I’m not entirely comfortable writing about my own life, my own family, but I write this for a few reasons:
- The life of an author is often romanticized, and I think people should understand what it’s really like (at least for me). I’m in a pretty awesome situation in life, and still the creative struggle is real and has a real effect.
- I think people should understand how much work and sacrifice goes into producing a solid work of art. Many, many artists out there sacrifice way more than I do.
- I want to see, I want to feel other people’s stories, what drives them, what their challenges are – writers, especially. It’s only fair that I start by sharing a bit of my own story.
This, my friends, is what my life looks like as a soon-to-be published (coming in 2020) author.
I park my car in the garage after a day at the office – a day of being the boss, the grunt, the leader, the follower, sometimes the village idiot. My eyes, my head, my ass, my back hurt from sitting in a chair and staring at a screen all day. I feel brief satisfaction for what I’ve accomplished today, but something is missing. The work was mine, but the result will not be, not entirely. I feel frustration, helplessness, impatience, inadequacy. I know I’m lucky to have what I have, be what I am, do what I do, but I need more. I need to be more.
I turn off the car, close my eyes, and lean my head back against the headrest as I finish listening to the last of the song that had been playing. The evening heat begins to creep into the car now that the A/C is off, but it feels right to let the song finish. I breathe deep, knowing that my incredible wife, my beautiful little girl, and my faithful dogs are waiting for me. Still, I take these few brief moments for myself. Nobody expects anything of me for these few moments. Better, I don’t expect anything of myself – for a sweet minute or two.
The song ends, I walk inside. A rush of cold air, two wet noses, and a cry of, “Daddy!” greet me. My daughter’s radiant gray-blue eyes, her wide, toddler-toothed smile warm me. My wife’s simple words, “Hi Babe,” are music to my ears.
For a time, I forget everything that isn’t my little family. My wife playing with my daughter at the table – letters, or painting, or play-doh. The dogs wiggling and groaning for attention.
Soon, the daily question: “What are we doing for dinner?”
As we cook dinner and eat, the outside world returns. The article or tweet I saw earlier that promises to make me a better writer, a more successful businessperson, a better father or husband. The text from a friend, the email from work. I am distracted by my phone often.
Dinner is done, dishes are cleared. We have time for a game or two, perhaps half an hour to sit on our deck, check the garden, play outside in the dwindling summer sun. Maybe I sneak in a moment of reading a book just for fun, or chase my daughter, or play catch with her and the dogs.
“Okay little kid, bed time!”
The next hour is filled with tickles, screams, wrestling clothes off of and ‘jammies’ back onto the toddler. We read a story (or two or three), we turn the lights off and snuggle (a nightly requirement).
Doubt wars with joy in my heart, my mind. Am I doing enough for this tiny human next to me? Have I been, can I be the dad she deserves? Are the short hours after work I spend with her – usually mentally exhausted (or lazy) after work – enough? Do I make enough money to provide her the right experiences, opportunities? Will I ever make enough to be able to spend more time with her?
I hear her breathing change to a deep, regular rhythm. I kiss her forehead, roll out of bed, walk downstairs and into the bedroom. It’s a writing (or other work) night, so the air is humid and smells of lavender. My wife has drawn a bath for herself and has a book ready, knowing that I am not hers tonight. She has worked a full day as well, and takes care of most of the parenting and household duties besides. She deserves to wind down with a good book, or the latest episode of The Bachelor.
“Hi honey, how were snuggles?”
“Good. We have the cutest kid ever.”
“Yep. Are you writing tonight?”
“Yeah, still working through edits. Like always.”
“Okay, love you.”
I set my laptop at the desk we have in our room, plug everything in, get spotify running, my appropriate windows up. I buy the thing on amazon I’ve been needing for a few days (or more likely, yet another book to sit in my tbr pile for months), then close my browser and dig in. But for the first ten or fifteen minutes, I stare at the page without really seeing the words. I wish I were relaxing with my wife. I remember a thing I wanted to talk to her about. I worry about all of the undone to-do items from my day, what meetings I have the next day that I need to prepare for. I worry about the other things I am trying to do to improve my family’s life on other nights: prep applications for business school, the lunch/dinner date I haven’t scheduled yet, the startups I’d like to build. I check the baby monitor. I check twitter. I chat with my friends on slack.
Finally, I settle in and drop into my story. Wonder of wonders, it’s actually pretty damn cool. I edit dialogue, tweak descriptions, change details. It’s as if I’m really living this story that I have completely fabricated. Most days, I love it.
Other days, I sit and stare longer. The words don’t come, my brain is broken. I change a scene, then change it back when I realize I just ruined several other scenes.
I get an hour of writing in – maybe two if I’m lucky – before my gaze strays to the clock. It’s 11 PM or later, my wife wants to go to sleep. I need to as well, for tomorrow it starts all over again. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to pursue my passions full-time? I could write several books per year. I could build other products/companies I dream about. I could home school my child, or at least be more involved in her daily life.
But that’s not real life. Most other writers – even some successful, well-known ones – fight the same battle I do. Their battle may be even harder, as I realize that I’ve been very fortunate with my “day job” career, and many don’t have an incredible life partner who shares the burden of supporting the family financially. Or worse (in my opinion), many writers who have gone full-time constantly stress about whether they will be able to make ends meet, and suddenly their passion has become their prison.
Writing just doesn’t pay well enough to be a full-time occupation for most of us. ‘Why’ is a question for another ramble.
Even knowing this, I can’t stop, because progress is the only thing that makes me feel like myself. I am a creator, so I create; a dreamer, so I dream.
My wife turns off her bedside lamp. I save my word doc, close my computer, and pad into the bathroom by the light of my phone to brush my teeth before bed. I feel the familiar stab of disappointment for everything I didn’t get done today, satisfaction for what I did accomplish. Still, something is missing. I know I’m lucky to have what I have, be what I am, do what I do. I was just writing on a MacBook, for hell’s sake. My wife and I don’t worry about finances like we did eight, even five years ago.
Still, I need more. I need to be more.
I turn off my light, close my eyes. The dog beside my bed farts, I can’t breathe.
Finally, I sleep.
Tomorrow: my beautiful struggle repeats.