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“My kid and I talk a lot about the books we read together throughout the day, bringing them to life, and this reaffirms to me that writing and stories matter to people’s lives” ~Domenica Ruta, author.
PP: Describe your life in the context of writing, parenting and other employment (if applicable).
DR: I am a mother first and always will be. It’s not convenient but I never signed up for convenience. What I wanted was a big full life and a sustainable career in the arts and I have exactly that. So I take care of a kid that I love more than life, I clean the house, I go to meetings in church basements where alcoholics talk about getting and staying sober, I talk and text a lot with sober alcoholics all day long, some I mentor, some mentor me, I teach undergraduate and graduate level creative writing when I am hired to, I write book reviews when I am asked to, I hustle a little to get more of those teaching and reviewing gigs, and I write, if not every day then at least every week, whatever I want to write, on my terms.
I have a four-year-old son, and I live in the heart of New York City.
PP: How do you integrate creative writing into your parenting/work responsibilities?
DR: I don’t have a schedule. My life and the needs of the people I love are too unpredictable to adhere to a schedule. I can’t always write every day, but when I think of it in terms of weekly writing, I can see I get a lot more done. I squeeze in time when I can find it. Sometimes I cannot sit down to write until after lunch. Sometimes it is 5am. It depends on the day.
I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve never been very good at keeping a schedule, even before I became a mother. When my son was an infant everyone kept lecturing me about sleep training and sleep schedules and all that. I tried to do that but my son had other plans. One day, at one of his baby check-ups, I confessed to the pediatrician, “He doesn’t have a schedule but he has a pattern.” She smiled – and she is not a smiling woman ordinarily – and told me I was wise. My whole life, including my writing life works like that – there is not a schedule with concrete appointment times but there are habits and patterns I honor..
PP: What’s awesome about being a parent who writes?
DR: I was a solo mom for the first almost four years of my kid’s life. I had very little support but was fortunate enough to have some money in savings to invest in day care so I could write and work. I hate that my son doesn’t live with me every day of the year but the fact that he spends every other weekend with his dad has helped me to get things done I could not otherwise do.
I really love the podcast “The Slow Down” with poet laureate Tracy K. Smith. It is daily and only about ten minutes long. She does a little dharma talk, often about being a parent and wife herself, then reads a poem. It gets my head into a good space before setting out to write.
Reading to my kid is my favorite part of the day. I’m sure many parents who are not writers enjoy this too, but for me, it is the perfect intersection of everything I love. My kid and I talk a lot about the books we read together throughout the day, bringing them to life, and this reaffirms to me that writing and stories matter to people’s lives.
PP: What’s challenging about it? What do you need?
DR: The financial insecurity is terrifying. I can spend several years working on a book and there is no guarantee that it will earn me a penny. That is a huge risk to take when you have kids. I pay for health insurance out of pocket as I am the perennial freelancer with no full time employer.
I need what every goddamn family in this country needs: universal health care, high quality low-cost or free public child care, and free higher education so that my child doesn’t plunge into debt before he has a chance to start a career of his own.
PP: What’s your advice for other parents who write?
DR: Stop making excuses. Toni Morrison did it as a single mother with three kids and a full-time job with a commute. You can do it, too. I am glad I did not know how hard it would be. That ignorance let me foolishly jump off a cliff without looking back. Be as flexible as possible in every way.
Domenica Ruta is a fiction writer and memoirist from Massachusetts. A scholarship kid at Phillips Academy Andover and Oberlin College, she has worked as a videographer and editor, a book store clerk, a waitress, a bartender, an English-as-a-Foreign-Language teacher, a nanny, a nursing home caregiver, a domestic violence hotline advocate and a house cleaner. She received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin.
Her first book, the memoir With or Without You, was a New York Times Bestseller and named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the top three nonfiction books of the year 2013. The Boston Globe, Macleans, NPR, Slate, Elle, Bust, Oprah.com and USA Today all loved it.
Her first novel, Last Day, was released May 28, 2019 from Spiegel & Grau/Penguin Random House. The New York Times called it “darkly glittering.”
She co-edited the anthology “We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart and Humor” forthcoming September 2019.
Domenica Ruta’s short fiction has been published in the Boston Review, the Indiana Review and Epoch. Her essays have appeared in 9th Letter, New York Magazine and elsewhere. She reviews books for the New York Times, Oprah.com and the American Scholar, and works as an editor, curator, and advocate for solo moms at ESME.com