I Didn’t Know You Worked


Meghan O’Rourke’s Slate article, “Can a Woman Be a Great American Novelist?” keeps surfacing in my thoughts. It’s an intelligent meditation on “the problem of unconscious gender bias and how it affects the ways we think about accomplishment and authority.”

I read the article shortly after I had a conversation that I seem to have every couple of weeks with one person or another. In this case, the conversation directly followed one in which the woman to whom I was talking told me how much she had enjoyed my memoir.

Her: Are you going to adopt more kids?

Me: I was planning on it, until I saw what it’s really like trying to balance work and the baby. Now I’m not so sure.

Her: I didn’t know you worked. What do you do?

Um. I’m a writer. It’s, like, my job. I sit down at nine and I write for at least four or five hours, six days a week. I’m not saying that a penis is the only thing standing between me and being the next Great American Novelist, but I can’t help but think that my gender has something to do with the not-uncommon perception that I dashed off my book during a week-long Artist’s Way seminar.

My novelist (and mother of four) friend Claire LaZebnik pointed out this passage as hitting particularly close to home:

It’s really, really hard to write a book. It takes a lot of time and solitude. In my experience, women are not as good at insisting they need that time and solitude. (I wonder how many female writers have, like me, sometimes wished they were a man so everyone—family, friends, partners—would understand a little better when they go in the room and shut the door for weeks on end.) If the world around you reliably reflects a slight skepticism about, a slight resistance to your talent, it’s easy to begin to internalize that notion and to strive for less, or just be turned off by the whole racket.

It’s my experience that not just as women but specifically as mothers, we have to not only fight harder for the solitude to create, but we feel guiltier about doing so than our male counterparts. I don’t think this guilt is ultimately serving either me or Tariku. I may not be the next Great American Novelist or the next Great American Mother for that matter, but I hope that I can model being someone who insists that I deserve a creative voice in the world.

Now, back to work…

3 thoughts on “I Didn’t Know You Worked

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am what I like to call a “failed writer”, I had some bits and pieces published years ago, but ever since my children entered the picture I have not been able to find the time to be by myself to write. People in my life think I can write while the children play, or squeeze it in…. where I am not sure, I do not have more than 30 minutes in my day that is not dedicated to either childcare or home making or that precious hour or so that I get to spend with my husband every evening. It is tough, really tough being a mom and a writer, but hopefully I can find some way to make it work. BTW your son is gorgeous!

  2. So,so true. I often feel that I have sacrificed my passion for the mundane (and yet,critical) needs of others…and I do not feel it would be the same, sadly, for my husband if our roles (breadwinner artist vs aspiring writer) were reversed. Harrumph.

  3. I can’t believe this only got one comment. it’s such a mind blowing topic and I’ll bet it resonates with a million full time writers. I think the thinking is, if we enjoy it (any portion of it, since many parts of the writing process are excruciatingly unpleasant) then it should be filed under hobby time. Guess what world? I have no fucking hobbies. I’m too goddamn busy writing. I am amazed that you are able to do both, and yes – that’s my eventual goal. Bravo JL. Bravo.

    ps: don’t even get me started with how many times “certain people” that I am married to walk in, start talking to me and expect me to drop everything when I am WORKING.

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