When John Updike passed away recently, Charlie Rose aired a great retrospective of his handful of interviews with Updike and I watched absorbed, as I have always loved Updike, and Charlie Rose fairly gushes when interviewing him. One stand out moment for a writer watching enraptured as I was - and I’m paraphrasing the wondrous Updike here - he said "If I’m not writing at least six hours a day, six days a week, I feel like I’m faking it, that I can’t call myself a writer." He equated it with a carpenter and other professions showing up to the grind.
I caught the message, and while I do sit here for some extended hours of the day, I don’t write six hours worth of steady writing a day. My first thought when I was watching as he said it was: Yeah, well where was Mrs. Updike during those six hours, six days a week? For many years, I imagine, raising his kids, doing his laundry, making his meals, etc., while he got to wile away his time in front of his notebook and typewriter, blissfully alone with his thoughts in order to write them down.
I have a strong work ethic that plants my butt in this chair in front of this computer everyday. But it’s a highly interrupted work ethic as I still manage the household from my seat as well as watch the baby and the guys, and garden and laundry, and well, you get the idea. While I am writing, or not writing as the case may be, I am still managing S’s special needs with his school, which currently involves shooting emails to his teacher, but not much more, thankfully. It was a rough couple of years there. I’m still trying to figure out the better ways to manage his development positively at home and keep tabs on the teen and the toddler who is generally in my arms or getting into the wires underfoot.
In the meantime I’m constantly sketching scenes in my head when I’m away from the computer attending to life, and often find myself quite divided and making very slow progress on the manuscript. Nevermind, being so close to its end that I’m leaping ahead mentally to other ideas… really can’t wait until I I finish this manuscript, so that when I am listening to my kids, I am present. When I hug them, that is all I am doing, not mentally writing a possible scene variation at the same time.
Is this ADD? Is it simply the limitations of a brain functioning on a minimum of sleep for several years now? Is it is just the thoughts at this stage of a manuscript for any writer who also happens to be a mother-wife-you name your hyphenation here. I have lots of them. I choose all of the above particularly that last bit. I am too busy having a life and managing so many others, that I can’t have the old Virginia Woolf Room of One’s Own experience. Neither can any of the other writer-mothers I know. I feel torn in many directions all the time, but mostly between the kids, my husband, and writing.
So I’m no John Updike. I do however really miss his articles in the New Yorker tremendously.