Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I was just getting to that

Our culture is such that even in the twenty-first century it's assumed that keeping a house clean and orderly is women's work. Under normal circumstances I might think this is a great idea, but I'm a writer so circumstances are not normal.

My wife Valerie works 60+ hours a week in pharmacovigilance (keeping an eye on clinical trials of potential medications to make sure they're safe, accurate, and meaningful). This is intense, detail-oriented work involving riding herd on dozens of test sites, investigating "adverse events" to determine if the trial medication played a role, and keeping four or five mutually exclusive reporting protocols up to date.
In contrast, I work 40-50 hours a week making stuff up. For me this involves research (Warning! Rabbit hole!), staring into space, mapping potential plot threads on graph paper with boxes and arrows, making notes, startling people by blurting random bits of dialog, reading, and occasionally typing.
No surprise, then, that in our household cooking and cleaning are my responsibility.

Valerie has no complaints about my cooking. (Aside from my natural tendency to leave out stand-alone vegetables. Peas in the soup? Fine. Peas sitting on the plate next to the potato and pork chop? Didn't enter my head.) I do homemade soups and stews and Italian things with sausages and American things with beef and southern things with pork and chicken and can go for a while without repeating myself.
Laundry? I do default to washing everything in cold water, normal cycle, but if items requiring special handling are put in the red hamper, I read the labels. (Note: I will not remember the item requires special handling the second or fifty-second time I see it. Put it in the red hamper.)

Where I fail miserably is housework. Remember that roommate in school ("university" for you non-USAers) who didn't notice the stack of empty pizza boxes until it reached eye level? The guy sometimes stalled trying to tell the pile of clean clothes from the pile of dirty? That was me. I have ADD – even when everything is in its place and labeled my world is cluttered and confusing. (In fact, putting things in order can sometimes mess me up.) Actual clutter has no effect on me – it's practically invisible. Think of it this way: When you have trouble remembering to close the refrigerator door while you're standing in front of the open refrigerator, a leaning pile of books and four empty coffee cups on the table don't register at all. All of which might be okay if I lived alone and didn't know any better. However, I don't live alone and I do know what's expected; I just have trouble remembering the basics. (Ex.: House rule: shoes off and in the hall closet first thing. Me: usually shoes off and left somewhere between front door and where I was going.)

What makes all this worse – especially for Valerie – is the cultural expectation I mentioned in the opening sentence. Whenever anyone comes by, the poor condition of the house reflects on her. Because, no matter how many times I tell everyone I do the housework, the assumption is it's her responsibility to make sure I do it right.

What does this have to do with writing? Not a lot.
But it has everything to do with being a writer. Or perhaps being a decent person while being a writer.

It is a perennial lament that writers are not taken seriously by the people around them. The creative process looks a lot like idleness from the outside. It's difficult to distinguish trying to fill a plot hole from frowning at the wall. Family and friends assume the writer – particularly the newish writer – has boundless free time for errand running or babysitting or chores. They have no compunction about interrupting the process; especially if the writer isn't actually typing when they do. (And, yes, friends and family usually completely derail your thought process at the very moment you almost have that damned plot issue solved.) So we writers learn early on to be very protective of our writing time.
At one level this is a good thing. If we don't establish and defend our writing time we will never have time to write.
But at another level...

What's more important, your story or your family?
(If you answered "story," you're not this column's target audience.)

We have to respect our writing time as much as we expect others to respect it. We must use our writing time to write. And of course by "write" I do not mean type; I'm referring to all aspects of the writing process. Read, research, scheme – whatever you need to do, do. But do not waste your writing time with some vague notion of making it up later at the expense of another responsibility. As in "Yeah, I wasted an hour of writing time watching snorkeling armadillo videos, but I can trim an hour off my housework time to make up for it. Better yet, order pizza instead of cooking dinner – to heck with the budget." Not acceptable. (The possible exception to this is sleep – and then only when you're up against a deadline. One caveat: You never write as well as you think you're writing when you're sleep deprived.)

Doubly unacceptable: Giving up family time. If you and your significant other and/or children eat dinner together or watch a bit of TV together as a family every night, do that. Don't isolate yourself or distance your family by making them feel they are not as important as your story. (And never, ever, miss a child's birthday or dance recital or soccer game – and seven times never turn down an invitation to a tea party or request to be read to. Children don't stay children long enough.)

Every writer knows that writing requires discipline. What many of us don't realize – or don't always realize soon enough – is that this discipline is not restricted to our time at the keyboard.
If you wasted your writing time, your writing time is gone. Don't sacrifice the rest of your life trying to get it back.


Jewel Amethyst said...

KeVin, you are right on every aspect:

1.No matter who is responsible for the mess, when visitors see a dirty house they assume the woman is lazy.
2. People don't take writers seriously. Even when we are typing on the computer, they assume its wasting time. I get that quite a lot from my own family. And even if you pop out bestsellers they still think you should get a real job.
3. We should never compromise on family time. Just this summer I realized I had been ignoring my kids even though I'm home with them. They spent a lot of time on the WiiU. A few days ago I decided to put down everything, take away the video games and play hide and seek with them. Since then they want me to do it everyday and I've obliged them. They go back to school pretty soon.

I really enjoyed this post.

Sunny Frazier said...

I live alone. Okay, I live with 12 cats. That right there is an excuse to drive people away from visiting. I'm in a fugue state when it comes to the clutter around me. As long as the litter boxes get cleaned, I'm good. To be honest, I've only met one writer who has an immaculate house. Is it something in us? Is what's going on in our heads more important then our environment?

Housework makes me anxious. What I do to overcome this problem is clean for 20 minutes, read a good book for 10. Carrot and donkey. One room a week. Surely I can manage that!