In The Midst
Irreantum is at the printer, and I am relieved. Glad, too, and proud of what the staff and writers have accomplished, but I am enjoying having a little window of time open up in my day again, time that I can dedicate to the myriad other responsibilities (and joys) of my life. I must admit, for a month or two I wondered if I’d be able to keep all my balls in the air (and all the marbles in my head)–and, okay, I probably dropped a ball and lost a marble. But it’s been worth it. As time consuming as editing and writing and teaching can be, more often than not, it’s a blessing. An exhausting privilege.
I remember going back to school in 1999 and wondering if I was up to the task. Not only was I unsure about my abilities as a writer–did I have any talent at all??–but I didn’t know if I could squeeze grad school into the nooks and crannies of my already busy days. As the students went around introducing themselves on the first day of class, I started to panic: most of these people were single, and I imagined them repairing each night to their tastefully simple Minneapolis lofts, writing glorious sentence upon glorious sentence in solitude and silence. Me? I repaired to my suburban split-level with its dirty floors and dirty laundry. I spent my evenings feeding a hungry baby and wrangling a rambunctious toddler, cooking dinner, facing the daunting task of creating a non-lame Sharing Time for church on Sunday, and attempting to make meaningful eye contact with my husband.
In truth, my life was not that hard. It was the life of almost every other late-twentysomething Mormon mom I knew. But it was not a stereotypical writer’s life, of that I was certain. And I wondered if I was kidding myself. Could I be a student again, and attempt to be a writer, and do it well, given my circumstances at home? And conversely, could I be the kind of mother I wanted to be, and wife and friend and (even, yes) counselor in the Primary Presidency given the additional strain that school would put on my time and attention?
It’s been almost 10 years since I went back to school. Ten years, and I STILL find myself without good answers to either of these questions. I know my writing has occasionally suffered because of my family. I know my family has occasionally suffered because of my writing. But ultimately, I believe that both my family life and my writing life have achieved a kind of symbiosis–that one without the other wouldn’t be complete.
In doing a little research on the writer Scott Russell Sanders for my BYU creative writing course, I came upon an excellent interview he gave for The Writer’s Chronicle. Much of what he says is interesting and profound, but I found the following particularly resonant:
Certainly the hectic pace of our days, the electronic media, and the proliferating distractions make it more and more difficult for anyone to lead a gathered life. But writers face an additional risk, which is to accept the view most famously stated by Yeats: “The intellect of man is forced to choose / Perfection of the life, or of the work.” I don’t expect to achieve anything near perfection in either, but I also don’t believe the two pursuits must be at odds. My living nourishes my writing, and my writing guides my living. I write not to escape life but to enter it more deeply, with more awareness and appreciation. Of course there are practical conflicts. When my children were young, I felt guilty whenever I withdrew from them to work on a book. As my mother aged, I felt guilty over not building an addition to our small house so my wife and I could take her in. I earn a living by teaching, and have done so now for thirty-six years, and so I am on call to thousands of current or former students as well as to colleagues and administrators, any of whom may claim my attention at any moment. So, like any writer, I struggle to preserve the mental space necessary for creative work. But I’m not willing to abandon the students and others who depend on me, I’m not willing to exploit my friends, and I’m not willing to sacrifice the people I love in order to produce a more nearly perfect book. So I go on struggling to make my imperfect art in the midst of relationships and responsibilities.
Most human beings–even writers!–have responsibilities to juggle. But very few of us here at The Red Brick Store live the “idealized” writer’s life of solitude and silence I imagined ten years ago. We have spouses and children and jobs and church callings. I have to believe, though, that in the fullness of these lives, our art can be enriched instead of diminished.
It’s exhausting, yes. But it’s worth it.