This post is being echoed here from Mad Genius Club, if you want to join the discussion there, also. Which you might want to do, if you’re a writer.
I don’t normally do that, but this week is crazy. We just came back from Fyrecon (and I’d forgotten how exhausting teaching is. I mean, I love it, but I guess I’m out of practice — or just old — because it beat the living daylights out of me.) AND we’re getting up at 3 am to make it to the airport, to make it to Liberty Con.
If you meet me in Liberty con and I look like a zombie? Don’t shoot. I’m just tired.
And somehow in the middle of this I need to finish two short stories and a cover and iron and pack all the clothes, and do the boxes so lovely DIL and #1 son don’t have to deal with poo incidents.)
I’m exhausted, it’s been a very hard week, heck, a very hard year. All I want to do is go to my office, close the door and write. But that part is a good thing.
And it brings us to the theme of this post: If you love it, marry it. Which is not about marriage but about writing. H*ll about any career, really, no matter what it is. But this is a writers’ blog, and it’s important to talk about this, because people don’t.
No one stays in love constantly. Note I didn’t say no one stays in love forever. That’s different. But no one stays in love constantly. Not with a person, not with a career, not with a house, not with a city, not with a state, not with parenting/your children, not with your hobbies. NO ONE. EVER.I don’t know how many people are like me: when I thought of marriage — and I want to point I never thought anyone would be brave or stupid enough to marry me — I didn’t think of the dress, the wedding, the cake, the flowers. In fact, I was so bereft of an opinion on this that other than preventing mom from dressing me like a cream puff, or alternately (because she thought that was my taste) like a nun, I let her run the whole show, from rings to flowers to cake. Because I didn’t care. I just wanted to get through it and then be married.
No, when I thought of marriage I had a very specific image in my mind: what I wanted to be part of. I don’t know when I saw them, or even in what country, or for that matter how old they were, because if this was the 70s they might have been in their sixties (don’t let anyone tell you differently, people aged HARDER. They still do in many other parts of the world.) But I was walking in a rose garden, and I saw a couple. They were both white haired, and walking slowly. And they were not talking, but they held hands, and were obviously attentive to each other in the way you are when the other is important to you.
Coming from a family that had, at the time, never had a broken marriage, I thought it was like that. You married, and then you were in love forever and ever, and it was all golden sunsets in a rose garden.
Unless you’ve never been in a relationship, I don’t need to tell you it’s not that way.
I’m not casting aspersions on my husband. He’s brave, possibly a little crazy, to have married me. I don’t think he’s stupid. I also don’t think anyone else would still be married to me 34 years on. Because I’m not an easy person to get along with. Like most brave, a little crazy and very very smart people, he’s not either. And since both of us came pre-shattered, it’s a good thing we married young, when mind and emotion were still flexible and could be healed into a new pattern.
I love my husband very much. At the moment, I’m also very much in love with him, which is not the same.
There is loving, which is a constant thing. And there is being in love, which is a heady, silly thing, where you want to be together all the time, and can lose hours holding each other’s hand and…
The second one is effortless and dizzy-making and it’s what most people refer to as “being in love.” And it comes and goes.
The first burst of it usually burns out in two years. And no one tells you this, so many people when they hit that place, particularly if life is being difficult at the time, as it often is in early marriage — short on money, overworked, trying to figure out what the next step in career is, often having moved — think it’s over. They think they were mistaken about loving this person, that it was a mistake to get married, that they must get out and pretend it never happened.
These people often (not always. Some figure it out by the second marriage) go on to have a lot of marriages all ending between two and five years.
You see, they confuse the heady feeling, the sparks and electricity, the “my feet don’t touch the ground” for the thing that lasts forever, and when it doesn’t they think they’re doing it wrong. And they don’t realize it comes back. Note what I said above: right now I’m very much in love with my husband. I’m lucky, this is on more than off. But the off periods, what carries me through is three things: 1-I still love him, meaning I care for him. His happiness is still essential to mine. 2- I know the “in love” rush comes back and oh, my, is it worth it. 3-I am committed. (And sometimes I should be, in another sense.) I gave my word, and I exert my will not to be forsworn.
I realized yesterday, when talking to the boys, that careers are the same way, AND NO ONE TELLS YOU THAT. So, it’s even harder to understand/stick with it through the bad times than with marriage where SOMEONE might give you an inkling.
I think Kris Rusch was trying to tell us this … lo, 20 years ago, when she told us that writing careers follow the W curve, over and over again. That is a plotting “format” where the character hits bottom, reaches top, hits bottom again. In the plotting the W keeps going every up, even in the low points. Is it the same in the real world writing career? Maybe? I’d be tempted to say no, but the only way I’ve seen it NOT be is if you give up, stop pushing, and/or are very, very ill.
But I didn’t understand what Kris was saying. Because I had no idea. And the understanding didn’t burst upon me till yesterday.
Now when I say careers and that this applies to all careers, I’m exaggerating a little. Because if you’re doing something to make money, but that’s not where your heart ever is, then it doesn’t apply there. It’s like when they found out arranged marriages are often happier. That’s because you don’t go in expecting the “highs.” So, you accommodate easier to the lows. And I’d argue the happier. I suspect they’re more often “stable” and “functional.” Which might be better. Or not. I wouldn’t trade being in love for all the stability in the world. There is a high you reach, a thing of magic that wouldn’t happen without that.
So, this applies to all careers that are vocations. I’m not going to argue what vocation is. It’s more than a passing fancy, though, or what brings you bliss. In fact, it’s often like a tragic love affair, and it doesn’t bring you bliss at all, as you bang your head on that wall. (Like 90% of my career. I have to pay for my luck in marriage, somehow, I guess. To quote a Portuguese poet “Fate sells all that it gives.”) But it’s, to explain it to those who might not have grown up with the concept, what you were born to do. The thing that’s so much a part of you you can’t pull it off without stopping being you, and also being a little maimed your whole life.
If there is a grand, ineffable plan, this is the part you’re supposed to play.
Vocations can be for everything. I’m not actually kidding when I say I knew someone whose vocation was being a cleaning lady. She was almost supernaturally good at it, she was never happier than when cleaning other people’s houses, and she had always wanted to do it.
My sons, for their sins, both have vocations. Perhaps it’s hereditary, since both their father and I do (and their father needs to get back to his math and music, which means I need to make a lot of money to get him out of indenture.) Theirs are not for artistic stuff, but they are for “arts.” In the sense some sciences are half art.
Both of them — as is the way of vocations — discovered them young. They think they chose in their teens, but I saw signs going back to when they were toddlers. (Weirdly so did my brother, who spends very little time with them because overseas.)
Along the way — and considering they’re both still in protracted training — there have been ups and downs. Both of them have come home with stars in their eyes and flying high after working — actually working — in internships or practice at their chosen metier.
And both of them have hit head first into bureaucracy (university scheduling, btw, is an abomination onto Noogan.) Both of them have been tired, discouraged, confused, and tired of hitting their head upon a wall. (Younger son just found out that engineers don’t find jobs through linked in. This is driving him nuts because he doesn’t know HOW they find them. And he needs a part time on for his final year in school, and is terrified he won’t know how to apply for a full time one when he’s done, either.)
I’ve found myself talking to them when their idealized vision of what the career would be — their dream career, what the work would be like in G-d’s ineffable plan — hits the very complicated times we live in, between government funding, private ventures, laws and stupid regulations, and people, always people. People who are petty or malicious. People who care more for power-fiefdoms than for doing this job well, this magical thing that holds their hearts.
Usually I tell them it’s like that all over. I don’t know anyone that goes into their chose career and meets with nothing but unalloyed praise and success. Or if I do, poor things. Because having it too easy in the beginning makes it hard to develop the resilience to last.
Worse, you fall out of love. Even if things are going well, the novelty wears off, and the mundane everyday of a career, like the mundane everyday of a marriage is not made of rainbow and sparkles.
There is comfort in knowing he’ll be there when you wake up, comfort in knowing you’ll have breakfast together. But if you’re seeing sparkles and hearing music, you should check your medication.
In the same way, you grow more competent, and you don’t notice. This thing makes up your every thought and you don’t notice. It’s hilarious, now that the boys are trained beyond the ken of mere mortals (or mom) to hear them decrying how much they hate their chosen vocation, then falling to thinking/explaining/speaking in the lingo of it, and in a way that shows they are OF it. They can’t pull it out without killing part of themselves.
Yesterday, I tried to tell one of them “you fall back in love with it.” “You recover the fire.” And he looked skeptical. So I asked my husband “How often have I fallen in love with writing, after hating it, or after periods when it was dead to me?”
Being a mathematician, he didn’t say “Many.” No, he thought and said “Seven. And you’re on the upswing of enthusiasm again on the eighth.”
And he’s right. There have been times I only continued writing because we needed to pay the mortgage, or baby needed shoes.
No artistic (or possibly any) profession is ever “fair.” It is a meritocracy in the sense that when the stars align, you need a modicum of talent to hang on, to turn that curve, to stay on top. As a lot of the dahlings of the establishment have found, all that promo can get you ONE bestseller. And then you stall. Or worse, if you really have no substance, you fall.
But getting that push, or, in indie, getting that reach? That’s part luck, part personality, part timing, part… who knows? So you can be a very good writer and never sell much.
However when I came in, between selling to the net, letting computers do the walking, push model stocking shelves with fads and books no one objectively wanted to read, publishing was in the middle of committing suicide (it’s getting there. It’s a slow death, as always for behemoths.) And my career got off with a bad start with a book released around 9/11 and those numbers in the computer forever.
It wasn’t the first time I’d fallen out of love with writing. That had happened through the unbelievably stupid (on my side and theirs) slog to first publication: the rejections that made no sense; the ever stranger hoops you had to jump through to even submit; the years of writing three novels a year while looking after toddlers, rebuilding houses, refinishing furniture and moving every couple of years.
But I always came back. I came back in pain and despair. I didn’t KNOW that the love would come back. Or that the sparks and music could return. Sometimes I thought that it would be gritting my teeth and walking into the hurricane forever.
Weirdly it does come back. Sometimes a long time, sometimes very short. And sometimes it comes back mingled with pain, like a tragic love affair.
Eight times. I am fifty six. I’ve been at this, full-or-part-time, unpublished and published for 34 years. I’ve broken eight times. Completely and utterly to where even the thought of writing hurt, and each word came out as though pulled by forceps.
And there are days I’d trade it all for a glass of water, and it doesn’t need to be good water. But I can’t because it’s part of me. And that’s a good thing. Because some days I can’t wait to write and all the rest — even eating and sleeping — are a distraction.
I’m at the very beginning of my eighth time of falling in love with this crazy career. Indie now, and the freedom, and I can do all these things I dreamed of when I was young. I imagine it’s like in marriage when the kids are on their own and you can have time for yourself (I imagine husband and I will find out, someday. 😉 ) Also I realized, through teaching at Fyrecon (Utah, last week. Yeah, that’s why no cover posts. Sorry) that I actually no only know this craft, but I know it to such an extent I don’t know what I know. It’s part of me. And yeah, I love it.
I suspect there will be a longer period of being in love and the golden glow of it.
But there will come times I’m tired, I’m broken, again, and the sheer “everydayness” of writing means I feel I don’t love it. It’s just what I do.
Humans are firefly creatures, off and on, off and on. Our continuity of personality is…. flaky at best. I am myself in the essentials, probably, at least the last ten years. I would probably b*tch slap the twit I was at 20, and not just on politics, either. But in a way this year of transition — aka year from h*ll — has been scouring and molding me and changing me, to the point I don’t know if I am the same I was a year ago. Let alone five, ten, 20 or 30 years ago.
Everyone is like this. Everyone changes with time.
If you want to do anything worthwhile, to commit yourself to something that lasts forever, be it a marriage or a vocation, you have to DO IT. You have to make that promise. You have to wed yourself to it. You have to want it so much that you want it even when you don’t, that you stay with it even when it’s the last thing you want to do.
The alternative is to accomplish nothing that takes more than a few months and a passing enthusiasm. And perhaps that’s okay, I don’t know. It’s not a choice I have.
I am what I am and this is what I was born to be.
As my Mormon friends say “For all time and eternity.”
For better or for worse. And you have to cross the worse, to get to the better.
But it will come. The better will come again.
And then it’s all worth it.