Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Most Selfish Occupation on Earth

"Do you take this self-centered, egocentric, narsissistic son of a bitch to be your lawful wedded husband?"

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.



  1. Nicely expressed, Vincent! I must say I struggle with this constantly. Being me, I tend to go overboard trying to prove I won't be that typical "selfish and self-centered" writer. I've paid for it with delayed projects, deep resentments in my relationships, and a sense of being stretched way too thin... I've fallen into self-sabotage to keep from being seen as selfish and self-centered. And, you know what? That doesn't work any better than just embracing that I am those things. Funny thing is at the end of the day, trying so hard to not be the typical selfish and self-centered writer has cost me writing successes, relationships of all kinds, and even a piece of myself. At least you know exactly who you are and embrace it. So kudos to you!!

  2. Vincent... gotta say that your picker is broken. ;-) I see that with a lot of men who are married to their jobs, and not just writers. --you just express it better.

    And some women are narcissistic and selfish, believing that a marriage should revolve around them.

    I consider myself a writer because if I quit for any length of time, I become unhappy or poems will seep out of my head as I am trying to sleep. It can be very disconcerting. Since my hubby is also an introvert and needs time alone with his projects, I have found a lot of time for my own projects. I do clean barely, wash the dishes nightly, make dinner, and sometimes do laundry while I am writing.

    I am not sure that I will be as successful as you are... You do write a mean story. But, I am happy where I am.

    I found too that the most unhappy marriages are the ones where the couples are extremely mismatched. I have a sister who is getting ready to start on her third marriage. She gets picked because she is a sexy looking thing - but there is no substance other than looks. And then she loses the husband because they get bored with her. It is sad...

    I think that introverts should look for other introverts instead of extroverts. I have noticed that when an introvert and extrovert hook up, the introvert always complains they have no time for themselves and the extroverts complain of the selfishness of the introvert.

    So sorry for this rant - and epic comment. Just maybe when you get excited about the next woman, maybe you'll remember that your picker is broken and you give yourself time to get to know her... and she gets to know you.

    And then you might... might pick a woman that isn't trying to change you, but accepts that writing is your passion, your occupation, and your avocation.


  3. yw Vin

    Just because you are a writer, doesn't mean you can't be happy. And I would have said that to Hemingway if I had met him.

    ;-) Cyn

  4. I must immediately disagree with Cyn. You're picker is not broken. The cause of the divorce was not you. The most selfish act is by the person who says, "Why won't you pay more attention to me?" It's sad that one person's drive for success so often invokes feelings of inadequacy in others. When you or I focus on our work, it leads to a sort of jealousy on the part of those who feel you should pay heed to their wants first. (Only?) That is where the relationship ends. It was not because of you, it was to spite you. You were not the person with the problem Vincent. Your ex-wife (and her family judging by the "real job" comment) had the issues and I'm willing to bet they are unresolved to this day. She will not be happy with anything less than an affection slave. Nothing you could have done would have changed the outcome. A life partner must have enough confidence in themselves to know you ARE there for them, without you having to constantly reinforce their defenses against self-doubt. Be aware of this if you decide to choose again. Pick someone who is as self-confident as you are. Allow yourselves to pursue your own goals. Then, when you succeed, make time to share the success. That will make up for all the hours of being alone with your other passion. And by all that is good, avoid those whose idea of a good relationship involves you constantly reinforcing their confidence in their own self-worth.

    (PS: I am a real person. I use my blogspot account to blog about a game I play. Sorry there is no real picture. You can my real picture on my Google+ account under Mark Bryant. I'm the one with the backpack and the Colorado style hat on his head.)

  5. Interesting post and comments. Vincent - you have a knack for touching on the sensitive issues related to writing. Most writers are unwilling to voice their struggles with relationships to the public.

    I have also come to a similar crossroads several times in my career. I have been accused of being selfish and "living off the hubby" because I won't get a "real job." My mother-in-law even attempted to break up my marriage, since she thinks all I do is stay home and talk to people on the internet. Hah!

    Thanks for being so transparent.

  6. Hi, Vincent

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