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Sunday, February 7, 2010

the other side of perseverance

Last week, I found myself staring longingly at mail carriers, watching them tromp through the deep snow, doing their rounds. And I thought, I could do that. That could be my job. I’m organized and I’m a perfectionist (though I’ve tried hard not to be). But perfectionism seems like a useful trait in a mail carrier—no one would get the wrong mail and I wouldn’t let the bills get rained on. And—and this is a big AND—I would have a salary and benefits and killer quads.

I know I talk a big game about persistence, about never giving up on writing, but sometimes—some weeks—I do want to give up. I want to turn my back on words. I want a "real" job. I don't make much money, and what I do make goes to child care. I’m actually starting to feel irresponsible about it. (How will we pay for the girls’ college? How will we ever retire?)

One of my wonderful former teachers said to me recently that when he sold his first book, more than elation, he felt justified. All the time he had spent writing was paying off. See, I am a writer. I sold a book. This is important. (And of course he went on to become a wildly successful and respected author.)

I need a little justification right about now. I need to know that all my years of hard work—those thousands of hours I’ve spent at the coffee shop, at my computer, worrying in the middle of the night—haven’t been a complete waste of time. Oh, I believe in what I’m doing here on this blog. I believe in teaching. I believe in helping other mother writers find the most effective way to tell the stories they need to tell. I believe in that. But is that enough?

Winter in Minnesota is clearly hard on my positive attitude. And I know that when spring comes—months from now—and the sun is shining and I can go for long runs and take the girls to the park and rake the leaves from the garden—things will feel a little easier. And maybe then I won’t feel the need for justification. I will find my way back to words. I will find my way inside them again. At least I hope so.

12 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Sigh. I'm always wracking my brains, trying to figure out how to write and also earn some money. It's so hard -- your comment about being a mailman made me laugh. My 8 year old son nursed a desire to be a mailman for several years. He said that he liked the shorts (worn year-round here in CA), loved the truck and was good at sorting!

caro said...

I hear you. I feel silly & futile about all that I put into writing, and I'm not even half as dedicated as you are. Especially in winter, especially in February (which I'd forgotten is even worse than January), it's hard to believe I'm not wasting time.

The best is when the process itself seems worth it, regardless of any recognition from outside. But maybe *nothing* feels that worthwhile in February in MN...

Peg said...

If it is any consolation, I look forward to your posts and read your blog faithfully. Your words matter - they really do!

cath c said...

kate, i completely relate, just about 12 times per day. what i wouldn't do sometimes to have somplace else to go, where others expected something tangible from me, that i could leave at the end of shift.

the writing bleeds into the mothering, the wiving, the homemakering, the tutoring the teaching, the gardening, the relaxing. it is in everything we do and therefore we have to accept that even if we thought we could leave it all behind. there it will be, when we wake up again.

that old expression about writers live everything twice, at once in it and removed observing it is totally true. best just to accept it and pursue it with rigor.

Myrna CG Mibus said...

Totally get wanting a "real" job - the thought hits me especially hard in the middle of winter here in Minnesota. I did work for awhile last winter and though I liked getting out of the house and the structure I found that I didn't have time to write, or maybe I didn't have the energy, when I added the job to my life.

You have found your words, by the way, because you just shared them with your readers. Keep it up!

kristenspina said...

What Elizabeth said... (save for the mailman part!) But yes, how to write and earn some money, or how to not get overwhelmed worrying about it.

unfinishedportraitofsam said...

i echo the folks who've already commented: your words do matter (part of the evidence is in the comments from your readers to whom your blog obviously means something special).
i'm at the beginning of this writing process, and you've been doing it for awhile, so i have to say that it's heartening--strangely--to see that the struggle doesn't go away, that it isn't some inherent "flaw" in what i've chosen but sort of a job hazard : ) particularly in winter. and Indiana winters have the same dragging, dimming effect.
i'm very glad you have your girls to keep you warm on days when your spirit doesn't feel it.

Andrea said...

Just wait till you're raking in the royalties on those three books...on a beach in Aruba...then you'll feel justified.

Ines said...

I find others comments here *interesting*. Since I am not a writer I took your 'longing' to be a mailman literally, like a sign of feeling we ALL (yes, even us who work in a different field, outside the home, for a living, etc.) feel at different times and circumstances (maybe I am wrong). Yes, as you and I discussed last week. I think it is a universal feeling (?). My longing, as you know, is to be waitress. Why? I don't know. In my mind it 'should' be easy...ier...Of course, it is just a mirage, not real and not even close to reality.

The Blue Suitcase said...

Hear hear, Kate! Let it be said! Working really really really hard without economic recompense is discouraging!

kate hopper said...

Thank you, all. I felt so whiny after posting this, but your words always help make me feel less alone (and here less whiny).

Elizabeth, I love that I have this in common with your son. I will meet your family some day. I promise!

Caro and Myrna you're right--winter is hard, and February IS so much harder than January. I always forget it, as well!

Ines, you ARE a writer, of course! And I think it's both those things--longing for something else, and a longing for something other than writing to be my passion.

wellesleyhoopdreams said...

Kate, thank you for being so honest. I've spent too many years shying away from pursuing this dream because I always thought writers had an innate and therefore "easy" talent to get published and recognized. I appreciate your honesty in showing us the reality. You have to hang in there - I've only been reading your blog a few weeks and your lectures for even less and already your words have touched me so much!

Funny thing about wanting to be a mailman...today I was sitting at the optometrist's office, thinking, hey, I could become an optometry technician...anything to get away from my regular day job!