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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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And You May Tell Yourself This Is Not Your Beautiful Wife

I have to get back to my novel or I'll kill myself.

Lots of guest post contenders rolling in. Thank you! Many have arrived with tons of flattery and sucking up. Bring it. There were also lots of questions, so let me clarify: I’m looking for five guest posts for the week that I’m away in October. I will choose five posts from those submitted and those five will all get a FREE copy of the newly revised and updated FFTT. So send me your post and your address by October 10.

Over the weekend, I did something I rarely do. I opted out going to my in-laws so that I could stay home and write. This is radical. I always do the right thing. In eighteen years of marriage, I think I’ve opted out of family obligations three times. I think about great writers and I wonder if they capitulate to family and social obligations. Or are they ruthless with their time? I spent the day on the final polish of the pilot and banging out a first draft of an essay for Publishing Perspectives. My in-laws would never say anything; they are polite people. But I know it’s frowned upon. My husband has taken many such days and weekends (he just sold his first novel!); but I still feel guilty, like I’m a selfish bitch. For fuck’s sake, these pages don’t write themselves!

One of my heroes always used to say: Loyalty to the family is tyranny to the self. How do you deal with taking time from family or friends to write? Do you?

32 Responses

  1. as a matter of fact, i stayed home this weekend and finished the cowboy story because i’ve got a deadline. husband and kids went away without me.

    i like it.

    oddly, they think i don’t like being alone because they call me each evening and i answer the phone. chat. in truth, i am highly productive without interruptions. i stay in the story the entire time they’re away.

    i started writing after having kids so i only know interrupted time. these big chunks of time are like chocolate.

  2. yes. Yes. YES!

    i play a game with myself, “What’s More Important?”

    i pair what writing i can accomplish against whatever activity i will miss accomplishing it. if it’s going to make my children happy, i usually choose family over writing…but if it’s for anybody else other than my kids or husband then my writing has a better chance of winning.

    i don’t always pick wisely as a writer, but at least i do pick writing some of the time. and i rarely say, “i’m writing.” i always blame it on work which is my writing, but i make it sound like it’s my 9 – 5 work.

    what kind of writing career doesn’t have it’s fair share of white lies with a fair amount of self-serving alone time?

  3. “Loyalty to the family is tyranny to the self?” Couldn’t. Disagree. More.

    • Why, Hamilton…that’s because you are a man…I’m. Not. Kidding.

      • What i described is by no means a “hobby”… The “easily” is naturally excluded…
        Every artist creates, within a context of daily life. It certainly isn’t easy. But it may be
        be that navigating in these rough waters, that unstable equilibrium between the demands of
        daily life and that of art is what is important and feeds the artist. There is always chaos
        destruction, that is sure and if you’re conscious of others you try to limit it. To each his daily
        life and it is hard to compare. Whether you write as if going to an office at fixed hours or write
        anytime, anywhere, it’s possible to find a mechanism that will allow it (notebook in pocket with
        pencil). I can think of a number of artists with complicated daily lives who continued to produce
        great work… If one can build a life that facilitates art, so much the better. But I believe
        that it is rare. Or one can become Attila the hun, destroying everything that obstructs the
        artistic life.

      • Hmmmm, Jennifer J., not sure what you mean by this. Hmmmm.

      • “angel in the house” is what i mean.

  4. Find time to write like Iris Murdoch, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Bronte, Julie Hecht, Hilary Mantel, George Eliot if you don’t have kids.

  5. I take what I need and give what I dare not withhold. Zero-sum game. Same as it ever was.

  6. I model myself on Bart Simpson – I do what I feel like! I don’t have a conventional family or normal friends though. Everyone’s pretty easy going and there are no expectations that you HAVE to do things or go places. I like it that way! After all, it’s your life and your time and you have the right to do what you want with it.

  7. I don’t cultivate friendships. As to family, it seems they appear every time I get a free moment to write. I’ve been known to throw things. “I’m WRITING.” I like to say that the hierarchy of my life goes God, family, and work, but I don’t even count the writing. The writing is something else. It’s everything to me. A friend recently asked if I’m “still writing,” a question I hate. When I’m not writing, I’m dead.

  8. Family always first. In-laws… well, that’s different…

  9. The caption on the photo above says it all.

  10. got you’ll all beat! I didn’t go to my father’s funeral. . . . I stayed home and wrote a story about a small part of my life …it is called “How I Learned to Play Bouree” – free to anyone who cares…..

  11. I dont have any friends … Photography and painting take more “visible” time away . Writing is easier – it can be done in short bursts anywhere, I find it has a very minimal impact on the time I spend with my kids… Spend 1 or 2 hours a day, not even every day, and 6 to 8 months later, you may have written a novel…

  12. I took 5 years away from my writing career to be the caregiver for my mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s. We lived next door, I could “adjust” my schedule, I’m the youngest daughter-in-law, my father-in-law is “old school” and expects “the girl” to do the housework, etc.

    Part of me is so glad I was able to take care of her. She was a wonderful woman and terribly frightened about being placed in a home. BUT it nearly destroyed my writing career (7 published novels, Doubleday, Wm Morrow, HarperCollins, Publisher’s Weekly bestseller, translations) and battered my self-esteem.

    Now with 3 parents close and needing help, I am helping, but I’m also insisting that other family members step up and do their share. I’ve “re-educated” my father-in-law. I’m being very proactive about my writing time. And yes, I feel guilty! Yikes, what is it with us women?

  13. I don’t know that there should be any problem here. Why does it have to be a choice of doing one or the other? There is always time to write. A writer can and should be able to write anytime under any circumstances. To say that a social obligation takes away from writing strikes me as so much bullshit. An excuse. Perhaps if one is laboring under a deadline then perhaps foregoing a social function may be unavoidable. And I don’t know, this tyranny of self due to loyalty of the family sounds to me like so much self-serving crap. Sorry, I don’t buy any of this for one second.

  14. I typically don’t have to choose between writing and family time. We live so far away from family that those kinds of obligations don’t pop up very often. Sometimes I have to stop writing to go to kid-oriented functions, but my kids are pretty used to me having the door shut so I can write. The only reasons to bother me are fire, blood or death. So far, they’ve interrupted me for lots of things, but no fire, blood or death. It’s a process.

  15. It’s never the lack of real time and space so much as the dedicated head space that is the problem for me. Brooding time is what I need a lot of and that means nobody else’s needs or wants or likes or dislikes or judgements or experiences are dominating my ability to imagine and visualize the world I am creating.

    People saying I am odd or selfish or anti social or not showing up for them can kiss my ass.

  16. There are a handful of people I really love. They come first. But those are also the people that understand when I need my writing time, and being able to ask for it so tempting… I’m constantly negotiating with myself on what to give my time to.

  17. @Anonymous 10 a.m. You’ve not ever taken care of a person with Alzheimer’s I see. Do you know what a person with serious dementia can do with a bowel movement?

    • I guess I didn’t make myself clear… I was referring to ‘social events’ I wouldn’t consider obligations to an Alzheimer patient and what they can do with a bowel movement a ‘social obligation or event’. Dealing with dementia and creative bowel movements falls under an altogether different category: It’s called loving and caring for someone no matter what.

    • Social obligations can take many forms – from caring for a loved one to attending a family dinner or visit. These obligations, in most families, fall to the women. For many men – not all men, obviously – being there for family means showing up and nothing more. They don’t always seem to understand the active part of showing up. The shit-scrubbing part.

      Someone needs to do the shopping and cook the meal and scrub the house and the kids and figure out what needs to be done in the first place. We do what we can with the finite amount of energy we are all given. Sometimes even being a guest is exhausting.

      (I know I’m not the only one with a fabulous cake recipe that the hostess would love me to bring. Made from scratch, of course. With homemade lemon curd that takes forever to cook and has to be stirred the entire time. My husband comes in to check its progress on his way back to the couch.)

      Someone like you, Sue, has to make sure the shit gets cleaned up. (I know of what I speak – have you ever seen a colostomy bag explode? It’s something to behold, let me tell you.)

      There’s very little payoff – except for the tenuous bit of self-satisfaction you allow yourself to feel, and the comfort you know you’re providing. I don’t think it’s wrong to take a little back. I refuse to think I’m a selfish bitch if one of the people I care about is me.

      You’re the ‘someone else’ who will take care of things. You’re my heroine, Sue.

  18. Showing up when bodies fail the ones we adore is to me a sacred responsibility.

  19. congratulations to your husband!

    • Ditto. Can you share the details, Betsy, or does that go against your marital vows?

      As for my family obligations, it’s a smoother road now that my children are grown. My mother remains a different story. She’s supportive of the theory of writing, but the necessity of the actual daily practice eludes her. She thinks I should be more available for dinners. And she told me I need to watch more television.

  20. I usually do the right thing for others, often to my own detriment. The great women writers? They figured out a way to protect their writing time, gave up most everything else, had someone else take care of them and the family. Ruthless no doubt. Good for you, Betsy. You are singing!

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