Jewcy giddily presents the second in our series of Book Klatches, wherein five authors spend five days dishing over e-mail about the writing life. On Day 3, below, moderator Ed Schwarzschild asks the group whether fatherhood and great writing can coexist. From: Ed Schwarzschild To: Adam Johnson, Chris Castellani, Daniel Handler, Peter Orner It's well-past midnight on the east coast, so I'll send out this quick late night question for day 3, the kind of question I'd be asking if we were all sitting around in a dive bar, last call looming, a baseball game deep in extra innings on the tube, a few of my academicized over-workshopped inhibitions to the wind. The question, in a word, is: Kids. I hope to have kids. Can't wait, actually. But I'm also terrified. Worried about my writing. Which seems absurd to say. Just plain old scared, too, when you come right down to it. And yet. I've made the decision in my mind and, god willing, my body and the body of my beloved will do the rest. Anyhow, we're all guys here, some with kids, some hoping to have them, maybe some not sure, maybe some decided to be kid-free. Whatever. It is, as I've said, late at night. If it's too personal a question, write in about your favorite constellation or something. How do you balance writing and fatherhood? Why does the question seem different for writers/artists than for, say, investment bankers? Maybe it isn't. Fatherhood would make demands on any guy, no matter what/how many jobs he's holding down. And yet. *** From: Daniel To: Adam, Chris, Ed, Peter Here's what's funny: I don't have time to provide much of an answer to this question, because my kid woke up early and vomited all over the place. I just finished a project and my wife really needs to work, so I'm on duty. I think the main reason this question feels different for investment bankers is that there are very few investment bankers who'd cancel a day at work to care for a fluish kid. One of the downsides of writing for a living is the assumption that somehow you're not really working. It's only a few years ago that my mother stopped asking me if I could drive her to the airport—something she'd never ask her son if he were an investment banker. The boundaries between work and life are slipperier in the arts, and so having a kid, in my experience, requires getting a little stricter about what those boundaries are. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to hold the bucket. *** From: Chris To: Adam, Daniel, Ed, Peter Daniel's absolutely right. I'm the go-to guy for my family (and some friends) because, well, I don't have a "real job" and art, unlike the stock market and brain surgery, can always wait. The only way I know how to address this is to set strict office hours, during which I don't answer my phone or email. If someone needs to reach me during that time and leaves a frustrated message, I try not to apologize and betray the internalized suspicion I have that I really *could* have answered and not lost much other than a few minutes of staring into space.
Because that's the other problem: our working hours are messy and inefficient. We don't have a to-do list we can tick through. We can't anticipate how long any "task" (i.e. an entire story, an article, even a scene or a line) can take us to write. And because most people have jobs that are *too* regimented, they not-so-secretly resent us for this. And also because we have one of the few jobs where a shot of whiskey tends to increase productivity. As for kids, my partner Michael and I have no plans to adopt or engineer some sort of elaborate surrogate implantation (as a couple of our friends just did, mixing their sperm so as not to privilege one over the other). The vast majority of our friends and siblings have kids, and we love them all dearly—I mean it!—but we see how, in many cases, the kids have sucked the passion and ambition out of the parents and replaced them with complacency and malaise. I know this sounds harsh and unfair and ungenerous; I'm exaggerating for effect to some extent, but I am also deeply sad to have "lost" so many friends in this way. Someone said that a good romantic relationship is one in which the couple is greater than the sum of its parts—together, they have more energy, more drive, more varied interests, than they did as individuals. They inspire each other. The same is true with kids. I think, for some people, having kids will compel them to write more, and better, and to use their precious time more productively. Having a kid will deepen and broaden them. But it's a risk, and it's probably worth it (how should I know? I'm going against God and Nature as it is). Again, most of my friends are just too damn tired to even contemplate these questions, and some use their kids to justify having given up on their dreams. Now I imagine *this* will be an unpopular response! Best Wishes, C ***** From: Ed To: Adam, Chris, Daniel, Peter Dude, Chris, were you using your time away from the klatch to channel my fears of fatherhood? Malaise, complacency, and losing touch with the outside world? Damn, man, and yet still I say: bring on the bucket. I haven't run the numbers, but when I start thinking of writers with kids and writers without kids, it's not clear either scenario makes lifelong passion and ambition any easier. What is clear, most days, is: a) a gut feeling b) something oddly similar to my strident teaching response–some cool folks were there to raise me and I'd like to do that unto others c) the fact that some of the fathers I most admire are living lives filled with the making of art even as they embrace the chaos of children. Didn't Fitzgerald say that writers need to be able to hold two completely opposite notions in their heads at the same time? I say, in my bolder, less fearful moments, why stop at two? Why stop at notions? *** From: Peter To: Adam, Chris, Daniel, Ed I defer to the fathers for this one, though I will say that my own father, who has a few faults, like us all, used to read my brother and me Coleridge at night. And so I recommend a little opium-induced beauty for kids everywhere.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree:
For years I thought that Kubla Khan was some freaky Jewish architect, and my father does now pretty much read exclusively Dick Francis, but back then we were a very literate household. *** Next: Should I bring my politics into my writing?