parenting, SAHM, writing

On identity, writing, and creating art

You’ve got to meet my brother, my friend Mina tells me as we wander the streets of San Diego’s gas lamp district while our husbands attended a conference nearby. He’s a drummer. His band’s toured quite a bit, some of their songs are used as television theme songs, and one of their tracks is in Django Unchained! Next time he’s in town we’ll all get together. You’ll like him. He’s an artist, like you.

I wanted to protest this comparison. Yes, I write. I’ve written for several print publications and at this blog for almost a decade. I’m a contributing author in Love Inshallah. And I’ve poured my heart and soul into two completed YA novels. I have an agent who believes in my writing and I have edits I’m working on when I have a moment to breathe and yet, when Mina referred to me as a writer– an artist like her brother– I had to do a double take because an artist?

An artist is whimsical and freewheeling. An artist wears faded jeans and grows a butterfly garden with wind chimes in the front yard of their lovely tudor brick home. An artist has a villa off the coast of Italy to ruminate properly, or sips coffee while scribbling in a black notebook overlooking the river Seine.

An artist is not running after children while coated in flour from a cookie dough experiment gone awry, or sitting up weary feet at day’s end when dishes are loaded and kids are asleep to do some on-line off-season boots shopping. An artist gets paid handsomely for their art.

When people ask me what I do. I tell them I was a teacher. A lawyer. I tell them I’m staying home to grow my children and capture their beautiful fleeting moments. I hardly ever say I’m a writer. Even though I write every day. Edits on novels, drafts of new ones, blogpostings, and scribbles in journals. Writing is how I understand my world, writing is how I understand me. And yet, when people ask who I am, what I do, writing feels fraudulent to add to the introduction resume, because writing does not the bills pay.

Last weekend when Mina let us know her brother was in town, I felt excited and a touch nervous as I put on my ever-present yoga pants, one of my three nursing dresses on permanent rotation, and loaded the kids in the car. We parked our car, hauling car seats, and maneuvered strollers, and then we met Krishna.  Drummer, rock-star Krishna. Father of three, minivan driving [and minivan evangelist], burp cloth over shoulder, Krishna.

Over dinner, between diaper changes, and water spills, we talked about making art. About how even he, with music that’s seen the light of day on both the small and big screen and in concert venues around the world, can’t make his entire living off of his art and how its a myth, this artist sitting atop a green patch of hill sipping tea and contemplating life. How the vast majority of artists, even ones whose books we read frequently, or whose music we turn on when the mood strikes, are often holding second jobs to pay the water bill. How all artists began in obscurity and most still continue to create knee-deep in said obscurity. How though there are amazing moments in creating art, its often tedious and difficult because of the subjectivity of art and the pervasive self-doubt that arises when when you don’t know if what you’re putting your heart into will ever see the light of day– but creating nonetheless, because its what you do, its a part of who you are.

You’re a writer, he said to me. Keep writing, keep working at it, some people take five novels before their first is sold but it doesn’t take away that they were a writer when they first put pen to paper to write the first novel. One day I will buy your published novel, but you are a writer today.

I’m going to hold his words close to my heart as I revise and edit and daydream about the next book project. And I’m going to try to remind myself that just because my two current vocations, SAHM and writer, do not have salary stipends, does not devalue either and does not take away from the truth of what they are. I know it will be difficult, but maybe next time someone asks me what I do, maybe I’ll own my truth, maybe I can tell them the deepest essence of who I am, but even if I can’t, maybe I can feel comfortable in my own skin and own who I am if only to myself: I am many things. I am also a writer.

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