I’ve had a rough year. Not a Hurricane-Harvey-Hurricane-Irma kinda year. Just a garden-variety holy-crap-parts-of-life-can-be-sucky kinda year. I had just turned some of the problems around when a major family emergency hit.
I’m writing this after the emergency is over, and long before the blog gets published. The emergency isn’t mine to share, and the person who is involved values privacy, so I’m not going to give details. I’m going to call the person F.E., because telling a bit of this story requires a bit of information, and I can’t be properly cagey without a name.
This emergency was one of those emergencies that we all experience in our lives. It was what we in the Oregon Writing community call “life rolls.” (We used to roleplay the writing business in one of our classes, and in addition to rolling dice to determine if some story sold or not, the players also got rolls of the dice that indicated things like bankruptcy or marriage or having a baby or loss of a spouse—all those things that can disrupt a perfectly planned future.)
I have experience life rolls since April of 2016, all of them big enough, but not real disrupters. Irritants or emotional heartaches, but nothing that interrupted the writing.
Until this family emergency. One day, I was living my life, meeting my deadlines, going through my daily routine. The next thing I knew, I had drive F.E. to the emergency room, where doctors congregated and looked worried, and I took mental notes for future novels, and heard stories that made the ones I make up seem tame.
(I am so tempted to tell you some of these, but I can’t, since I overheard them from other rooms—and I don’t want to violate patient privacy. Let me simply say the things that people without health insurance suffer through to avoid medical bills are absolutely astounding. The fact that someone can survive those things, even more astounding.)
Anyway, that was but one of two trips to the emergency room in that prolonged period of time. It was punctuated by F.E’s hospital stay and need for after care.
I hit a rhythm in those weeks—medical stuff, cooking, major cleaning, a bit of time for Kris (which was mostly about me going on my run to let out some stress), time to consult with the folks in my normal life and business to keep the home fires burning, a few hours sleep, wake, repeat.
I was astonishingly organized. I managed to channel my OCD mother, and clean like I never have before, and I somehow figured out how to cook foods I had never even contemplated before (and, given my dietary restrictions, couldn’t eat. It’s tough to cook without sampling. That took more self-control than anything).
I got things done.
And, somewhere in the middle of all that—maybe on one of my runs—I realized that I had just entered the life of many, many, many writers I know.
One amazing writer spent years as the caretaker for her in-laws. She took care of them and her family, day-in and day-out, trying to keep her writing alive at the same time. During the years she took care of the in-laws, her writing abilities grew exponentially. Somehow she managed to carve out a few minutes each day and apply those minutes to her work.
Another amazing writer I know became a stay-at-home mom. Her first child needed extra attention, as did her second. Yet she managed, somehow, to find time to write some pretty amazing stories. She also has a great attitude. She knows her kids are only young once, and she’s going to enjoy every minute with them. Then she’ll return to writing full-time.
Then there are the writers I know who have become parents in the years we’ve known each other. Every single one of those writers lost sleep, had diaper duty, lost writing time, and still managed to live their lives with interest and joy.
I also know some writers with killer jobs. The kind that require 80 hours per week and lots of brain power. The kind that the fate of the world literally rests on their shoulders.
Those writers find a handful of minutes every day to write something.
I’ve been exceedingly lucky and damned determined all at the same time. I have arranged my life around the writing. Unlike most people, I almost never have to arrange my writing around my life.
I don’t have children—by design. (Given what I went through as a child, I doubt I would be a good parent, and frankly, I didn’t want to invest the time in parenting classes to learn how to be a good parent. I’ll grandparent my friends’ kids—and hand them back when the day is done.) I don’t have to do midnight crying-baby duty and mushy-peas duty and oh-my-God-what-did-that-kid-eat-to-cause-that-mess diaper duty. I don’t have to prep for the first day of school or figure out if what my kid is experiencing is bullying or just normal kids-will-be-kids moments.
I married another writer. We’re like feral cats sometimes. We interact on a daily basis, but mostly, we walk by ourselves, following our own muses and our own schedules. (It sounds so easy. It took us years to get here.)
We understand the importance of deadlines and missed opportunities. We know that look a writer gets when she’s deep in a story but not typing. We understand those outbursts of enthusiasm about the way someone else tells a story, things that seem utterly irrelevant to non-writers.
For years now—decades, actually—I’ve earned enough money from my writing that I don’t have to go to a day job that I only marginally like. I’m not subject to the whims of a cruel and unfriendly job market or a cruel and unfriendly job. I know how to handle a freelance income. I know how to save. I know when and where to invest. I’ve worked very hard over the years to have control over many aspects of my life, knowing at the same time that control is an illusion and something as arbitrary as a wildfire, hurricane, tsunami, or flood could wipe it all away.
This family emergency, though—it extended beyond the things I normally do for family and friends. Usually I’m one of the people at the hospital with family and friends, or I’m on-the-phone support, helping coordinate the efforts behind the scenes for care.
I’m great in an emergency, particularly when I’m one or two degrees removed from the person in crisis, but I’ve always joked that I’m not a nurturer. What I mean by that is that I can’t be the in-home helper and continue my writing. Those are two different skills for me. So I usually make sure I’m not the in-home care.
In this most recent emergency, I ended up doing the in-home care for more than two weeks. The writing completely vanished. I didn’t even try to catch up or do anything. It was easier not to.
And as I spent my days working very hard at health care, cooking, cleaning, and shopping, I gained an even greater appreciation for the writers who do such things as a matter of course—and somehow keep writing.
You folks are the unsung heroes of our profession. You’re the ones who take care of your families, your kids, your sick parents, your aging grandparents, and somehow manage to write. You have demanding day jobs and still find that hour or two in an incredibly busy day to get words on the page. You give up sleep or that much-needed hour of relaxation to get that little bit of writing done.
You all impress the hell out of me. Each and every day. You’re amazing people.
I thought of that as I was living a completely different life for a few weeks, and remembering just how difficult it is with kids and jobs and rotating family issues.
I realized I hadn’t told you folks how I feel about what you do.
You have my respect and my undying admiration.
And after this year, I felt the need to say so.
“Business Musings: A Few Words in Amazed Appreciation,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / Aleutie.