Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Money & Writing & Desire

I had my first two kids under the poverty level. My husband made $17,000 a year. We lived in a three-bedroom condo and rented two of the bedrooms to foreign students, a boarding house situation. I had to provide breakfast and serve dinners. Our friends' year-end bonuses were already three times what we made in a year. We were willing to sacrifice things like privacy and dignity for ... time. Meanwhile, we aspired to the poverty level.

It was lonesome, in a way. We didn't travel. We didn't go out to dinners. We couldn't really afford to have people over for dinner -- and there was always a Brazilian dentist or a Korean woman who wanted to be a stewardess lurking around. It was awkward at best.

One of the guys in my husband's wedding party visited with his family. He told us, years later, that he and his wife talked about us all the way back to Connecticut. They told each other how crazy we were. What were we thinking?

And what were we thinking? I don't really know. Even back then, I was squirreling away money. Passing off fish sticks and beans as "typical American cuisine," made specifically to enlighten our boarders about all things Americana, I was siphoning funds and putting 'em in the bank. At Christmas, we put lights on a fake wood beam in the dining room of the condo and told the kids it was a tree.

In those early years, it was crucial that I didn't desire a sofa too much. I knew that money was really time and freedom. My husband got better jobs. We bought a house but still had to take in foreign boarders.

Time passed, and just as I'd squirreled away money, I squirreled away hours. Finding time to make stories and poems was like making bread from dust.

Finally, I had an agent ask for a novel. I decided it was time to get serious. I asked my parents for a loan for a babysitter -- the loan was for $500. I promised to pay it back.

I hired sitters. I made writing rules. I was never allowed to do anything other than write when the kids were asleep or the sitter was there. Laundry, shopping, taxes, everything had to be done with the kids at my feet, on my back.

I wrote the novel.

Two more kids and fifteen books later, I'm writing this ... There's a sitter here. The youngest is asleep. I pay for the sitter myself. I sometimes desire sofas. I still squirrel away my money and my time.

And the friends of ours who drove home to Connecticut that afternoon years ago talking about how crazy we were, no longer think we are. They think we had a great master plan and saw the whole broad picture. But, honestly, we had no plan, no broad picture. We went day to day, hour to hour, one moment to the next ...