Monday, September 30, 2002

A Monster in the House

“Is there a monster in the house? Is there a baby writer sitting over there on the floor storing up memories of family fights and betrayals for future books? Beware.”

Thus the NY Times begins an article on the Monster in the House, AKA your friendly local writer, as presented by a panel of authors at the New Yorker Festival.

The issue is central: What kinds of loyalty does the writer owe friends and family? What sorts of consideration can a friend or relative reasonably expect when the writer turns shared experiences into prose? How much, if any, neglect, grouchiness, and bad behavior is justified by a writer’s genius and the demands of art? What does the family do when a writer’s work can be interpreted to reflect poorly on the family?

But turn it around for a minute. What does a writer’s family owe the writer? How much do they have a right to demand of time, attention, care, and energy when the writer is struggling to find enough time to create? When does respect for privacy become censorship?

There are plenty of stories of artists and writers who are total bastards, but there are also a lot of us who aren’t nasty enough to make space enough to write in.

These days, I’m trying to write while balancing a job, a family, and the very few community obligations I will accept. (And those are important to me: church, the women’s bookstore.) It’s damned hard, even if I hadn’t been spoiled by having once had all day to write.

I’ve come up with a few solutions — writing in the early morning before work, for example, which lets me devote my freshest energy to the writing and warms me up for the very different kind of writing I do on the job. I’ve also given up almost anything that could be a distraction. I don’t spend time in online forums, which used to be a central source of friendship and support. I don’t watch many movies any more. My cross-stitch and cooking are sorely neglected. I would give up sleep if I could.

I know I haven’t tackled any of these issues in depth, and I need to. I also want to explore the serious question of how to talk after divorce, but that will all have to wait. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to behave with respect toward both the family and the work.

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