Friday, June 24, 2011

The Gambler

I am not a gambler. I hate the thought of risking something I have for the chance of something I don't have.  I like solid. I like steady and reliable. I like certain. And now I am at the age where some of those gambles have paid off for friends. I see it, but it doesn't make me more adventurous. I can congratulate the friend on their latest success, but in my head there may be a litany of questions that make me equally sure I would not have made the gamble, even if I knew the outcome (was that career really worth your marriage? was that house really worth the debt? was that activity you signed your kid up for really worth the toll it took on family life?).

This makes it even weirder that I have been trying to write a novel for the last eighteen months. (Big deal, a novel, who doesn't try to write a novel?) What exactly am I doing this for? Do I hope that some day I'll be a Writer, a word that needs a font for dramatic flourishes? Do I want to get it published some day? Cuz fat chance. That almost never happens. Why am I gambling all this time and effort and money - yes, money, because anything you put this much effort into will cost you something eventually. What do I hope to get if I win?

I don't know. I remember reading about JK Rowling, when she was a newly divorced single mom and very poor, sitting in a coffeehouse, writing and writing the Harry Potter books and drinking coffee. I know how that coffee must have cost her. I have had periods of life, including the one I'm in, where the price of a cup of coffee was a big deal. I bet she agonized over it. I bet she wondered how she could justify spending the money at a coffeehouse just so she could write a book that no one would ever publish, when she could save a few pounds by staying home.

I am in a coffeehouse right now. Not a good one; an unimaginative chain with reliable wifi. I am here because I am working on a novel, and I cannot write at home. If I try to write at home, the girls shout their pleas for attention through the door at me. Or someone stumbles and hurts herself and I have to get up to make sure she is okay. The demands of children are too constant at home for me to focus on anything else, and I am too tired at the end of the day to write after they finally fall asleep.

So I am gambling on a cup of coffee, handing over some of our preciously pinched pennies for impersonal quiet with internet access. I have a few hours of work on something that may never pay off in any real way. I am risking family resources to do it, an amount that costs us, even if it would be negligible to other people. And I can't really explain why.


  1. i have faith it will be worth it. because you're a great Writer *insert dramatic flourishes* :) keep on, keep on. please.

  2. Saying it may never pay off makes the assumption that you are writing this book purely for the money, and I know you well enough to doubt that. You have a story to tell, and putting that to paper is worth the cost of the coffee. Getting away from the kids alone is worth the cost of coffee. ;-)

  3. Even if it never gets published, I say that the coffee is worth it. You are getting away from the demands that sap you of your creative spirit. You are giving yourself room to breathe and think and create. I'm obviously not saying kids are great creativity-suckers, but that all of us need ways to reconnect with something inside us that is not mother. If that makes any sense. Anyway, you are investing in yourself and that can only benefit you and your family.

  4. I am doing the same thing. I know the chances of ever getting published are negligible. And most published writers don't make enough to give up their day jobs. And fitting the writing around the demands of kids, work and domestic bliss is so damn hard some days. matter how many rational arguments I make in defence of giving up, I can't stop writing. So it must be the right thing to do.

    Write on.

  5. Once, when the boys were younger, I blogged or Tweeted about how often I had to drive them to sleep for their naps, and gas was so expensive. You remarked something along the lines of "Driving them to sleep at $3.50 a gallon is still cheaper than the therapy bills you would need otherwise." I think the same principle might apply here, too.

    Anyhow, writing is good for you. Writing fiction is a way of knowing the world, and revealing truth about the world in a particular way. Concrete universal, blah blah blah. What I'm saying is, it's surely worth something.

  6. If you are writing despite everything, then there is more to the writing than just a possible end pay-off. There is definitely a present benefit.

    Maybe it reminds me a little bit of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - have you read it? Where everyone in the family gets as much watered down coffee as they want during the day, and Francie, the little girl, often just holds the cup in her hands for the warmth and the smell and then dumps it down the sink. It's her small extravagance amidst life's difficulties.

    So write on, and enjoy your cup of coffee.

  7. Probably because you must. Probably because it is much, much better than not doing it. Probably because that cost of not doing it would be higher in the long run - in the emotional strain of not having written it, in the money you would spend on other things, inevitably, making up for the lack of it. I believe that, at any rate.

    Moments - just moments now, I think about giving up my birth work/freelancing dream and think of kids in all day school (pretty soon) and just getting a job for, you know, cash. And I could. I would if I had too. But it would cost so much now. Two years of wading in and doing this with almost no childcare costs - just relying on friends and family for support- and suddenly now, it is almost working - almost earning its keep! In a few months everyone will be at school and I can devote more time and energy (and money, you are spot on) to making it work. I have allowed myself this first school year of everyone being at school to see if I can make it work.

    At the end of it, well, who knows. I am not ready to say what. I am just hoping my gamble pays off.

  8. I have a friend who works (as an attorney) part-time (side note: really? part-time? But she assures me, yes....). She says she would be a terrible parent if she had to be a totally SAHM.

    I dunno. I think she short-changes herself. BUT, I have found that I need some "me" time (how "Gen-X" of me...oy) for me to be something other than a screaming maniac.

    Today I had a girl come over and watch my boys so I could get out of the house. I had a girly errand to run. I spent about 1 1/2 hours going into three girly shops, not spending money, just browsing, and bought a coffee at a local place.

    I needed that. I was able to come home, make dinner on a Friday afternoon, and not strangle someone. That, in itself, is worth something. You, writing? Fabulous. And having a chance to do it in peace? Worth a cup of expensive coffee.

  9. Anonymous6/24/2011

    I understand. Maybe more than I wish I did.

  10. Anonymous6/26/2011

    If you write it, I will buy it :).