It’s a Privilege
February 9, 2015 § 8 Comments
It’s a privilege.
I often joke that I wish I was a writer in the old days. Non-specific, old days where artists had patrons who took care of their expenses and living, and all they were responsible for was writing, creating, painting. My husband likes to remind me that I do: him.
This is true. Much like Ann Bauer admits in her Salon piece I, too, must confess that I do not have the pressures that come from having difficult financial circumstances. I live in Dubai in a nice neighborhood. I have help at home, I drive a nice car; I had never considered the word exactly, but I fit the description of being “sponsored.” I work, too, but it has been mostly as an adjunct and let’s face it, that is not the chosen path towards affluence. I have the luxury to be an improviser, be involved in theatre, run a comedy sketch-writing workshop. These are things that being “kept” affords me.
Am I still jealous of other writers? You bet I am.
You see, privilege comes in many different forms. It is true that I don’t have to think too much about shelling out money for conferences, or that I don’t have the pressure of making ends meet. But what this also means that I am at the mercy of someone else’s schedule: Last minute meetings, work trips, a deal that requires furious emailing back and forth. For the sake of my husband’s job, I live thousand of miles away from my writing community without access to “contacts” and “networks” and meetings and readings and all the things that make a writing community.
I am envious of writer friends who do nothing but churn out novel after novel, story after story without being distracted by sick kids and football games. I will admit this out loud: being a mother and a writer is hard work. Probably as hard as “rotting in a cubicle” like Laura Bogart says in her response to Bauer. And yet writers like Jane Smiley, Zadie Smith, Nicole Krauss, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vendela Vida, Curtis Sittenfeld, Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison (the list goes on) make it work.
The lack of privilege of a certain kind is no excuse. It just is what it is. I suspect it is much like anything else: Being a lawyer and a writer, being a doctor and a mother. Two professions in one lifetime is a lot for anyone.
I, too, am making my way through.
What I am suggesting is that there are enough challenges in the writing life without the added guilt of having a particular kind of privilege. As if a lack of financial struggle means I haven’t quite earned…something. A status, perhaps? A badge of merit? Or legitimacy as a writer?
The things Bogart speaks of, the “selling cardigans at Lord & Taylor; a graduate student tutoring kindergarteners on the alphabet and prepping high-school seniors for their SATs; an adjunct with a five-class courseload across two campuses” are indeed difficulties. But just as she has made room for writing in her life, so do I, so do we all.
And in some ways, I feel that anyone’s success as a writer comes despite the privilege, and not completely because of it. The debate about the different challenges writers face is out there and if we are to spend more time exploring it, perhaps the discussion could use a focus on the different aspects of the shared experience of struggle, and not just the idea of making a living. Yes, it is important to acknowledge where we are and what the things are that make our lives easier, but if I look around, if I ask all the writers I know, most would say they are making their way through in one way or another.
A writer friend and I had this conversation over text in the wake of the debate over acknowledging privilege.
“I feel our desire to write is equally legitimate,” I was saying, “not related to what we have.”
“Well, it is,” she goes, “somehow even more so that we are willing to create art despite not having all these struggles. Besides,” she said, coming back from a brief disappearance, “I am kept and I am still cleaning the bathroom.”
Hananah Zaheer writes, lives, and teaches in Dubai. She is an Associate Fiction Editor for the Potomac Review.