Saturday, January 12, 2013

Who You Sacrifice

           As I pull out of the drive, my ten year old daughter is crying and saying, “Daddy, I don’t want you to go.”  I could say that I don’t want to go either, and, in part, that’s true, but it would confuse her.  I’m making a choice to leave for a writing weekend.  As much as I love my family and try to arrange a schedule to get work done, sometimes I need uninterrupted time.
            There is the cliché of the struggling artist, and the idea that an artist makes sacrifices.  These are true, but the nature of the struggle and sacrifices are sometimes misunderstood.
            For me, these have nothing to do with money.  I’m primarily a poet, and although I might sell a few books at readings, it's rarely enough to cover the gas and coffee costs to get there.  But, I don’t write poetry expecting to be paid.  Nor do I believe that I'm "paying my dues" and one day I will hit it big like Billy Collins or Mary Oliver (who I'm sure are rolling in it with Rolex watches, champagne readings, custom-designed poetmobiles, etc.).  As long as I have enough to buy a morning pastry, I'm satisfied, and, because my local bakery -- Camino -- is owned by a friend, I suspect that she'll slip me a free muffin or two if things get rough.
            Time, however, is a different matter.
            To do almost any kind of writing takes concentration, and time is a zero sum quantity. There is only so much of it.  Time devoted to writing means less available for something else – my teaching job, my family, my falling apart old house, my other interests.  
           So, the “sacrifice” an artist makes is often being with other people, and the price is paid by them.  If I wasn’t a writer, my children might spend more time with me, and, when I am with them, I might be less distracted.  Right now, their memories of Saturday and Sunday mornings won’t be of making pancakes with Daddy, but of Daddy going off to the coffeeshop for a few hours.  Right now, they suspect, for good reason, that sometimes even when I'm there, I'm not actually there.
            And we sacrifice people in other ways.  The writer, Julie Suk, says, “If you’re acquainted with a poet, you’re going to have your life exposed.”  Or, as Joan Didion puts it, “Writers are always selling someone out.”  My family’s lives are my material.  I will sacrifice their privacy and often their feelings to explore it.
            Occasionally people say how wonderful it must be to be a writer, and often it is, except for those times that you’re driving away from your crying daughter.


  1. hard, no mtter if you are a chef, a pinball player, an artist, a working whatever, it's just hard - hope it will be or was good! best to you

  2. Love it Joe! And if I see a look of writer's consternation on your face, I'll slip you a cinnamon roll & make it all better.