I’m curled up in bed with Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, and Pierre Berton, and they’re pissing me off.
I decided to do this thing tonight, this ridiculous thing, to give my time this night to reading about writing instead of… writing. I’ve been feeling restless, unfocused—my deadline-and-paycheque-tied work is getting done, as it always gets done, but my creative-passion work is kind of flailing, directionless, and I’m not sure what it needs at this precise moment, a restart button perhaps, a Eureka moment of inspiration, something? Or maybe just a different routine, a novel approach, I don’t know…
So instead of writing, I take Ernest, Stephen and Pierre to bed. I’ve been with them all before, with their fiction, anyway, word-slut that I am. And I’ve devoured Stephen King’s On Writing when it first came out—it was the first, sometimes I think only, useful piece of writing about writing I’ve ever read.
But today, all three of them are pissing me off. Especially Pierre.
And it’s because they’re men.
Well, to be more specific: it’s because they’re NOT mothers.
“The Make-Believe Writer doesn’t really want to write; he simply wants the Aura. The real writer writes because he must.
He writes even when it is torture for him. He writes in despair, knowing how damnably difficult it is, feeling his own self-confidence drain away, realizing the goals he strives for can never be attained and yet he writes because he cannot stop. He will forsake the company of his friends to write. He will ostracize his wife or mistress, disregard his offispring, abandon his social relationships, neglect his meals and his bed, cancel all his engagements. But he will write.”
And I want to smack him. Because… guess who’s bringing him up his meals and feeding his children and making sure all the other shit that needs to get done gets done while he’s indulging in the self-torture of writing in despair because he must?
Sean: What are you doing?
Jane: I’m writing about how you’re a terrible wife.
It’s a little unfair. He tries. And I’ve got half-a-dozen, more, “wives” in the wings—my mother, my coven, all my women, the elitist crazy bitches I love who watch my back. I am not alone, I am never unsupported.
But “ostracizing” and “disregarding” my family, my “offspring” … not an option.
And so I think… Pierre. You selfish, selfish fucker.
And I think… this is why women-writers, mother-writers should never take advice from men. Or childless women.
And I think… I never, ever want to resent my children, think of them as a reason that I didn’t do something I really, really wanted to, needed to do.
So what do I do about that?
Sean: I will try, very hard, my love, to be a better wife.
Except, he can’t. I mean—he can’t be all that I need that mythical, all-supportive wife to be. Because he needs to chase his own dreams and aspirations too: I would not love him as I do if he did not, just as he would not love me as he does if I were Mrs. Pierre Berton.
Virginia Woolf had no children and she longed for, praised the necessity of a room of her own (and, a private income!). I am surrounded, beloved, buried in children, their needs, noises, demands, lives. This is true for most of the women I know who write. They write on ironing boards, in corners, on beds, on stairs. In cars. Park benches. Coffee shops. Room of our own? Ha.
Disregard our offspring? Ha. They are always there, always first. (And the world is always there, ready to censure “mommy bloggers” for the fact that they find fulfillment in creating words and worlds on the screen and don’t find utter fulfillment in changing diapers, baking chocolate chip cookies, and cooing over their off-springs’ every burp, fart, and smile. You know what, world? Fuck you. I coo. I love. I change diapers. And I also Need. To. Write. So take your judgement and expectations and shove them up Pierre and Steve’s…)
Ender: Read books to me, Mama?
Jane: I can’t. I’m swearing at Pierre Berton. Give me 10 more minutes.
Sean: I’ll read to you.
Ender: No. I want Mama.
Jane: Then you have to wait. I’m still raging.
The almost-five year old curls up beside me with a stack of Magic School Bus and Dr. Seuss books. His dad sits on his other side, and picks up a book, starts reading. I breathe. Moan. I’m spent by swearing at Pierre. I’m thinking that Tabitha King is also a writer, completely eclipsed, of course, by the output and fame of her husband. Because he had more talent? Or because she had no wife? And why am I in this whiny mood today?
Ernie, help me.
“He always worked best when Helen was unwell. Just that much discontent and friction. Then there were times when you had to write. Not conscience. Just peristaltic action. Then you felt sometimes like you could never write but after a while you knew sooner or later you would write another good story.
It was really more fun than anything. That was really why you did it. He had never realized that before. It wasn’t conscience. It was simply that it was the greatest pleasure. It had more bite to it than anything else.” (Hemingway, The Nick Adams Stories)
I always write best when I’m… a little overwhelmed. Frustrated. Angry. Creation never seems to stem from happiness. Happiness makes me languid, lazy. When I am tranquil and grounded, I’m probably a good mother, friend, lover, wife… but I’m a dull, dull, unproductive writer. When I have time, I am lazy. When there are no other demands on me, but those of my “passion-love” creative work… I don’t carve out the time to really do it.
Ender is asleep and drooling on my pillow.
Sean: Wine? Chocolate? Coffee? Laptop cord?
Jane: No. Sex. Conversation. Then maybe more sex. And you need to make supper every day next week, because I’m going to write from 5 til 9 until I go fallow again.
Sean: I can totally do all those things. Especially the sex.
Jane: And, don’t forget, more sex.
(I know how to sell anything. Please, feel free to take notes.)
Tomorrow, before 5 p.m., Ernest, Stephen and Pierre are all going back to the library. And I’m going to write, not read about writing.
Wait. I’m going to keep Ernest. Because…
“Tell me first what are the things, the actual, concrete things that harm a writer?”…
“Politics, women, drink, money, ambition. And the lack of politics, women, drink, money and ambition,” I said profoundly. (Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa)
“When you first start writing stories in the first person if the stories are made so real that people believe them the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. That is natural because while you were making them up you had to make them happen to the person who was telling them. If you do this successfully enough you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for which is to make the story so real beyond any reality that it will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.”
Yes. That. Thank you, Papa H.
PS I was reading Stephen King’s On Writing, Pierre Berton’s The Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers Disguised as a Literary Memoir, and Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips.
PPS Looking for me? Find me here.
I have Mr Kings book as well. I devoured it the first time but haven’t revisited it lately…the best music is full of gut wrenching angst…so is the best writing. Nothing like howling out “hallelujah” at the top of your lungs while you are vacuuming to be fully invested in Mr Cohen’s state of mind. When I read I want to be spent at the end of my book. I want to be hung out to dry, open and raw and sometimes satisfied. I want to take all of my pent up humanity that gets actively bypassed with the washing and the sweeping and the cooking and I want to put my lungs through the mincer with my liver and end up with damned good pate. Reading is my crack…writing is my future heroin addiction. You wrestle the vernacular well Ms Jane…you lure me into commenting…you intrigue me with your relationships and how you drive through your day like an icebreaker. I might re-read Mr King (the only one on my bookshelf) again and dream while I am mopping the floor today…
Were I not utterly shameless, you would have made me blush.
I think I’ll leave the writing to you. I think I’d rather hide. But at least while I’m hiding I can read what you’re writing. xoxo
Don’t you dare stop writing, Jen.