Sunday, August 31, 2008

ArmadilloCon 2008: Living With A Creator

"Living With A Creator" panelists were five spouses of creators (writers and artists): 3 women and 2 men. Perhaps unintendedly, the panel provided material for observations as to how an experience of living with a creator differed along gender lines. Take housework. One writer's husband said one of the perks of living with a professional writer is that he never has to lift a finger around the house. Never needs to rush home to feed the dog, does not have to take time off to wait for a plumber, and hardly knows how to operate a washing machine! It's all his wife's job because she has the flexibility of being at home whenever she needs to. It was apparent that not all spouses viewed it the same way, though. One artist's spouse said her husband's cleaning is a sign that he is in the "incubation phase" of his new work. When he's thinking about about his next project, but haven't started it yet, that's when he cleans -- as a way to procrastinate a little before plunging into work.

This reminded me what I heard on another panel, "Why I Write", in which more than half of the panelists proceeded to tell us why they don't write. Some of them put their writing on hiatus for predictable reasons, such as jobs and personal lives being too overwhelming at the moment. One author said that even though her husband lets her stay home and write, she can't. Instead she spends hours on Facebook. "Perhaps having a regular job to go to would help me structure my life for writing?" she asked. "I feel very guitly not writing, but I enjoy playing games on my computer". Well, well -- it resonated with what I've been thinking, that I am lucky my financial circumstances do not allow me to write full time. Otherwise I would be like her, and I would certainly not be a nice "creator" to live with. :-)

"Creatives" not too willing to collaborate

Do creative professionals and their spouses often collaborate? Is it common for spouses to offer ideas to writers / artists? The prevailing answers were: yes to the second, no to the first. Spouses' suggestions are not taken very often if at all, though some good may come out of unsolicited offering. When Joe Haldeman is facing a roadblock in the plot of a book he's writing, his wife Gay Haldeman tends to offer him ideas on how to proceed; he rejects them all, but after a few rounds of that he often figures out what to do next. So all this bouncing of ideas off of one another is not in vain. And Karen Lansdale once helped Joe Lansdale come up with an ending for his story which he had not been able to figure out himself, probably since he had been looking at it too long. So Joe put her name on that story. (I don't know if didn't mention the title of the story, or I just didn't catch it.)

Creative or not, it's tough to work in solitude

A big part of the panel revolved around the more mundane aspects of writers and artists jobs, that are not much different from any self-employed person's. The panic attacks that set in when you find out you've miscalculated the taxes you owe by $8000; the compromises necessary to balance the interactions between a spouse that works alone all day, and the one that comes home in the evening fried from their job. People who work at home face characteristic challenges of loneliness and lack of motivation. Two panelists revealed their writerly spouses seek distractions from solitude. One writes while watching old movies to keep her company, another works while reading a newspaper and chatting with a friend on the phone. (And I thought I was bad for checking email every 30 seconds while writing! :-) But unlike me, they had produced something publishable. So perhaps not all is lost for me despite my distractibility.)

What about the glamorous aspects of a creator's life?

There weren't many stories about dealing with the more esoteric or glamorous aspects of a creator's life. No groupie stories -- imagine that! Not even in science fiction writers' lives! :-) Perhaps we should have invited Neil Gaiman's wife to the panel. :-) And what about the perception of creatives as brooding, emotional, self-absorbed types -- isn't there a rich vein for stories there? The panelists didn't go far into that topic, except to admit that their spouses' moods are indeed affected by whether their creative project is going well, and what kind of reviews their books have been getting. One panelist put it this way: living with a woman who's writing a book is like living with a woman who's just had a baby. All her attention goes to it, so you have to learn to take a second seat.

The upsides of living with a creative

And the upsides of living with a creative professional? For one thing, you get to go to exclusive parties at conventions; though not all spouses enjoyed convention going, and some found SFWA parties boring, it turned out to be worthwhile for some of them when they unexpectedly ran into a Very Important Person they've always dreamed of meeting.

In a more extreme case, Gay Haldeman recalled someone saying to her: "I'm thinking of stealing your Rolodex", because there were all those famous people from Stephen King to George Lucas in it. "Oh, are they?" Gay replied. I don't know what I should be more envious about: the fact that she had rubbed shoulders with all those people or that it was so commonplace for her she didn't realize it was noteworthy! :-)

Gay Haldeman, David Lee Anderson's wife, Karen Lansdale

Gay Haldeman, David Lee Anderson's wife, and Karen Lansdale. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2008 are available in my photo gallery.

A less tangible perk of living with a writer or artist is that your kids (if you have them) often venture into creative professions too -- if only because they don't know any other way of life. In addition, they may develop other kinds of creativity, such as finding ingenious ways to talk back to grownups. David Lee Anderson's wife said their son never put his name on his homework, even though that was required in school. When asked why he didn't do that, he said: mom, you sign a painting when it's finished. "He never finished his homework," David Lee added.

Pictures from ArmadilloCon 2008 are available in my photo gallery.

1 comment:

Scott Zrubek said...

Whoa! I'm in your photo gallery. Cool!