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Creative Research

My research explores multimodal creativity through print and digital stories. Please feel free to comment or contact me!

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Did Paul Varjak Feel This Way?

Every writer, at least every writer I know, has at some point expressed a desire for a sugar daddy. Or mama, whatever. Those first scenes in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where he has that great apartment, cash on the table, and time to do nothing but write and steal dime-store masks are enough to make us drool with insatiable need. And at the end when he throws it all away (for love no less! The fool.), all we can think is what an idiot he was to give up such a good racket. Dignity be damned, we’d rather write than spend the rest of our lives finding stiletto heels in the fridge.

I’m Paul Varjak. I’m not kept, not really. I’m just married. We had a wedding, and then my darn husband went off and found a wonderful job in BFE Wales. Those villages in the quaint English movies with Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, where they’re always walking everywhere, and everyone is excited for the mail…they’re all true. The mail is exciting because there’s no other way to purchase specialty items. Last week I needed tap shoes, and even a trip 20 miles away to the nearest dancewear store in the “big city” yielded no results. I’ve had similar trouble trying to find recycled printer paper, power converters, a yoga mat... you see what I’m getting at.

Furthermore, I’ve had similar trouble trying to find a job. If I were schooled in the art of hair styling (or even shampooing), I would have no problem. There are probably two hair salons to every person living in North Wales. They’re like Starbucks over here. But for a writer, even a very experienced technical writer, jobs are scarce. And of course, should I apply for a receptionist position or something similar, I would get some very dumbfounded looks. “You have a Master’s degree, and you want to answer our phones? Have you suffered brain damage? No really, because I’m not sure I want someone with brain damage talking to my clients.”

We half-expected this. We decided to move to North Wales for his job because the salary was enough to support both of us (and our four pets) should I find myself in just this situation. So my job is to write, to get the darn novel published, to finally accomplish what I thought I’d have done five years ago.

I should be ecstatic. Every damn day, I should wake up with my head full of ideas and joy and verve. I should be dancing jigs and thumbing my nose at all the poor sad sacks who actually have to work a job every day, and somehow squeeze writing into their spare moments. I thought it would be fantastic.

I’m not dealing with it well. You see, I’ve either had a job or been in school full time (or both) since I was fourteen years old. That’s fifteen years of always having output, always having some sort of supervisor, of always being acknowledged for my contributions to the community, the world. That’s also fifteen years of a steady (and steadily rising) paycheck. Daily affirmation that I am someone, that I am worthy, that I can fend for myself.

I would work a project, send it off. Someone would say what a fabulous job I did. Someone would give me a raise. I would take classes to earn my advanced degrees. Someone would grade my papers and give me an evaluation. Someone would give me a degree.

Now I wake up in the morning, read a library book while I drink my coffee, and I sit at my computer. I write. I get lonely. I peruse the internet. At 3:30 every day, I call my mother. I take the dogs for a walk. I often never get out of my PJs. I check my email obsessively to see if any agents are dying to represent me.

Every day.

I rarely talk to anyone, thus the internet need. I get excited for the mail. I download episodes of Stargate SG-1.

Lately I’ve committed myself to writing a lot more, and surfing a lot less. I shut down the wireless modem. I force myself to stare at my novel, to work my way through my revision outline. I feel more like I’m working, less like I’m unemployed.

But other than my mom and husband totally 100% supporting me in my writing (hell, my mother is fielding my rejection letters), I have no feedback on the worthiness of my life. I am so very grateful to both of them for what they do for me, but in the end their love and support is not enough. Yes, it hurts me to say that. But when you’re a writer, everyone knows your family will say you’re good and successful. Your mom will always tell you she loves your stories.

There is no cold hard cash, though. No paycheck, no reviews. I have no indicators to tell me that the path I’m on is the correct one. I have no signs to tell me I’m a participating member of society. I have nothing telling me “Hey, thanks for being alive. You’re doing a great job.”

On a daily basis, I’m faced with money issues. We’d like to buy a house, but can we afford it on only one income? We’d like to travel, to buy books and movies, to go out to dinner once in a while. I contribute nothing toward those things.

What’s more, I can’t cook. I despise cleaning (though I do it), and grumble endlessly if my husband leaves his laundry on the bathroom floor. I feel awful about this. After all, traditionally if one partner isn’t working, they earn their keep in household chores. I have a hard time even doing that, which means I contribute even less to the household. I feel like a leech.

I am determined to keep working, to keep writing until I have some indication of success or definite and infinite failure. I apply for jobs. I applied for a PhD program so that at least I’ll be working toward something, for some purpose, with some amount of supervision and feedback. I am writing every day, researching agents and publishers, communicating (virtually, anyway) with other writers.

I just have to shake this innate sense of uselessness that has settled into the forefront of my brain. Perhaps it’s a middle class American thing – if you’re not working, if you’re not contributing to the GNP, you’re a drain on society. I’m one step away from drawing unemployment and welfare (not that I’m eligible for it here in the UK). I’m not, of course, but that’s how it feels. I don’t feel independently wealthy; I feel like a bum.

So here it is in writing, published for public consumption: I am a writer. That is my profession. I will write every day. I will finish my current book, and if I haven’t gained an agent and publishing contract yet, I will shop that one around diligently. I will write another book, and another, until someone finally sits up and says “This is the next [insert awesome, prolific, wealthy author here]!!!” Until I am not merely pulling an “allowance” from my husband’s paycheck. Until I can contribute toward the mortgage, I will put my nose to that grindstone and write, damn it.

Writers don’t get weekly paychecks. They get advances, and hopefully royalties. I can look at that as a yearly paycheck, or a decadely paycheck. However it works. I am working. I am contributing. That is all. The end of the issue. My brain can just take that and gnaw on it a while.

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