This is my second-to-last round-up before I go on hiatus for my book tour, which is a sprawling, insane thing that’s lasting until the end of April, on and off. That’s nothing, of course, compared to the duration of some tours (the fabulous Adderall Diaries tour, for example, that gave birth to the Daily Rumpus), but I have three kids so I’m a little strung-out about it all. Most women writers I know, who are also mothers, face similar struggles between conflicting desires. Sunday Rumpus alum Rachel DeWoskin was recently offered a residency at McDowell that could span up to 8 weeks, but she agonized before accepting 2, and now is in a state of writhing guilt that reminds me of how I felt before leaving for Kenya in 2010. I’d won the SLS short story contest, which I’d entered because Mary Gaitskill was the judge, and I thought if by some chance I actually won, having been selected by Mary Gaitskill would be prize enough. But then you hear Kenya and your mind starts to shift. Suddenly you want to go. Or you always wanted to go, you just told yourself you wouldn’t win so you wouldn’t have to think about it, which is something that’s usually true but in this case wasn’t. My son wasn’t quite five yet, and my daughters were ten, with a tendency to be quiet and taciturn around their dad when I wasn’t around, and I felt like I was committing a crime but I still got on the plane. I don’t really know Cheryl Strayed very well but Cheryl is one of those people other people spill their guts around and I ended up exchanging some emails with her where I engaged in circular self-flaggelation and anxiety about leaving my children and how could I but I really want to go to Kenya and so on. Cheryl had been through all that too, and I bet now she knows even more about it, that dual pull and the costs and benefits of either direction. Most women I know, even professional women who are highly successful, tend to err on the side of caution and self-sacrifice. Maybe the women who would tend to err on the other side of a more self-focused pursuit of experience often choose not to have children and so end up not in the sample pool, I don’t know. But it feels to me like being gone for quite a bit more of the month of February than I’ll be home isn’t something I encounter much among other moms I know, though it isn’t that unusual for fathers, if you know “successful” people. Sometimes fathers live part-time in Ireland or Hong Kong or Los Angeles because their careers demand it, and they suffer from Missing their kids and their wives but it doesn’t seem particularly taboo. Mothers leaving children behind to do things for themselves still has a shadowy tint of the forbidden about it. And though this isn’t universally true, a lot of kids, mine included, don’t react the same way to their father being gone as when their mothers leave. The easier thing would be to shave some time off either end of McDowell; to decline Kenya, where your cell phone and internet won’t work and it would take you more than 24 hours to get home in the event of an emergency. In the short run, you could spare yourself a lot of pain and angst by just saying Nevermind. But Neverminds pile up for women. A woman just joined my writing group in Chicago who hasn’t really written seriously in about a decade. Her husband has an inordinately busy career that keeps him out a lot of evenings, and they have two children with serious ambitions in the dance world, one of whom dances five times a week downtown, so my friend chauffeurs them around. We all want to give our kids opportunities. My friend danced when she was younger too, but she lived in New York City and her mother was too busy getting married over and over again and ODing to drive her to dance classes; probably they didn’t even have a car. She did all that herself, so it’s no wonder she would want to give her kids the support she didn’t have. If you had to choose between your child having the life they want and your having the life you want–if in some reality you were staring down the barrel of a gun and had to make that choice–you’d choose the beautiful life of opportunities for your child. But in the real world, it’s not a binary and those aren’t the options. It’s shockingly easy to forget that, though, and to live like the gun is aimed and loaded and any small mistake you make, any moment of prioritizing your own desire, will come to your child’s ruin. If that were true, though, no one I’ve ever cared about would have grown to any kind of worthwhile adulthood. Almost everyone I’ve ever loved had a completely shitty childhood and parents incapable of seeing them, so if we really wanted to worry about the more accurate possibility, it would be that most of us now, the mothers of my Tribe, are so infinitely more solicitious and caretaking of our children that we might raise colorless marshmellow blobs. But that’s just something I’m writing in a column. In reality, nobody throws “hardships” at their kids just to give them character. In reality, no one I’d want to know can stand to see their children suffer without wanting to alleviate the ache. There’s no way not to make mistakes as a parent, is I guess what I mean, so when it comes to getting on a plane maybe I’d just rather regret something I did than something I didn’t do.
And then there are kids who grow up like this, in China. My daughters are from China. They’re the two most responsible and competent human beings I have ever met in my entire life, and they could have run a household when they were ten better than most adults, but I am so unspeakably glad they never had to that it could break my skin thinking about it.
“I’ve always been afraid of disappearing.” Jennifer Pastiloff in Mutha magazine.
“Tweeting cancer.” The response to Bill Keller and Lisa Boncheck Adams’ writings about cancer reveals “a stark and tone-deaf reminder of just how repressed and ahistorical our public relationship to dying and death is today.” And The Atlantic had this to say about live-tweeting one’s sufferings.
“More Than Usual Perversity” at The Weeklings. This is really interesting and not what you’re thinking.
Most writers make less than 600 pounds a year, according to survey.
An exploration of Jennifer Weiner’s feminist stance.
Mary Miller on Brad Listi’s Other People. I met Mary at one of those bookseller trade shows this fall, and she was awesome.
Lizi Gilad’s evocative essay today is part literary homage, part poetry, part deeply personal essay, and is beautiful.
We’re still signing up for Other Voices Queretaro, to study with Emily Rapp, Rob Roberge or Cecil Castellucci. I’m also going to be taking on individual manuscript consults. Come play with us this summer.