Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Identity and In-Laws

My in-laws are visiting for a week starting today. Lovely people. Honest. We get along for the most part and although we’re not best buds, I know I can count on my husband’s parents for anything.

So what’s the problem? They don’t know I write. As far as they’re concerned, I fritter away my time while my husband works. Quite a reversal for an educated woman who had clearly achieved some measure of professional success in another life. Do they think I’m lazy? Unmotivated? Depressed? It’s hard to say since it never comes up except in oblique, sideways references.


I’ve run into this issue with friends and acquaintances as well. There are some people I just don’t know well enough to tell them about my creative aspirations. If I meet someone at happy hour, I’m not going to launch into my plans for the umpteenth revision of my WIP. I’m sorry but I don’t trust my dreams and hopes with just anyone. (There's a great post at Diary of a Virgin Novelist that also talks about this issue).

Even close friends of mine don’t know. If I fail, I want my failures to be as private as possible in this day and age. I’m still insecure with my progress. I keep thinking it will be a lot easier to tell people what I do once I have publication credits to point them to. (Agent Nathan Bransford calls this the “if only game”). Without evidence, I feel like a cheat. A wannabe. I feel the whisper of failure.

So I don’t talk about writing. I don’t talk about the one thing that has shaped my life into what it is today. I keep it all bottled up inside. When people do inevitably ask me what I do, I play the fool, cultivating the image that I’m just some pampered housewife taking her time figuring out what gives her life meaning besides cooking, cleaning, and laundry. This way, my deep dark secret is safe. But at the same time, I’ve discounted my intelligence, my abilities, my determination. People don’t take me seriously. And I’m accustomed to being taken seriously. It’s quite a reversal, and I’m still trying to cope with it.

I feel like my interaction with people who don’t know I write are monochromatic, one-note, absent of vibrancy and meaning, because I’m holding some much of myself back because of vague notions of pride, fear, and self-preservation. It’s not something I necessarily enjoy. I’ve gotten better about it. I’ve let a person here and there in on the big secret with no obvious ramifications. I felt a bit more entitled to the idea of being a writer after attending my first writing conference. And then of course, I always have my colleagues from my writing groups to help put things in perspective.

But there’s something about the in-laws that makes everything worse. They don’t know. They won’t ask. And I just end up feeling awkward about the whole thing. Even if I do succeed someday in getting published, I’m not sure if they’re the type of people who would understand my decision to write when more practical, prudent paths are available to me.

But what’s important is my husband understands. He understood my desire to write before I ever articulated it. I’m thankful for that everyday I get to play with words. And usually that’s enough.

7 comments:

Jeffrey Beesler said...

There's nothing shameful in being a writer. If people don't understand that writing is part of who you are, then that's their problem, not yours. You shouldn't hide who you are away from them, even if they are in-laws. It's just like someone trying to hide their sexual orientation from the world. Shame belongs on those who make others feel ashamed about themselves.

Bluestocking said...

Yeah, I know I'm a big scaredy cat. And I realize my stance is a defense mechanism more than anything else. The in-laws would probably be fine with it (maybe even answer a few questions), but my paranoia of how I'm perceived, the oh-so-important question whether I'm good enough for their little boy, gives me pause. I think my insecurity is the issue, not them. Just having this writing thing and not telling them about it makes our interactions a little fuzzy, less genuine, and that's not their fault but mine. I'll grow a pair one day...

KB Lawrence said...

Worse than in-laws not knowing you write - when they know you write and keep asking to read it!

I guess this depends on what you write, but my stuff is not so in-law friendly. :)

Shame is not such a good reason to hide what you do, but it sounds like you're ashamed of what people think of you when they don't know you write (pampered housewife). It sounds like you keep things to yourself because you are protecting a dream. Not always a bad idea.

I don't tell anyone I write because then they ask annoying and awkward questions about what I'm writing. And they want to read it. And then my cover would be blown - I'd be revealed for the crazy woman I really am!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I taught school for 17 years and when I stopped my in laws seemed to think that I was sitting around eating bon bons divising plans of how to spend their sons money...I'm usually very lady like and well mannered, but after the second year of "taking it" I turned around and said that I didn't think I'd have time to do something (I don't remember what it was) because I had to eat bon bons and buy new dresses that day. There mouths dropped and I never heard a word about what I do now that I don't have a job. They actually are very supportive of my writing now. I recently let them read one of my manuscripts....They get it now and they give me so much more respect now than when I was working???

I always defined myself as a teacher and when I stopped and couldn't define myself. When I was able to label myself as an aspiring writer I could tell people who I was. Now that I have a couple publications (no books yet) I do call myself a writer. Tell a teenager you are a writer when you are looking at the ya section in B & N...Watch the excitement in their face...be ready to answer their questions...they won't be hard, but you'll feel inspired when you're done chatting with them. Really!

Saumya said...

This post really resonates with me. I had to ask myself why I used to shy away from telling people that I am a writer. For me, a lot of it was that fear of failure and the obligation to explain myself and live to others expectations of what a "successful writer" does. I think it's great that you have found what you are comfortable with but don't forget to be proud of yourself because you are pursuing something that many people only get around to in theory. I realized, through a long winded way, that nobody else needs to understand my journey as a writer. Because it is purely mine and nobody else's. Some will appreciate, others won't. And that's just fine :) P.S. In laws always plant tension, even if it's just a tiny bit.

Bluestocking said...

Thanks KB, Sharon, and Saumya for sharing your experiences!

KB, you're right, having the in-laws wanting to read my stuff would be another type of problem. I get chills just thinking about my father-in-law reading the love scenes in my book...

Sharon, it sounds like you are in a good place with respect to your identity and how your in-laws perceive you and your work. I hope things will work out that way for me once I tell them everything one day.

Saumya, yes, definitely, everyone's journey is different. And some people can respect that, and the others, well, we don't care what they think anyway :)

Thanks for the comments!

Darla said...

Great post (and it generated wonderful comments as well) so thanks! :-)

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