What sucks in life is when you’re pretty good at one or a couple of things, so people assume you are naturally able to do these things even when they throw all kinds of handicapping elements in the way.
Scenario – run a fledgling lit mag on the kitchen counter while you’re trying to cook dinner and the kids are killing each other in the living room instead of watching TV. Or, have a bunch of email / text /messenger exchanges on cell phones from different cities and towns while both parties’ children are busy hanging from the swings at the park or terrorizing the splash pad.
Or, host an editorial meeting featuring pickles, carrots sticks and homemade mac and cheese (the food of toddlers everywhere). For the record, decisions were made, pasta was thrown, and I believe only the adults ate the food as prepared (the toddlers held out for cheese and crackers). (Ed. Note – next meeting, just serve wine. Lots of it. In sippy cups if need be.)
You know when they say that truth is stranger than fiction?
Welcome to it. Cracker crumbs and all.
So in this behind the scenes glimpse of the glamorous life of Twisted Sister lit mag, you see a couple things.
Women rocking what they do, and still trying to schlep the crap of life (kids, cooking, laundry, dishes) along with it. We haven’t come along way, baby, there’s still a long road to go still. I think Gloria Steinman would be disappointed, in fact.
Sure, we can reach to great heights, but we drag a lot of crap along with us.
At different points in my life I was fortunate to work alongside a few women who went beyond administrative managerial roles and took on the responsibilities of CEO – the big bosses we all feared.
Once I got past my awe and fear, they kindly took me under their wings and taught me the ways of their world.
(Cue small child interruption and request for glass of milk. In pink cup.)
Lesson one – kindness goes far – to those around your, especially to those under you (we are all human, after all), but mostly to yourself. I fondly recall one of these higher ups taking me out and bonding over chocolate ice cream after a truly crap-tastular day. It was part problem-solving, part-damage control, and a whole lotta binge eating.
Lesson two – do what you love and sooner or later you’ll find a place for yourself. Love tech? Rock it, bring all the gizmos and gadgets to the workplace, and sooner or later you’ll be everyone’s go-to for tech advice. Sure, it may be informal at first, but who knows where things may lead. Same with crafts or pets or whatever weirdness turns your crank. Keep doing it, because sometimes it is the very the that will keep you sane. And you never know where it will lead (like a small business on Etsy or running a therapy dog program in a hospital). Keep doing what makes you happy.
(Cue small child interruption and request for crackers)
Lesson three – this one was hard for me – set firm boundaries. Say no, have previous commitments, and be unavailable (nobody needs to know why). Put the problems back on the people who bring them to you (in a nice way, of course). You’re not supposed to solve everyone’s problems for them, your job (as their boss) is to help them figure out ways to solve them themselves.
Which brings me right back to the original point of this essay – Balls, Revisited. In Balls, I talked about Virginia Woolf’s notion that to write fiction, and do it well, a woman needed a secure in come, a comfortable lifestyle, and a room of one’s own. A place, a Stephen King would say, you can shut the door on, and write your brains out.
(Cue small child interruption and request for cheese, no crackers)
So let’s put these lessons from the land of administrative leadership to the terms of the writer. The hack. The Sunday poet, or the midnight oil burner.
Lesson one – be kind to yourself. Always. Try your best, but don’t beat yourself up over a piece or a rejection. There’s places for all kinds of stories out there, you just need to find it. Be kind to others around you, take the time to read and respond to another’s work, and you might be surprised by how much your own will grow as you learn from a different voice.
(Cue child interruption as the sounds of screaming, fighting, and shifting furniture make it hard to focus. Yell. Loudly.)
Lesson two – do what you love. Do your sweet romances keep ending up as murder mysteries? Go with that. Or your chick-lit novel suddenly takes on post-apocalyptic dystopian undertones? Go with that too. Write whatever weirdness turns your crank, and read within your genre (and outside of it too), and figure out what other folks are doing.
(Cue child interruption and request for crackers with cheese, cheese must be white — commence hostage-style negotiations as we only have orange… and ensuing tantrum)
Lesson three – set firm boundaries. Your time to write is your time to work (cue sudden husband interruption, door opens, and he asks what I’m doing – duh). Close the door, barricade it with stacks of dirty dishes or baskets of laundry, but your time is your own. Cherish it and make it what you will.
If you respect your own time, others will soon follow.
Which leads us to the second point of this lesson – teaching people to solve their own problems. Easy if those people are coworkers or roommates; somewhat harder if they are a significant other; and nearly impossible if they are small children.
It is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast; which is why the only defense against small children (or intrusive husbands) is a locked door. I find a simple eyehook works best, but I might consider a deadbolt if they keep pounding on the damned thing.
(Cue child interruption and request for apple slices, peels removed)
Which brings us back to the original idea of this essay – to actually shut the door, keep it shut, and ignore the screams and wails, you need to have balls. Enormous balls of gigantic proportions (fictitious, of course) but indicating willpower, strength, and a certain degree of hard-headedness. A tendency to rush in first, and worry about consequences later, if you will.
And after thinking about it for a while, I’d say it’s partly true. Sometimes, no matter how big your balls are, the stuff of life creeps in and tips life sideways for a while, and it’s nearly impossible to get anything done around it. The big stuff of life, moving, jobs, relationships, — sure, of course. Things change dramatically as your world is upended. But I’m talking about the smaller things, that still eat away at you as a person and as a writer.
(Cue major child interruption — now the kids are screaming in the backyard… I’d better check to make sure they’re still alive – done)
This is where it comes back to lesson one – being kind.
Being kind to yourself (say yes to pizza nights, casserole dinners and paper plates) and reduce the demands around you that eat away at your time to write. And it is a kindness, in fact to look back at lesson three, and get others to solve their own problems.
There’s tons of jokes online about the kid that walks past the male parent standing in the kitchen and finds their mother in some obscure corner of the house and asks for a drink of water. Single parents – I pity you, god knows how you manage, but most two-parent households find themselves drifting into the pattern of the primary vs the non-primary parent; and it’s the primary one who schleps the major burden of care.
(Husband walks by and asks what I’m working on – ignore)
Shift it, and get those little people to solve their own problems. (In this house, getting cups of water out of the bathroom sink resulted in a major plumbing repair, so water is dispensed in the kitchen out a cooler with a spout. Boom. The kids can do it themselves, and not bug me for water.)
And sometimes being kind simply means learning to go with the flow, and saying I will clean up the mess after, or just let things hang as they may.
Honestly (A.M. Peif, I’m looking at you) sometimes you just gotta call something done and roll with it and move on to the next thing. Hit send, and let the chips fall where they may.
(Yet another child interruption and request for salad. And meat.)
And five days later… literally, five days later, I return to this essay. And I call it done. Done enough. Done like dinner. I’ve made my point, and that’s a good thing — now I gotta go ‘cuz the kids are killing each other.
(Parent interruption — I’ve just handed them each a bag of chips, so I have like 30 seconds to post this essay, maybe a little bit longer if they get their own drinks of water. I’ve just sent them into the backyard, so they can drink from the hose.)
In case you missed it, we have Balls & Co right here (aka our thoughts on women and writing fiction)
And we invite you to send us your best, your worst, your weird, and don’t worry honey, we’ll all stumble through it together.
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