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What does it mean to be a writer?
It means that your kids come home every day in their six years in elementary school and tell you that all their friends are going to Disneyland and why can’t we? We, as in the royal “we” – so disappointed are they in your parentage. You placate them with the fact that we get to go visit grandma and grandpa in Balzac, Alta., (population 450) this year.
And, if they are especially good, then we can stop at the Balzac Meat Packing Plant en route to the Crossiron Mills outlet mall.
It means that come soccer season, you and your artist husband sift through the change jar for quarters for shin pads for your children.
It means you are up in the cold dark morning before your kids rise, or still up in the late dark night after you’ve tucked, sang, watered and threatened your children to stay in bed so you can clatter furiously away on your trusty keyboard. And no one knows why, least of all you.
It means your days are filled with other worlds, weird characters that speak to you, made up places and plots and subplots, so many climaxes and resolutions you could be in a porn film – but no. This entire make-me-believe fictional universe of yours is worthy of not one therapist, but a whole team of therapists.
It means that you get to share the unfurnished, unheated room in the basement with your cat and her litter box while the children your husband is supposed to be minding are pounding up and down the basement stairs playing hide and seek behind your makeshift desk, which is also the freezer.
It means that in doldrums of February, when Disneyland is still an unrealized dream, all your gainfully employed girlfriends and their full-time-working husbands get to go to Cuba and Hawaii and Palm Springs.
“Why can’t we?” you ask yourself.
But you, the perennial writer, knows the answer to that question. Writing is sacrifice. Writing is hard work. Writing is discipline. Writing is meaningful. Writing is life. Writing is love. Writing is evanescent. Writing is everything.
Writing is bull crap. Cuba and Hawaii and Palm Springs in February are everything.
It means if you are stupid enough to marry another creative type, you have the combined income of two kids with a newspaper route.
It means if you are childless and work full-time, that you have no real friends outside of your writer friends, save Fred, your one childhood friend on Facebook that has never – will never – desert you. Or it means all your friends are in Cuba or Hawaii or Palm Springs.
It means after a hard, focused session of writing, you wander the grocery aisle with glazed-over eyes still fully immersed in your make-believe world.
It means if you don’t snap out of it soon, the men in the white coats from the meat department are coming to take you to the Balzac Meat Packing Plant.
It means that if you fail to save your 6,000th edit of the Greatest Book the World Has Ever Seen or, worse, your trusty laptop smokes then goes dark and dies, it takes your lifeblood along with it.
“Fried hard drive, can’t help you,” the computer technician on the phone says.
Your life, as you know it, is over. There is no point in going on. You pet the cat one last time, trudge up the basement stairs, lie face down on the sofa until the kids and/or your husband, your neighbour that has never seen you outside your bathrobe pounds at the front door and you get up and start over on the Greatest Book the World Has Ever Seen.
It means that come income-tax time, your combined wealth is substantially below welfare status and your friends who just got back from Cuba complain because they had to pay as much in income tax as you earned last year.
It means that you have the free and easy life. It means you get to do what you love.
It means you are the go-to person who has no job, so surely you can babysit my kids? Surely, you can drive the entire basketball team to Strathmore and Airdrie and Cochrane for the full season because you’re not working, right?
It means when you publish that first story, that first poem or – glory be – you hold the Greatest Book the World Has Ever Seen in your hands, you bet your writer butt that you are going to read your own book on public transit and at the doctor’s office in the off chance that someone will ask, “What are you reading?”
Then, you will tell them. Oh boy, you will tell them about your years of free and easy, loving sacrifice, the cold basement, the cat box, your kids that never got to go to Disneyland and are now in therapy.
The late/early hours, your swirling, welfare universe of characters and plots and climaxes – all of which you carried around in your head for years. Your green, green grass of home, and Fred, your childhood friend on Facebook, who never deserted you, who never for a single second doubted that you would do it.
It means you finally know the answer to that question: Why am I doing this?
It means you are a writer.
Lee Kvern lives in Okotoks, Alta.