Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A refusal to pine--

Note: If you're looking for the Great Poetry Giveaway, scoot down one post...

Image courtesy of sxc.hu and Patrick Nijhuis
of Deventer, the Netherlands.
I'm a little peeved at The Atlantic's writers-need-a-Vera article. I definitely don't agree with "The Legend of Vera Nabokov: Why Writers Pine for a Do-It-All Spouse." Let's just do the work, and if our bathrooms are cleaned a little less often and our laundry sometimes stands up in a mountain and we don't have as many dinner parties as we might like, well, so be it. And if we don't write as many masterpieces as we hoped . . . we can just remember than our number one piece of assigned work is life, and that we need to try to get better at it as we go on.

So what if some of us could use but can't manage a secretary, a housekeeper, and a full-time cheerleader? Sure, I lack all and would enjoy all, but who cares? My husband and I have three children to send to college, and I'd rather have the rather pricey children than the helpers. And I'm grateful that I was able to quit my "career" and stay home to write poetry, stories, and novels and raise children. I'm still pleased, and I'm not going to complain.

In fact, I feel wonderfully lucky not to have been born into a life where I'd end up cleaning hotel rooms (or crabs at the beach--what a tough job! I admire those women, cracking claws and laughing as they work), scraping paint off clapboard, or smiling as I ring up your brand new material possessions at Walmart. Writers need to be a part of the daily dirt and occasional magic of life just like everybody else, and we don't have to whimper if we don't live in a sweet rainbow bubble where other people serve us.

What is a spouse for? Not to be your personal servant, certainly! I'm glad to have married a man who likes to cook and does so. But I didn't and don't expect my husband to read or critique manuscripts, act as my secretary, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry for five people (or however many are in residence at the moment), vacuum, etc. Do I wish he would do all those things? It's a bit tempting . . . but no, not really, thanks.

As for Vera Nabokov, I thank her for managing Vladimir Nabokov's life and career. I hope she found considerable satisfaction and even some joy in her choice. Because that's what it was--a choice of how to live her life.

8 comments:

  1. Here are some commentson the same--so far a poet, two painters, and a short story / novel writer...

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    1. Add space between "comments" and "on"--and click on comments!

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    2. Absolutely Marly. Now it's a choice. I'm not so sure it was then though.

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    3. Well, some made other choices, but it was not common, that's for sure. And like all quests, other choices were costly.

      You know, to be absolutely truthful, being the amanuensis and jack-of-all-trades for a much-lauded novelist was probably a much more exciting job than the average one held by women of the time. In fact, I'm wondering whether that still might hold true--we tend to forget that the average person doesn't have a splendid, fulfilling job.

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  2. Life is difficult enough without someone else telling you how to live it. Each person must be his or her own drummer, and then that person must march along smartly to the drummed cadence. Who cares about whether or not another writer, parent, or spouse hears and follows a different drummer? So, just keep banging your own drum in your own way. The foregoing curmudgeonly advice is offered with only this condition: feel free to ignore it because it is, after all, the sound and fury of a different drummer.

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    1. Brrr! Just arrived from a not-yet-done track meet. Yes, that's good advice. Not that I wouldn't mind a whole raft of people dying to volunteer on my behalf, but I can't see why they would want to do so!

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  3. I agree that we make our choices. I fell in love, with marriage and a family and a house to renovate, and having baby#3 and my parents to look after, and still trying to do my art in the midst of it. Husband worked two jobs - paid work and renovating, while I cooked and cleaned etc. We have no regrets -except I wish I had that energy I used to have now that it's the two of us.

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    1. I'm always thinking that we have to replace energy with canniness as we get older. I'm not sure exactly what that means as yet, but I definitely have times when the energy isn't there... And I do value the presence of energy in all the arts so greatly.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.