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It’s not fucking fair.
That’s what Cara Hoffmann announced after listening to the rest of the Pen Parentis panel talking about how they so appreciated their spouse for taking the kids for four hours here and two hours there so the writer could finish a chapter of the latest book. She raised a son on her own as a writer – and it was hard and bloody work. Well, ok, maybe not terribly bloody…but if you’ve read Cara’s phenomenal breakout novel, So Much Pretty, you might wonder.
How did she do it? The same way Mahogany Brown raised her daughter alone – as a poet it might be even harder than as a fiction writer – she told her kid that this was her career and she taught her child to treat that career with respect. Really, it’s no different to tell your child “Daddy has to write this proposal so that his company will earn 5M in the next merger acquisitions deal, so please watch Dora on the TV for a little while and then I’ll read you a story.” What you are doing is prioritizing work. And that’s damned hard, but guess what, life isn’t fair. Only people can be fair: and what each of these women admitted was how grateful they were to the industry people who understood when they were told that the deadline would be missed by a hair because, as a single mom, there was nothing to be done about it.
But here’s what’s gorgeous: both Hoffman and Brown instilled a real respect into their kids. Writing wasn’t a hobby. It wasn’t something done for fun and laughs. Writing was a career. And by incorporating their kids into their lives this fully, these single-moms raised kids who not only respected and admired their mothers, but the kids themselves grew up to be successful artists: Hoffman’s son is in a quite-popular band, and Brown’s daughter won a writing award.
We can do this for our kids. Single parents more than anyone with a double income, should also take advantage of all the grants and fellowships out there that want to fund great writing. Try for a Sustainable Arts Foundation Grant. A Jerome Foundation Grant. Even the NEA grants are not out of your reach, if you are serious. I went to a presentation they made at AWP in Chicago, and discovered that the judges for the NEA grant change every year – you can apply with the same material up to five years in a row without any penalty. In fact they want you to reapply! We all know that taste is subjective, why not keep trying? You can’t win the lottery without playing, and getting grants is a lot like winning the lottery. Find out how these things are run, follow the rules, and apply. Your hardship bio will likely turn a few heads that otherwise are stuck in academic clouds.
I have absolutely no idea what I’ll be writing about next week. I just had a birthday. Maybe that’s the problem – saw time, slipping slowly through the glass…