I had an essay run at Lit Hub yesterday. Or more of a cri de coeur, really—this one poured out of the deepest well of me. The essay argues against the romanticization of the spaces and head-spaces we write in, and for doing your own work first. I’ve received so many nice notes from readers thanking me for portraying a life that doesn’t look like what the predominant narratives—of poet as conduit for the Muse; of woman as caregiver; of mother as selfless saint—say our lives should look like (and I am in the process of responding to those notes—thank you so much for sending them). You can read the essay here.
But, as with anything, there are complications. I didn’t address them all in the essay, and I want to recognize them here. I decided early, for example, that I would not address the fact that some men are primary caregivers and face similar challenges to carving out a writing life amid their obligations. This is absolutely the case, and just as mothers who work outside the home or pursue an artistic life face a stigma for that, men who are primary caregivers face a societal stigma for not working outside the home—on top of the challenges caregivers (regardless of gender identification) face in pursuing an artistic life. My decision not to address this was partly a constraint of space, but it was also because I wanted state my case without diluting it with “not all men.” Truth is, I am tired of hearing “not all men” when confronting issues of gender inequality and cultural misogyny. We know “not all men,” but research—not to mention our own lives—tells us what the predominant trends are. I wanted to speak of those trends without caveat or qualification. The trends matter.
Another complication: while the essay recognizes that women in general do more of the care-work in society, I mostly focused on the demands of motherhood—partly because that’s my lived experience, but also because that’s what the research I had access to spoke to. Women who are not mothers are also expected to take on caregiving roles by our culture, so women who are not mothers face many of the same obstacles that mothers face, depending on their caregiving duties. A lack of available research (I looked) also kept me from engaging with the complications of care-work and artistic pursuits for those who don’t identify as a woman or a man, and/or for LGTBQIA+ folks—for whom obstacles to a creative life, like those for people of color, are compounded due to bias. I am deeply aware of how easy my white, cishet, well-educated, English-speaking, securely-employed life is compared to many other lives; that there are fewer obstacles to a creative life for me than there are for many others just as, or more, talented and committed as I am.
In spite of these limitations, I hope the essay will give anyone who wants a creative life, a life of making, permission to carve that life out of whatever set of obstacles they face without apology. I hope we’ll someday discard our notions of the traditional trajectory of “the artist,” and slip past gatekeepers with our beautiful, made things. If you have a story to share about how you’ve made a creative life for yourself, I’d love to hear it. Thanks again for reading, and write on.