The Writer in Real Life

Posted: April 12th, 2010 under Life beyond writing.

Real Life has been interesting this past week.  As in “May you live in interesting times” interesting, but not REALLY interesting times.    The interestingness divides into health issues (about which I will be reticent, except to say that two of three people in the family have some and medical and dental appointments are ongoing)  and “organization of life, in light of changes.”

Some of you know that our son is autistic and adult-by-age.   He started taking classes at a community college in the city in January–“developmental” classes (meaning, what people didn’t learn in high school) –and has done well with them so far.   Luckily for us, those classes clustered on Tuesday and Thursday, so we had to transport him only two days a week.    We drove him 20 miles to a bus terminus, then he rode the bus into the city (another 30 miles), changed buses, and rode to his campus.   Still that was 4 gallons of gas and two hours on the road, those days.

He wanted to take summer classes–and the best classes for him were a MWF class and a TTh class.   So he needed to be in the city five days a week, and my enthusiasm for spending ten hours on the road and 20 gallons of gas was, shall we say, limited.   Besides, he wanted to move to the city (he states his main motivation for education, right now, is to not have to live in this small town the rest of his life.)  We had said, if he did well we’d see about moving him to the city next fall…but now is the hour, it turns out.

So there’s been hunting for apartments, talking to rental offices, visiting places, and so on.   Saturday, we started the application process for an apartment in a nice complex very close to the campus.   Whereupon the status of a writer in real life was made very clear….none.  Eyebrows arched in disbelief, the nice young woman in the office said “You don’t have a W-2?”  No.   None of us have full-time jobs, in the form that rental agencies recognize full-time jobs.   It did not help that our small rural bank does not send out monthly statements promptly on the first of the month (their accounting month is staggered) so the nice young woman was adamant that a statement running into March was not enough–she had to have the one that included the bit of April we’re in.   Which we didn’t have.  Because it hasn’t arrived yet.

Eventually she agreed to at least accept money for processing the application and we will find out later this week if we’re considered acceptable.   If we’re not, we have to start over somewhere else.   Walking distance to the campus would be best, followed by “something on the bus route that goes to the campus and doesn’t take an hour to get there.”

Meanwhile, there’s the thing with our son’s disability payments.   If his disability doesn’t cover his rent, utililties, and food…and we supplement that…then they cut his disability payment.  (I know, that seems insane, as it forces families to supplement more to make up for the loss, but there it is…)   The only places in the city where a single person can live alone on SSI are those regularly visited by police because they’re dangerous, so yes, we have to supplement it.

Meanwhile, I need to get the vet out to give the horses their spring shots.  Meanwhile, I need to organize son’s stuff for the probable move.  Meanwhile, I need to see about a new lawn mower because the one we had is disabled at present and the repair people say they can’t get to it for another couple of weeks, and the grass is playing bamboo, and I need to get the big tractor fixed so I can mow maintenance paths on the land (and then I need to do that.)   Meanwhile, I need to be working on Book III and the maps for Book II, and it would be ideal if I’d take a whole day to visit all the bookstores in the city and sign shelf stock.    Meanwhile,  there’s the vegetable garden in need of work, and I haven’t planted in all the herbs yet.   Meanwhile the house….well, let’s not go there.  Oh, yeah, and taxes.  (Yes, I’m perfectly aware it’s April 12 and the deadline is April 15.   It will be done today.  Last week was devoted to other things.

Somewhere in the 20-25 year ago range, there was a book review in The New Yorker in which the reviewer, not entirely happy with the novel under review,  ended “more in sorrow than in anger” with the comment that it probably was unreasonable to expect writers to be able to offer any assistance through life’s problems when they lived lives of social isolation, far from the everyday concerns of others.   That particular day, I was just in from a trip to a regional medical center with our son for his augmented communications appointment, had dealt with the exterminators about a termite problem, and was juggling half a dozen other things that I can’t quite remember now (it was in spring; it may’ve been tax stuff.)   And I wanted to grab that reviewer by the ears and scream at him:  “Writers aren’t all single self-indulgent navel-gazing white guys.”  But of course, in the eyes of The New Yorker, I wasn’t a writer, really.

The thing I’ve learned is that being a writer–even a fairly successful writer–does not have any of the magical effects I thought it did when I was young and hadn’t published anything.    Hot water heaters continue to burst in the middle of the night.   Mufflers continue to fall off cars; brakes still go out occasionally; transmissions make one of a variety of noises that make mechanics happy at the prospect.   Termites are undeterred by literary fame.   Windows break when hit; roofs leak as they age;  critters get into the house and have to be removed (in our case, wasps, bees, lizards, and the occasional so-far-nonvenomous snake) or killed (mice, rats, cockroaches, cone-nosed bugs, etc.   Teeth decay, and so also the contents of that dish shoved too far back in the refrigerator.   We get older and aren’t as spry or strong and need medications we didn’t need.  Clothes don’t wash themselves or put themselves away–dishes, ditto.   Perfect ingredients like those on cooking shows don’t magically appear in the fridge and pantry (actually, I’d like “America’s Text Kitchen” (er…America’s Test Kitchen…edited to correct…)  to magically appear where my kitchen is when I touch the button.  Along with all those helpers.)

On the whole, this is good.  I know my writing’s better because my life is full of LifeStuff.   I’m frequently annoyed when I’m interrupted to deal with the predictable and familiar crises, but I think it’s good for any writer (and especially me) to be forced into contact with people and things and problems that need solving–other than the fictional ones in the books.   I know I’m lucky to be able to make a living writing books.   But sometimes, like this past week and (looking ahead) this week, things seem to gang up on me and the writing is done in tiny snatches, notes jotted down on envelopes and 3×5 cards already covered with other notes from previous crunchy times.

I do wish, however, that rental companies would at least recognize the possibility that an irregular income from writing does not mean the writer is probably insolvent every other month.   It’s humiliating to realize that not only does the nice young lady with the expressive eyebrows not believe you have the money…but that she probably doesn’t read fiction at all, let alone genre fiction, and thus is even more sure the writer is not going to qualify.

1 Comment »

  • Comment by Martin LaBar — April 15, 2010 @ 4:14 pm


    You are a writer, whatever the New Yorker says.

    Sorry for all this. God help you, your husband, and your son.

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