Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The Most Selfish Occupation on Earth
My ex-wife (the second one) used to call me selfish. She claimed my work came before my family. That all the hours I put into my writing was taking away from the quality time I might otherwise share with she and the kids. Which I never quite understood since I usually never work nights and was often the Johnny-on-the-spot when it came to making dinners, feeding the crew and helping out with the homework. You know, domestic stuff like that. My ex was pretty good at making reservations. That was about it. Ok, I'm joking. In her defense she worked and took care of quite a few household chores that might have otherwise never gotten done. Like the laundry for instance.
But in terms of work, I was not only diligent, I often worked seven days a week writing and marketing my novels. I recall a time when guests of hers were over and she simply introduced me as her husband. When the topic of writers and books came up, it struck me as odd and frankly, kind of sad, that she never once uttered a word about my being a published novelist. Later on, the when the guests were gone, I asked her why she did that. Her response was, 'You already have enough of an ego.' Can you just see the steam pouring out of my ears??????
I guess by then the marriage was over (all 36 months of it) and by that time, she'd had enough of the importance I placed on my writing and the sacrifices we all had to make in order to see a novel become a success. I can't say I blame her. However, I will say that she knew what she was getting into, since when I met her I was a novelist and when we married I remained a novelist (despite her family insisting I get a "real job in the real world.")
There's a reason why many successful authors tend to marry and divorce several times over. The reason is simple: Our work is indeed the most important thing in our lives. Doesn't mean we don't love our kids and spoil them and dote over them. Doesn't mean I didn't love my wife. I loved her to death. But the fact is, when it came to my work schedule, nothing was going to get in the way of it. Not chores, not social engagements, not sickness, not even Christmas. Work isn't even the word for writing. It's more of a calling, a devotion to a religion. Or, maybe this will make more sense to you in a down-to-earth-way: A farmer has to get up and milk the cows and feed the chickens on Christmas morning just like any other day. The animals don't know the difference. The farmer isn't working. He's living a lifestyle and adhering to a calling that is far different from the usual 9-5, sleep, TV, bed that most people are used to. That's the precise allure of the job, no matter how hard and grueling it can be.
I guess when people get married, they see themselves changing their partner's ways and habits to a certain extent. They envision a spouse who will be more sensitive to their needs and wants, and this can include time set aside for them. Nothing wrong with this so long as a fine balance is maintained and said spouse doesn't go overboard with the changes she intends to pursue in her man (and vice/versa naturally). But what she should realize prior to walking down that aisle is that she is marrying a writer. An artist. She is marrying someone who is indeed selfish and self-centered and full of ego. Because that's precisely what it takes to make it as a writer. It is a selfish occupation that will often cause you to lose not only marriages, but relationships and friendships of all kinds, and you, as an aspiring published author, must be prepared for that.
Hemingway went through four wives, and many friends. But his writing was his constant. So long as he could write, his reason for living was intact. Nothing could interfere with it, and nothing would ever stand in its way. And when the words would no longer come to him, he enacted the most selfish act of all. His fourth wife Mary woke up and found his slumped over body in the vestibule of their Ketchum, Idaho home, and what was left of his brains spattered against the walls. Norman Mailer married eight times, Michael Chrichton eight times, Stephen Crane eight times, and the list goes on and on.
I'm not trying to portray a dismal picture here. I'm trying to be honest. As full-time writers who wish to work alone for hours at a time but who also wish to engage in meaningful relationships, there will come a time sooner than later that we will be accused of being selfish and full of ego. We will be accused of placing more importance on our work than we do on our children and our spouses. Even when we have become successful we will still crave attention and affirmation like a spoiled child screaming out behind a locked bedroom door. And we will want to continue to work harder than ever before.
But if you can somehow strike a balance between the work and the ego, and your loved one's needs and wants while still achieving great success, you will be the luckiest person alive. I've yet to find a way to strike that balance and it's cost me dearly. But I'm thankful for what I've achieved and I'm always hopeful that one day, that delicate balance will come before it's too late. For now anyway, I'd better get back to work.
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