and maybe even to sometimes travel with me.
And it goes both ways.
I am secure enough in my identity as a mother to do all that without guilt, to enjoy success as a writer.
I have not sacrificed.
I have compromised to get what I want, an entirely different concept.
We are not going to change society's view of female writers by mimicking the success of stereotypical male writers. Why would we want to do that? We need to show the world something different. We need to show society that parenthood (fatherhood included) is a valuable asset for writers, not a complication or a burden.
I will go to a conference this year, but I won't miss a child's birthday, a school event, or a milestone to do it. Childhood lasts for only so long, but I intend to write forever.
Where's the sacrifice in that?
(Margaret Atwood, you are my idol!)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Why I march

While most of you slept, my daughter and I boarded a bus for Washington, DC.
We are joining hundreds of thousands of women for the Women's March on Washington, a massive show of solidarity among all marginalized groups and those who support them.
This is not a popular move in our area.
We live in a land of Trump supporters -- good, honest people who want change and who feel Donald Trump is the catalyst we need.
Most do not understand my motivation, especially for bringing our 15-year-old daughter to such an event. They think we are protesting Trump and his election to the presidency, and they don't see the point.
We are not protesting Trump.
This is not a protest.
This is a rally, intentionally planned for the day after the inauguration to help make the message clear. It is intended to raise awareness and show our strength. It is designed to help people bond and to empower them, so that days, months, years after the march, they can draw on this strength and these bonds to create change.
Donald Trump is our president.
The people chose him by the means provided by our Constitution.
This, I accept.
This is democracy.
What I don't accept are the attitudes expressed during his campaign toward women, immigrants, disabled people, Muslims, the LGBT community and people of color. What I fear is that these attitudes will work their way into our system of justice, both civil and criminal. What I want is progress, not regression.
I want to protect our daughter and our three boys, who share our values.
I want them to grow up in a world of tolerance and diversity.
I want to be an example for them.
I want them to see that I am willing to march for what I believe it, that I am not afraid to express myself publicly even when I am surrounded by people who disagree with me. I want them to see that I am trying.
I want our daughter to feel empowered, too.
Like any event of this sort, the Women's March on Washington will draw people with their own agendas. Those who fear what we embrace will narrow in on such individuals and hold them up as examples of why this march is so wrong.
Please don't do that.
Please know that most of us are marching for the country we love, the country you love.
Please remember that this is me, your neighbor and friend, that I love and respect you regardless of your politics. Please try to keep an open mind and I promise I will, too.
Something is wrong in America, and the majority of Americans believe Donald Trump has the skills and the leadership ability to fix it.
I hope he does.
I hope that his attitudes toward women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, disabled people, the LGBT community and other marginalized groups were lies, that he threw them out there to pull in votes from certain vulgar segments of the population, people who believe the Constitution applies only to those who are like them.
I hope that he will take us forward not backward.
I hope that he will listen, not ridicule, when we march, and I hope that you will do the same.
Let us be heard.
Let us roar over the voices of hate and intolerance.
Let us march.

  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Rest in peace, Keegan

A friend posted on my Facebook news feed yesterday that addiction is a choice, unlike other diseases.
I fought hard to control my anger.
She couldn't have known that just an hour earlier, my brother had called to say his son had died -- his sweet, intelligent, good-hearted son.
Keegan did not choose addiction anymore so than others choose heart disease, or diabetes, or epilepsy or other diseases or conditions. He was born with it. It runs in the family. It is, truly, honestly, sadly, a disease.
Nor did he choose to die at the age of 30.
Why would he?
He had everything to live for and he wanted, so badly, to live.
He tried.
Hard.
He sought treatment beginning at age 15 when he showed his parents the whiskey bottle he'd been drinking from daily. He asked for help and they gave it to him time and time again, with no regard ever for the financial and psychological cost to the rest of the family.
They were there through every Code Blue (and there were many) in the emergency room, through every rehab stint, through every halfway house stay. They stayed even when the therapist said it was best to give up on him and forget he existed.
They loved him.
Over the years, alcohol, opioids, gambling, all kinds of addictions fought for control over him because that's the way addiction behaves. It isn't particular and it is incredibly selfish. It wants everything from its victims.
It is cruel.
We like to portray addicts as losers. It's safer that way, to draw a line between us and them, to believe that it can't happen to us because we are way too smart for that. We like to believe it is a choice and that we and the people we love won't become addicts because we're not stupid enough to make that choice.
Keegan was not stupid.
He was highly intelligent. He did well in high school and in college. He held patents from a major food company at a young age. He earned a master's degree between stints in some of the most highly rated rehab facilities in the country.
I'm sorry, but you are not safe.
Your children are not safe.
No one is safe.
No one will be safe until we remove the shame, the stigma from addiction.
So think before you post.
Think before you degrade and judge.
Just think.
Rest in peace, Keegan.