My girl takes after me. I like to write my ideas down. I have to write my ideas down, more precisely. It’s my version of “thinking out loud,” and I recommend it to my older children when they are having trouble with anything: mean siblings, unfair situations, anger management, you name it.
Yesterday, I took my own advice. The big kids are at overnight camp, and the little kids are at a dance camp during the mornings, just for this week; and I have no projects on the go. I’ve completed the triathlon, and the related Chatelaine.com blog. I am waiting for line edits on The Juliet Stories. I seem unwilling to commit to a new character and a new story, just yet. I am at the crux of something. Restless. Curious. So I spent the morning talking to myself in terrible printing (barely legible, even to me) inside the pages of a handy notebook.
Did anything come of it? But of course! If not exactly peace of mind, then peace of purpose.
My mother has a phrase she uses often: She likes to “stay open to the possibilities.” And while there’s plenty to recommend the idea, I’ve decided that rather than staying open to the possibilities, I prefer to pursue, invite, and seek out possibilities–and when the time is right, to choose and to commit, which is kind of the opposite of staying open to more and more and more. Commitment means closing off possibilities–at least, some of them. But it also means believing in the possibilities before you and available to you, and not forever hoping that something better may be waiting around the corner. It’s kind of like getting married. When I commit, I like to get it right. That comes with a certain amount (okay, a giant unreasonable amount) of agonizing and analyzing.
But I’m seeing that commitment can be lighter than that, too. I have before me a flexible year. Certain elements are inflexible: my youngest is still a preschooler for whom I am the primary caregiver. But depending on my income generation, there are childcare options to supplement my responsibilities. And I am at home. I can juggle. I’m not tied to the structured hours of a 9-5 job.
One thing became very clear during yesterday’s brainstorming: I am finding more satisfaction from expanding my working life–my public life, essentially. To connect, to be engaged with the world–it’s what I want.
Something clear to me at this exact moment, as my littlest leans his face onto my leg and says, “I’m bored!” is that I’m not a great mother when I’m typing on the computer or trying to think. The balance … is so imperfect.
I made a budget earlier this week. There are certain fixed expenses that I cover every month, out of my writing. I had a sneaking suspicion that output was higher than input, and unsustainable, so I checked. This probably sounds ridiculous–shouldn’t I know exactly how much is going in and coming out? Yes, I should.
Looking at finances, for me, takes facing some demons. Sometimes I wonder if this is my last frontier, a foggy wasteland into which I’m afraid to venture. My parents fought a lot about money when they were married (to each other, I mean). One of the things I’ve appreciated about Kevin is that we spend money quite similarly, and almost always have similar financial goals. But the truth is that I also step back a lot, or worse, close my eyes and just say, you go ahead, honey, and make the decisions. I’d rather not know.
It’s strange. This desire not to know. To be deliberately in the dark.
But I have my own bank account, too. And my own expenses–largely childcare. And my own income. Which is sporadic and not-to-be-relied-upon and if I had to support our family on it, we would live in someone’s basement. Maybe yours. You’d have to feed us, too.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Tracking a path toward financial non-ignorance. My conclusion is that I will need to earn more money this year. I haven’t got enough socked away to cover the truly high costs of childcare. But without childcare, I am looking after these kids by myself, and there is no way to look after kids full-time and to write, too. Or to do anything that requires being out of the home, away from the kids. Want to know why parents are so happy about proposals like all-day every-day kindergarten? Check out the cost of childcare; which, by the way, is a pretty underfunded vocation, given that for childcare to make sense, it has to cost less than what the parents are earning by not doing the childcare themselves. There’s my feminist rant for the day.
Anyway, my brainstorming went something like this:
ways to earn $ – ??
Can you see why I fantasize about being a midwife? I think it’s the stable steady work that appeals as much as anything. If I were a midwife, I could join a clinic, I could practice, and I would know how much money would be coming in every single month. None of the options above offer any sliver of stability, at least not as I am currently practicing any of them.
A former boss of mine, who is a writer, made a very funny/for serious flier advertising his services: “January Blowout Sale. Book writer now and save 20%.”
I’m wondering … should I do something of the sort? Pitch, advertise, apply? (All of which take significant time and energy, too, of course). Or should I just keep doing what I’ve always done, which is to carve out bits of time, write and work, and sometimes get lucky–just often enough to keep the bank account at a slightly stable level. It seems such a haphazard way to construct a career. And that’s what I want–a career, not a hobby.
Note: beautiful photo of clover and shoe-print by AppleApple.
I’ve been writing more regularly on my side-project blog, Swim/Run/Bike Mama (yup, it’s on the triathlon project), and less regularly, perhaps, here. Since finishing the 365-project (apparently, I thrive on projects), I’ve hardly picked up the camera. I am giving myself a full week of breathing before even thinking about what to do next, photography-wise; but one interesting discovery is that out of 365 photos, there are about thirty that stand out, and among those, a few that might just come together to tell an interesting story quite apart from the project and apparent subject matter: ie. I can make something else out of them. Maybe that’s reason enough to continue taking a photo every day. Because at any moment, something lovely is waiting to come into existence (surrounded by a lot of other moments and attempts).
I’m linking to a piece in the National Post by my former boss, Noah Richler: he argues that funding the arts provides a public service quite beyond what can be valued monetarily. The salient point is: some things aren’t done for profit–how do we measure their value? And what does what we value and support say about our country?
And, you know, on a very personal level my thinking has been heading this way, too: questioning my compulsion to evaluate what I do in a very black and white, cost-versus-profit manner. I wrote a few posts back about wanting to be independent, financially. That’s not a superficial desire. On the other hand, it doesn’t take into account–or value–all the ways that I do support my family and contribute, ways that aren’t and probably can’t be compensated in a “fair” way. In our marriage, we try not to do too much horse-trading, ie. I did the dishes so you have to put the kids to bed. Because that just creates a feeling of unfairness: maybe the dishes are worth only two kids being put to bed; or maybe on that particular evening, the kids need a bath, which is more time-consuming, so it should be worth an extra round of dish-washing; or … well, you see where I’m going with this. In the same way, there is no way of measuring the effort that goes into, say, writing a book, and compensating it “fairly.”
Do I need to be financially independent? That’s a really personal question, I guess. I haven’t got an answer yet. But I’m interested in all the reasons that maybe, maybe that question throws me off track. Maybe it’s a red herring. Maybe the question is: can I accept that the work I’ve chosen to do may never be compensated at a rate that would allow me to be financially independent? What matters? Is it money?
Because my heart, speaking literally, powers my body as I work toward the goal of completing a triathlon and/or half-marathon this year.
Because I live in my head. Because I want to allow myself to respond spontaneously, without checking in with my head. If the heart says do this, I want to. At least, most of the time. Okay, even some of the time. (I’m a little bit afraid of giving myself over to my heart; I sense that mistakes will be made; I sense also that mistakes must be made).
Because of love, compassion, empathy. Because in my efficiency, I am sometimes deficient in these most important gifts.
Because it’s a challenging word, filled with challenging ideas, for me.
Because I want to explore other aspects of myself, even if it means just pushing ever so slightly against the seeming-solidity of who I am, right now.
But I’m keeping spirit, last year’s word. I nominate it to be word of the decade, an umbrella under which I will develop different aspects of the spirit. What does spirit mean, to me? It means the life unseen, not of this world, and yet expressed within this world, through words and deeds. It means: there’s more to life than what can be seen. It means mystery. It means being moved. Being open. Being emptied out to make room for God, for the divine.
My poetry book club met for the third time on Saturday evening. We were unable to get copies of the book we’d planned on reading, a collection by Giller-winner Johanna Skibsrud (Gaspereau Press, we suspect, is even now hand-sewing the binding in readiment for shipment by ox-cart); so instead, we all brought favourite poems to share. We were giddy. It was ridiculously fun. We are getting to know each other that much better. And best of all, there’s poetry. I was deeply moved by a number of the poems, unexpectedly moved, caught off guard: ah, there’s my heart, opening.
Being moved by a poem. It feels of enormous significance to me, right now, as I struggle to balance my ambitions and my sense of self, to figure out what matters, and why.
To create something that moves someone else, it’s a strange talent. It might not even be a talent, but a gift, given and taken away on a whim. It’s also a strange thing to want to do: to express the mysterious, to give it shape and form, and to share the beauty, joy, grief, loneliness, ache with others. It’s not a profitable enterprise. It’s not of this world.
My new year’s anomie seems to be somewhat late-flowering; 2010 was a fine, fine year, and it seemed, at its end, that perhaps nothing needed changing, not a whit. Four weeks in, and it suddenly seems everything needs changing.
I’m conscious of my underlying desire to be independent, financially; not because my survival depends on it, but because, as Fran Lebowitz says in an interview in Bust magazine: “Here is the key to independence: earn your own money … This is true of life–people who are paying you, whether they are paying for you like parents who pay for children or paying like a boss pays an employee, they’re in charge of you. You don’t want someone to be in charge of you? Don’t take their money.”
Now, I am in a marriage I consider happy, in a partnership I consider equal; nevertheless, the fact that I earn next to nothing, that I rely on Kevin to support our family financially, bothers me, and it has for a long time. I read that Fran L. interview on Saturday and it went click in my brain: the key to independence. (I read it out to Kevin, too, and he understood). I wish I could say that writing were my key to independence; but it’s not. If my family relied on my earnings, I would have to do something else, use my current skill-set in a different way; and I can’t think of any job I’d want to do that would use my current skill-set. And so, I continue to return to the question: do I want to retrain? Do I want to gain a new skill-set? Do I want to equip myself for an entirely different job?
It’s not that I imagine myself never writing, were I to earn my money differently. It’s that I imagine myself writing the way most writers write: look around–most writers, even successful writers, have day-jobs. The most successful writers, those earning a reasonable living from their writing, work their tails off pitching stories, writing grant requests, and working freelance from job to job until they become Mordecai Richler and editors come to them with story-requests (and I happen to know that Mordecai Richler was an extremely hard-working and not at all precious writer).
I’m not much good at pitching stories. I work pretty slowly. My overall interest, when I write, is to make something lovely, not to earn money.
And that is why I come back to the idea of retraining and earning my living in another way. Earning my living, period. I’ve given myself the imaginary deadline of CJ entering school, which is in a year and a half, when he starts kindergarten. I will be thirty-seven, not too old, I think, to start something new.
I’m not sure that heart relates remotely to this dilemma. Or, maybe it does and I haven’t puzzled out how, yet.