Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Artistry is Privilege: With Apologies for Late Blog Posts

I feel like I'm in confession. Forgive me for my sins. It's been two months since my last blog post.

I could give all kinds of excuses for my failure to post this summer with any consistency, but the truth is that I've been busy, and I no longer think that needs an apology or an excuse. In fact, one thing the past two months of hustle and guilt have taught me is that art and privilege go hand in hand.

Our culture is filled with images of artists spending hours covered in spots of paint, feverishly creating their magnum opus in wood-floored studio, or writers sipping lattes in leisure as they edit their debut novels. There's a certain romanticism of the artistic life, and some people really do live it. 

The rest of us have day jobs and kids.

Most of us have passions for writing or some other artistic vision, but very little time to pursue them. The majority of out time is spent making the money that keeps us and our dependents alive. For some of us, our work, even if we love it, saps most of the time and mental energy that we could use to hone our craft and breathe life into the works we want to give the world.

And the publishing industry knows this. On my own bookshelf here in my tiny writing nook, I have titles like The Weekend Novelist by Robert Ray and The 8-Minute Writing Habit by Monica Leonelle. Leonelle's cover actually has a picture of a woman with several arms, holding a grocery bag, a baby, a backpack, a clock, and a computer. It's a fine book, and a helpful one, but my point is - they know, y'all! They know that an entire market of stifled writers exists, dreaming up stories on their eight to ten hour shifts only to come home too physically exhausted and mentally drained to actually write them. 

On the other hand, there are rich writers out there, trust-fund kids (not that this is inherently a bad thing) who really do have the time and money for a devoted writers life, including all the contemplative morning lattes and idyllic retreats at lakeside spas. I wouldn't know what that feels like, but I imagine that it's pretty satisfying, having the time to not only write the stories that beat against the chest, but to actually reflect on them, to consider one's role in the culture and industry. I do wonder if it ever occurs to them that the barista who carefully concocts the perfect caffeinated beverage for them might have her own stories or poems to write, might jealously crave the leisure time they enjoy.

On that subject, Virginia Woolf got it right. Developing a writing practice takes time, space, and money, and those either gifted or cursed with the passion, but not the opportunity, drive themselves crazy with desperation. Alice Walker, in her essay "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens," pointed to the elaborate and beautiful quilts and gardens created by women who poured their artistic instincts into their everyday work, in order to escape the looming madness of stifled inspiration.

Whenever I feel the most productive years of my life slipping away, or the tension of my art and my vocation pulling at each other, I remember Toni Morrison, whose work I love and try to emulate. I picture her writing The Bluest Eye at 39, then a single mother with two boys. I don't have boys in the house any more, just two, sometimes three, girls who want to play games with me, wrestle, sit in my lap, and tell me their own stories. I have about fifteen square feet in this entire condo unit dedicated to my writing, and sometimes, they don't seem to want to be anywhere else. My writing routines have evolved to include a smaller laptop that fits in my special chair right next to a sleepy toddler and a pair of noise-canceling headphones that block out the sound of endless Cocomelon songs and little ones singing them as loud as they can.

As I write that, it occurs to me that all that - the chair, the laptop, the headphones - is my own privilege as well. My writing nook may be small, but I have one, and I don't have to buy a burger to keep from getting booted out of the local McDonald's and off the free WIFI. I know, I know. More than that, as a teacher, I get summers off, and for the last few years, for the first time in my professional life, I have had the privilege of actually being able to enjoy them. I no longer have to work a summer job to make ends meet, and I don't have administrative duties keeping me chained to the campus eight-to-four anymore either. It really feels like I'm a writer now, for just two hot months out of the year. I have a whole routine works out.

8:00 - Drop the girls off at summer camp and head to the gym.

9:00 - Leave the gym and shower and eat at home.

10:00 - One hour of reading to fill my brain with good words.

11:00 - One hour of editing older work.

12:00 - Write a minimum of 1500 words in my current WIP, and don't stop, get up, or eat until I hit my numbers.

If time remains, and it often does, I treat myself to a movie or video game session before I have to pick up the girls at four. I'm so productive in those two short months, I've made it my goal to spend the year thinking of new novel ideas and outlining them just so I can start the summer with a clear goal in mind. Honestly, it's the one thing that sustains me through those last two hectic months of the school year. It's the reason my grades are in on time and my end of year checklist is checked and double-checked. Most days, I aim for the minimum 1500 words, but I can easily hit 2000 if the wind is blowing in the right direction. I even have the receipts to prove it.

But just look what happens to my productivity once school starts again, and I have to abandon my privileged writing routine for the grind that, currently, pays the bills.

I promise, it's not a lack of willpower or time management. I get so sick of seeing the stupid Instagram motivational posts that say, "Everyone has the same 24 hours in the day." I'm here to tell you, time is money, and money is time, and with enough wealth, anyone can stretch their days like their living room has a black hole in it. Forget about the daily work duties - if I could pay a chef to cook and grocery shop for me, I could carve out at least ten more hours in each week to write. I know that I'm privileged to have even two months out of the year to live like a bona fide writer, but the rest of the year, I'm risking madness like Shakespeare's sister in Woolf's essay. 

So, I haven't posted for a while, because I prioritized completing this most recent novel when I actually have the uninterrupted free time to devote to it. Thing is, I still didn't finish it. I got so close, just two more major scenes to write, but time and career caught up with me. At this point, the plan is to write 200 words a day, whether I'm tired or not, whether they're good or not, until I finish the first draft. I hope Ray and Leonelle would be proud of me. Later I can worry about making time to revise and edit. And I'm going to do my best to rant about the writing life and about mixed and blended families here on the blog. But pray for me, because some nights I'm failing to hit even that goal, and embarrassed by the difference between now and the numbers I could hit just a month ago. And for any struggling writers stealing time from work and family or falling asleep with unwritten stories crowding your minds, I'll pray for you and all of us, because the madness creeps up on us when we're not looking.