Labours of Love (or, Sweet & Sour)

The dearest wish of my heart used to be full-time writerdom. This wish persisted from about 1978 to 2006. It was granted (thanks to a second maternity leave, a second book contract, and a supportive first husband) for the last three-plus years of this period.

Now? No way. After nearly four years of having full-time-writer’s-block, it was getting a 9-5 job (and a divorce) that made my creative juices flow again.

This job is a fairly low-level administrative position in the Ontario Public Service. I schedule a lot of meetings. I book flights and cars (never for myself). I hand invoices over to the people who deal with invoices. I attend regular IT meetings and format PowerPoint presentations and try to keep the shared network drive in some semblance of order. I order office supplies and deal with the photocopier when it abruptly refuses to print. It’s a pretty menial job—and yet. It grounds me. The people in my office and across the hall ground me. We go for coffee. We go for after-work drinks. We gather (usually at my desk) and talk, not always about work. We laugh a lot. We work well together and we like each other.

My co-workers know I write. They respect this—and they sometimes use these “alter ego” skills of mine, when they need some of those PowerPoint documents edited, or briefing notes checked. That’s fine. I like doing it. I’m pretty good at it. And hey—I’m learning what it takes to design, build and maintain consolidated courthouses in Ontario, which is kind of cool. People often say, “You must really, really want to quit your job—you know, be like that Harry Potter woman.” They look at me incredulously when I say I don’t.

So this is my experience: an administrative day job; a creative-writing-teaching night job; part-time kids; occasional stints in hospitals, helping babies arrive; and, in and around all this, writing. It works for me. Even when it doesn’t, and I freak out to—but not at—Peter (someone who’s been a full-time writer almost his entire professional life, and who’s taken a good deal of thin with the thick of this decision), I’m bone-deep sure that this is a juggling act that works for me.

For me. Not for everyone. So why do I feel a desire to quell and caution, when students of mine declare, “God, I’m so quitting my day job the second I get a publishing deal/start selling books online”? It’s the same feeling I get when I’m talking to a pregnant woman who tells me she intends to yell for an epidural the minute she gets to triage. A response bubbles and seethes in my throat; I try either to put a lid on it entirely, or to use an even, laid-back tone that belies all the seething. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don’t.

These responses aren’t based on logic, though I’m able to employ a semblance of this. To that pregnant woman: “Early epidurals often lead to longer labours which in turn can lead to maternal fever, which in turn can lead to increased interventions and, ultimately, your baby being taken from you almost immediately after birth for monitoring and the insertion of a tiny IV of antibiotics.” And, to the would-be-full-time-writer: “You might do just fine now, with your three-book contract, but what about five years down the road?” or “If you can pay off your mortgage and put a significant amount of money away for savings, go for it.”

Sounds kind of reasonable, right? But I’m afraid that my impulse to discourage isn’t based on logic at all. It’s like I want to reject another woman’s instincts because I didn’t have the same ones. Like I want to quash other people’s dreams for a full-time writing life just because my attempt at this didn’t go so well. Ego, defensiveness, envy—they’re always lurking, threatening to turn sweet grapes sour.

I’d like to think that the wine isn’t all or even mostly oxidized, though. Because, really? I’ve never been happier.

Cheers.

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Photo by Rebecca Springett

Release Date - October 2015

Published by: ChiZine Publications

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