Reading a fantastic memoir right now, strictly for fun. I don’t get to read enough for fun. One of the cruddy ironies of my job is that in writing books, there’s little time to read books (unless they’re research related… bleaugh). Fiction Ruined My Family, by Jeanne Darst, hooked me from the first sentence with an argument for how crazy writers are. Devouring it has been as easy as breathing in the smell of warm donuts. (Jeanne’s father, a novelist who to my knowledge never sold a novel, is hilarious, and as far as I can tell by page 113, certifiable.)
“Writers talk a lot about how tough they have it—what with the excessive drinking and three-hour workday and philandering and constant borrowing of money from people they’re so much better than,” she writes. “But what about the people married to writers? Their kids? Their friends? Their labradoodles? What happens to them? I’ll tell you what happens to them. They go fucking nuts.”
I laughed out loud on that line. I’ve met several wanna-be intellectual giants in my time who guzzle scotch, covet their best friends’ wife, and cajole cash out of relatives with a charming arrogance that envelopes innocent fools in never-happens fantasies of penning their great American novel.
Then I paused, feeling faint. She couldn’t be talking about all writers, certainly not the non-fiction soldiers (aka, me) who stay at home and mind their own business and walk the dogs twice a day and mostly write about sane stuff… you know, books meant to help educate folks on good, clean living. Honorable fare, right? It’s not like I’ve ever had the time or even the inclination to drink or philander. But… wait… my husband did philander and I, crap… did borrow money when said philandering sent him traipsing off far away to live with her while I had nearly the same bills (more, if you count the emergency therapy sessions) on suddenly one less income.
I’m sure Jeanne Darst would say it’s decidedly un-crazy to let people help pay your bills (they did—thank YOU!) when you’ve got a kid and four dogs and a cat (a winning rental strategy–not), and until you’re no longer a sniveling, walking disaster area and have found your bearings and saved your house from foreclosure and paid everyone back (I did—thank GOD!).
But, the bigger questions is: did my husband of nearly two decades fall for another woman—go “nuts,” as it were—because I was a writer?
I speed rewind back in time. With two books due (most of the advance money spent), two mortgages, and woman he used to think was a hottie with now near-permanent bloodshot eyes and knotted hair from 60 all-nighters in one year, he was probably thinking not so much (on the hottie scale) and yes, I need an escape hatch. I’m sure he noticed that the ass he used to compliment as he walked by slapping it had fallen too. I tried to remember to flex my cheeks in the chair as I typed, but it just never became second nature.
I can’t say for sure if a writing life makes people around you go crazy. But just to be safe, here are a few warning signs + cautionary measures:
#1). When sitting in the TV room with your laptop in plain view of your husband and kids but distracted because the sentence that’s been tormenting you for the past fifteen minutes and just won’t right itself isn’t going to get any better if you stop for a THIRD time to watch a rewind of how the ref screwed “your” team with a bad call, watch anyway. Write later, or out of view. They’re juiced by your presence, and even if they’re the crazy ones (of course they are), you shacked up with these people. Don’t you want to make the best of it? I’ve got two words for you: Time. Management. (Sucks, I know, but helpful anyway.)
#2). Consider that it’s obvious to the other mothers at the PTA meeting that after a half hour talking about whether you’ll make $42 dollars profit at the hot-dog social or $48 dollars (by using a cheaper brand), you couldn’t care less. You’d rather be picking up dog feces in all of their yards—at least you’d be outside not burning up valuable brain hours. And besides, what gives feeding kids junk food anyway? Coincidentally, your writing a book about health and your research last night at 3 am revealed that a diet of only 3% hydrogenated fats gives rise to 23% more heart disease. As Jillian Michaels says, “You might as well shoot your kids up with heroine.” But none of these ladies will ever read your book, which only fuels your irritation.
Alas, later, while you’re drooling on the couch in front of Ellen, they’re out there sweating in the hot sun smearing katsup all over those plastic wieners and making sure your kid’s got a cold drink to go along with that big smile on his face. So breathe, girlfriend. Flow with it and fight for tofu dogs next year. (Good luck with that.)
#3). Bigger-than-life dreams. Can’t talk about writing without mentioning these. Odds are, you’ve got ‘em. If you’re writing a book, you’d darn well better think it’s going to be fantastic. Change the world. Heal someone. Or at least your bottom line. If not, why else would you risk the solitude of it? The sheer hours involved? The flat ass? Why? I’ll tell you…
Because, when you’re a writer and you’re not writing… YOU’RE THE ONE GOING CRAZY INSANE! Since someone’s going to be crazy regardless, it might as well not be you.
Get to it. Sit your ass—large or small—in front of your laptop, or find your pen and paper and start NOW, even if all you’ve got is 15 minutes. (Let me know how it goes.) You’ll be so much more tolerable to those within a mile radius once you’ve gotten back to the practice of threading the beads in your brain on organized strands, rather than letting them all roll around bouncing off one another unchecked up there. That hurts.
With a little time management, a few playoff games here and there (trust me, you’ll like them more if you actually know what’s going on), laughing with your girls at the coffee shop if you just can’t stomach the PTA meetings, and oh, some actual real (vs. merely visualized) glute lunges, everything should work out just fine.
To your creativity be true.
P.S. If you really want to steer clear of Crazy Town, only dress your dogs up at Halloween and Christmas. That’ll work. Ha!