I pick up my Ender from his homeschool school—like school, but part-time, like school, but for weird, unsocialized homeschoolers, like school, but you can tell the teachers you don’t care about academics and grade level and if you see them screwing up your kid’s love of learning and confidence—OMG, none of this is relevant to this post, except that clearly, I still feel defensive about sending Ender to fake school at all, because I didn’t really want to and I wish I had been able to give him the full ten years pre-high school that his siblings got, but such is life and so far, he seems to be thriving—although it was a rocky start, point: I’m picking up Ender from school and as I’m circling the playground with the Bear called Bumblebee, I bump into someone from my previous life.
“Still writing?” she asks me after giving me a shorthand of what she’s been up to over the past decade.
(People always ask that. See Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing for a book-length riff on why that’s such a weird question for a writer.)
“Yes,” I say.
It feels like a lie. Because outside of my morning pages, the occasional blog post, and a handful of bad (so bad) poems, what am I writing?
Well, I write at work, but that’s not really writing, it’s more production… anyway. It feels like a lie and as I excuse myself and yank the dog to finish our round-the-playground loop, I force myself to examine why that “yes” feels like a lie.
The answer is the same as it was on the day I realized that despite the undisputable fact that I’ve made a full-time living writing since I’ve been 17, whenever I said, “I’m a writer” when people asked me what I did or who I was… it felt like a like.
Because real writers write books.
I haven’t been working on a new novel since I paused Bingo in February or March. I haven’t even been trying to sell the finished one(s).
So am I writing?
The published titles on my shelf say, “At least you wrote.”
They mock me.
I’m still writing, I tell them.
There is, of course, one way to NOT make myself feel like a liar and that’s to pick up Matilda, Honey or Bingo and take one of them across the finish line. Matilda just needs a proof and can be subbed. Honey needs a consistency edit and polish, and it’s ready for a beta reader. Bingo needs 50K more words, but that’s a month’s worth of work at most, full-time job, kids and lovers notwithstanding. I’m only working one job now and I live alone, with the kids coming and going only three or four days a week—I definitely have the time.
Why aren’t I writing?
If I were a friend asking me for advice—please don’t—I’d remind them about the hell that was 2019, the strains of the pandemic, the divorce, the stress of living on imaginary money for eight months, the five months of working two and a half full-time jobs, and suggest that they stop being a self-aggrandizing queen (queen can be a gender neutral word) and cut themselves some slack—also, what about that memoir they just finished ghostwriting, what is that, chopped liver?
(It’s so good, btw. Coming to a silver screen near you one day soon, I’m sure of it. Well, I hope. Nothing is certain. But. It’s so good.)
But I’m me, staring at me, and I think that clearly, I need to stop reading Ann Cleeves novels, watching Brooklyn 99 (because, inter alia, ACAB), dancing and dating and, like, write.
At least proof.
So I don’t feel like a liar.
So I don’t disappear.
Because, as everybody knows, when a writer doesn’t write, she doesn’t exist.
Ender had a great day at school and is excited about everything. He likes his math teacher—I like his math teacher—and he loves gym and recess. There’s too much homework, though, he complains. When we get home, I make him a snack and he gets on his computer to double-check what he needs to do for next week—ends up making rockets instead (also homework, but he was just supposed to make one—he makes at least six).
I make supper, assist him a little with the rocket production line, in-between, read The Healers by Ann Cleeves and check work email. Flora walks over in a bit to join us for supper—have I told you Cinder has flown not just the nest, but the province?—and we eat, then clean up and play Anomia.
I walk them to the Coop house in the dark. It’s still early, only 8:30—I could, I should write. Right after I walk the dog, I can write before bed—but on the days that I pick up Ender from school, I like to start work by 6:30 so that I’m essentially done for the day by the time I leave to go get him from school and now, I just want to stretch out on the couch and read.
Be asleep before 10.
I write a couple of (very bad) poems and this blog post first.
PS Still writing.
As a writer who is (isn’t? is? is. …?) still writing, I definitely feel this post.
Am also absolutely adding that Dani Shapiro book to my library wait list now, thanks much.
It’s a great read!