“Five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate…a lock on the door means the power to think for yourself.”
“It takes perseverance, the ability to endure criticism and rejection, a willingness to take other work to stay the course and finally, talent. A lot of talent. Boatloads of talent. Do all talented writers get published? Of course not. Most of them don’t while; many who are mediocre do. But that’s art and writing and the world we inhabit and an issue I can’t allow myself to contemplate lest it turn me into a bitter, blocked writer.”
What is the relationship of money to art? Necessary and uncomfortable and obvious and vague. I grew up with a bunch of rich kids and lots of them became artists. But that is a false syllogism: A=Rich kids have money, B=Many rich kids become artists, C=You need to be rich to be an artist. Still, my classmates could afford expensive private art schools where they received the education, support and connections to stick it out. Money can only do so much, however.
I have never been financially independent and a serious writer. The jobs I have held as a writer range from mother to college writing instructor to full-time high school English teacher to Literacy Consultant. Still, I’m not sure whether financial independence was ever the point. I like to work. I wrote my third novel while working full-time as a high school English teacher, and and while being a divorced mother and trying to appease the misery of my now husband’s, then boyfriend’s, three children.
The night before HarperCollins bought the book, I was having my hair combed through with lice removal shampoo by the aforementioned man as his child had given us all lice. School was beginning the next day, and my agent had been completely silent for weeks.
“I’ll never get published again,” I said to my boyfriend who had the wisdom not to answer. He didn’t know me as a writer, anyway. I taught high school and swam and spoiled my only child. I wasn’t a person he associated with novels. The next day my agent e-mailed to tell me the book was going to auction. Later that day she called me to say it had sold for 6 figures. I had no basis for comparison. I turned to a man outside my gym and told him. He did not react. I burst into tears behind the wheel of my car with the thought, “This was my dream, now what do I do?”
The thing is, it’s not really my dream. Yes, it’s part of my dream but the other part is about teaching and literacy and helping writers discover their identities, their memories, their hopes and lost wishes. I want to support minority, at-risk and needy adolescents to find a writing practice and also help them get to college.
I suffered terribly as a teenager. My parents’ marriage was dangerous, while my beloved eldest sister danced on the edge of death with drugs and scary people she met in college. I was neglected and taught nothing about self-worth so men wrote their desires on my body and I could not find the vocabulary to protest. I drank myself into unconsciousness and felt such shame it had the impact of a branding iron. Through recovery, therapy, forgiveness, publishing, motherhood, a happy marriage, work and, above all, writing, I have “the power to contemplate.”
The money may give me a “lock on the door” but it will be frequently unlocked to welcome my students to a place of safety and happiness where they can find their voices, tell their stories and write their own futures.