So, the kids were home from school yesterday. I took the opportunity to take Squish shopping, and we both got our hair cut (wherein my hair went from long and poofy and unmanageable to slightly less long and poofy and unmanageable) and I generally spent my day doing things I put off for later. (Including catch a tremendous sale at Bath and Bodyworks, which will leave me eyeballs deep in pleasant smelling body wash for what I hope will be another six months.)
But this morning, the kids went to school, and I was back at my desk, and back to the daily grind.
And the thing is, it’s not a bad grind. I frequently get asked in interviews, “What’s your writing day like?” I’m not sure what people want to hear with that. Do they want to hear, “Well, I wake up, pump out three hours straight brilliant work, social media for a bit, and then spend my day with my personal trainer and beautify myself up for my next public appearance?” (Excuse me while I clean up my keyboard– I spit up water while typing that.)
The fact is, while I am considered mildly successful in my field, my daily grind is much the same as it was when I was teaching. I spend part of my day getting my kids off to school. I spend part of my weeks making sure they participate in activities to become useful and talented human beings. I spend part of my day struggling with things like diet and exercise so that I might not become a human solid. I spend part of my day watching television with my kids, so that we can all be in the same room together, comment during the commercials, and occasionally snuggle. I try for one night a week with my Mate, and he makes it a point to go with me when I walk the dogs, so that we might continue to be Mates and not just roomMates, and I cherish those times. I carry my phone with me, so I can reply to any urgent social media, and I check my e-mail like I breathe: automatically. I cannot go to the bathroom without a cat, or a dog, or a kid following me to get my attention. Sometimes it’s a parade.
But in all of this, there are few of the trappings of success I always imagined– and we all always imagine when we hear the words “success”. There is no PA to deal with bothersome things like e-mail or guest blog posts or the whopping 60% of accrued e-mail in my G-mail account. (My husband is boggled by this. He doesn’t understand things like, “I don’t want to get rid of that!” He says it explains a lot about the house.) I still have to do my own laundry, pick up my own kids, do my own shopping, and pick up my own dry-cleaning. (Which would be more impressive if I did dry-cleaning more than once or twice a year.) There is no limo service, and if I was going to hire someone to clean my closets (ala Sex in the City) they would first have to hire a contractor to fix my bathrooms, because after years of bitching about them, they are still death traps.
But I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m doing the reverse of complaining.
Last year, about this time, I did a truly frightening thing.
I didn’t renew my teaching credential.
Yes, the whole “porn” brouhaha had blown over, as had the suffocatingly bigoted political climate that spawned the entire fiasco in the first place. I suffered a slap on the wrist suspension for what amounted to leaving a note on the board telling the students to be good for the sub. I shit you not– when all was said and done, letting the student read the story was never mentioned. It all came down to me telling the kids I was in the doghouse and making sure they knew their grades would be held accountable to the sub. That’s what I did wrong.
But in spite of all of that, I wasn’t going to try to go back to teaching.
I’d been quite spoiled in the three years previous.
Yes, I missed the students. I missed talking about my subject at length. I missed not having my ass spread in measurable increments because I was living a sedentary life instead of actively teaching.
But for three years, I’d taken the kids to school, come back to my desk, and weighed the work on my laptop with an assessing eye. When I needed to turn something in for my publisher, I worked on that. When it was time to blog, I worked on that. When people asked me to blog for them, I used my own judgement for whether or not to accept the work or whether to turn it down. And then I decided what to blog about. I chose whether to visit on social media, and how to promote myself, and what project to write next.
And I haven’t done a bad job of it, really. Yeah, my writing sometimes takes a left turn with projects that appeal to a limited audience, but since those projects sort of feed my writers soul, I’m not gonna whine about that. That was my decision. Sometimes I social media too much, and sometimes I hide in my writing hole too much, but you now what? I did what I felt I’d be most productive with at the time.
In fact, do you know what I didn’t do, during those three years?
I didn’t participate in any bitch, wank, and jizz sessions, because A. Those things are unproductive, and B. I got enough of them in the staff room.
I didn’t respond to any trolls because A. Those things are unproductive and B. I got enough of them in the staff room.
I didn’t listen to anyone who said I was too weird for my opinion to matter because A. That’s unproductive and B. I got enough of that in the staff room.
I didn’t listen to anyone who ripped me apart and disparaged me and made fun of the things I loved and said my work wasn’t good enough because not enough people hated me. I didn’t hate myself for not fitting in. I stopped being embarrassed that I could actually create the kind of writing I loved to read. I started to trust my judgement for how I spent my time and trust that the decisions I made on my own, without a band of pissy, judgey men who managed to run off every other female in the department telling me my decisions were bad just because they weren’t what those men would have done.
Because, you know, those earlier behaviors were unproductive, and I got enough of that in the staff room.
So, yes. I think I’ve found success. It’s not income (although I’m humbly grateful for the ability to put my children through college and to go to conventions where I get to meet fans and fellow authors) and it’s not visibility. And it’s not limos or PA’s or BMW’s or new shoes every week (which I don’t have) or a chance to go to a play more than once every five years (which I do). It’s not even the occasional pedicure.
It’s the ability to trust myself. It’s the ability to stand free of the soul-rotting Greek Chorus of “You can’t!” and “Different is bad!” and “Kindness is weakness!” and “Being mean is being strong!”and “Don’t work outside the herd!” that made sitting with my students so much easier than sitting with my peers. It’s independence and self-acceptance, and a genuine joy in the thing I do, and a belief that it matters to people, and that it makes a positive difference in the world.
So, it’s a little scary, answering that question, “What does your average day look like?”. Sometimes, my average day looks like I’m staring into space and computer surfing a lot. But after nearly four and a half years of choosing my own adventure on a daily basis, I can honestly say, I am choosing wisely. Even if a particular book doesn’t do smashingly, it was my decision to write it how I wrote it, and my work gave me joy, so I am choosing well.
Maybe, just maybe, I got this.