Sunday, September 11, 2016

If Having Children was like Writing Books

The life of a writer is peppered with misunderstandings. 

For example, well-meaning people have often attributed my voluntary childless existence to the fact that I am a writer. Perhaps there is a belief that the focus, dedication and endurance required of motherhood has been, in my case, channeled into writing instead.

They will speak of my current work in progress as my latest child or else mention my 'babies' to mean books. 

Yet as many writers and mothers will tell you, these two passions are entirely different and mutually exclusive - I know many authors who are also mothers, one doesn't replace the other and vice-versa. 

Perhaps the allusion to books as babies originates from age old beliefs that women are meant to be mothers first.  And if they are not...then it is assumed that it is because they have fulfilled a need through another means. Note that one does not often hear of a male writer's literary babies, the book/baby metaphor is mostly used with women. 

Being spoken to about my literary babies does not enchant me. I see no parallel between writing and being a mother. 

A mother's journey is a social, family- and friend-seeking journey.  Writing is a solitary endeavor, one of isolation. Solitude is as crucial to creating a book as it is for many creative pursuits.

Writers are a poorly understood group of people and like many creative minds are prone to mental illness and suicide. Consider that some forms of psychosis involve a
 fixed belief in an imaginary world that lasts months or years.  This is similar to what the novelist goes through to write their book.

Writers choose the path less traveled because that is part of their nature.  On the other hand, having children is still a common, universal path. It is a well understood behavior and in some countries, it is still socially expected.

It is reductive also to compare the two.  Mothers may well be offended by the comparison, and right they are!  A book is not a living person.

As a writer who has been doubted and questioned for my choices in the past, and who has lived the journey so far, I also find it simplistic and offensive when the writer's journey is construed and interpreted as what it is not. Especially by those who know little about it. 

The sum of it is that you need to be in the shoes of a writer to know what it feels like, in the same way you would have to be a mother to know what it feels like. 

Anyway, the comparison led me to humorously imagine what mothering really would be like if having children was like writing a novel....

So here we go - if having children was like writing books:

* There would be PUBLIC online reviews and ratings for how well you are doing as a mother.  This may include blatant disparaging comments like how your previous kid was better than the current one, how your abilities as a mother have declined over time etc...

* People who have never had children, or never taken care of kids (non-writers) would be seen as authorities on your child, and these people's public review or word of mouth would determine other people's perception of you as a mother.

Let's see how this would look like: 

Remember all these are public... How do you feel? Would you be ready to keep doing it? 

Read on...

* You would not get paid by the government for child support; you would be seen as an eccentric who needed to prove their worth as a mother and compete with other mothers in order to receive some support grant for your efforts.

* People would find you annoying/repetitive/boastful/vain/freaking boisterous for posting pics of your child on social media.

* Some people would not want to know about your child unless the child had won some award or been recommended in some way by some friend or legitimate authority.

* You would be a minority - few other people would have had children and so few would understand your journey.   (Yes, only a small percentage of the world's individuals actually do write a book!)

* Some people would always see you as a wannabe and never treat you seriously as a mother.

* Schools (aka bookstores) would refuse to take in your child based on your method of birthing.

* You would not get paid a cent by your full-time employer for choosing to take a few months off from work to realize what you see as your natural calling - aka have a baby; nor would they hold your job for you.  (Writing is my calling - I know I could never ask for 6 months off work, partly paid, to write books and then return. That is a dream.)

* Some people would ask you, "but, have you been a mother before?" to mean that you can't seriously intend to be a mother otherwise (aka -  Are you published? Are you going to publish it?)

* It would often take years for your child to be born, and  in that time, there would be zero physical evidence of your long journey and so you would receive no support, and people would wonder whether you are at all having a child or dabbling with words, and whether this child is happening at all, or if you are just a FAKE.

* People would ask whether you have had a traditional hospital birth with REAL medical staff or a self-run home birth with a midwife, and then... treat you and your child differently based on the method used to birth it; they may choose to have nothing to do with your child for that same reason.

* You could have children at a very old age... at 70 or 80; you could have one child per year or more... 

* You would want 10 or 25 of them; three or four would never be enough for all that passion inside you; you would crave the opportunity to create children non-stop.

* Talking deeply and meaningfully about your children would be something you would limit or never do, as most people would not understand what you are going through since, like writing a book, it would be a relatively rare endeavor  - if you are lucky you would have a couple of people who know of your journey and these people would 'get you'. If you are lucky. 

* You would not enjoy a yearly celebratory day dedicated to you where everyone glorifies how mothers change the world and bring meaning to their children's lives - nobody would really care about you being a mother until you are DEAD and sometimes never; and you would be ok with that!  ( Writers have and do change lives... Often they also change the world but no day is dedicated to them...)

* Strangers all over the world would know about your child and be touched by it; though you may never hear of them.

* Strangers all over the world would know of you.

* If you are lucky, strangers would remember you and your child long after you die.

And there you have it, the comparison seems almost silly now that one reflects on it.  We could substitute writing here with any other creative activity.