A few weeks ago, over drinks in a dark, downstairs bar, I asked Jamal, my newly minted husband, how he would feel about having a Write at Home Wife. It’s sort of like a Stay at Home Wife, only I’d be devoting myself to writing. I haven’t written anything substantial since Paris, a fact that is simultaneously depressing and incomprehensible. I felt the happiest, most alive, most fulfilled those eight weeks in Paris, because I was writing every single day. That was my job. Surely Paris was only part of the magic, and if I chose to make writing my full-time focus here, I’d find myself as productive and contented as I had been there. Or at least more satisfied than my current 9-5 situation, without question.
But I asked his opinion because I’m told that’s what you do in a marriage, and because, truthfully, a part of me is concerned about how it would look to other people. Girl marries older, successful career man, immediately quits job to stay home (and write). Jamal’s friends’ wives are doctors, lawyers, PhD holders. My own friends are no less impressive; two of my best friends are nurses, one keeps people alive after furious gunshot wounds, the other delivers babies into the world. Another jets off to Prague and Buenos Aires, assisting on commercial shoots for a major ad agency. My own mother earned her Masters Degree while shuttling me back and forth to school and ballet class. Isn’t it lazy to stay home? Wouldn’t it appear opportunistic to let my husband provide for me while I sit at my desk and nurture my inner Hemingway? Isn’t this so typically millennial of me, needing to feel wholly indulged in what makes me happy? I have nearly a year’s salary in my savings account (the idea of spending Jamal’s money makes me too uncomfortable), but isn’t the feeling of needing to justify my choice with some financial fact wrong in some way, too?
I asked Jamal, as we stirred our speakeasy cocktails with unpronounceable ingredients, “And what happens when I finish this novel? What then?”
“Then you write another one,” he said, thus affirming every decision I’d made to this point in my life with regards to his place in it.
But really, what happens then? What happens if I finish this novel, if I take a year and make writing my full-time job, and nothing comes of it? Do I write another one? And another? And if none of these manuscripts see the light of day, what do I have to show for my time? For my life? Am I still a writer if the only thing it achieves is making me feel fulfilled?
So when I came across this Ask Polly feature in New York Magazine’s The Cut, it hit so close to home I almost could have written the question myself. A woman, an artist, in her early thirties, is struggling with devoting herself to her art without feeling guilty. She writes, “My husband makes the living, but I would like to carry some weight. Am I just a shameful lazy bum who wants the world to carry me so I can be an Artiste? I want to create art, but I want to be socially accepted as well, as more than a dreamer.”
Ding ding ding.
The advice “Polly” gives is so poignant, so encouraging, that I’ve been coming back to the article near daily, just to feel reaffirmed. I haven’t made a decision yet, and I’m still plugging away at my desk job, with the slow burn of my novel somewhere in the background. At some point, this balance will change. But damn am I grateful for these words: