Episode 6: Writing vs. Parenting

Time-Stamped Show Notes

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[0:41] – SEGMENT ONE: Author, essayist, and editor Brian Doyle recounts a parenting moment he regrets.

  • [2:08] – Brian Doyle wrote “A Sin,” a personal essay about this moment with his son, which exemplifies the universal struggle of parenting.
  • [2:30] – Afterward, Brian received hundreds of letters from dads about their own, similar experiences.

 [3:24] – INTRO: In this episode of From the Margins, we explore what parenting is like as a writer. How do you prioritize the responsibilities of both writing and parenting? Should you let your kid read your work? Is it ethical to write about your own children? Is it irresponsible to have children as a writer?

[5:28] SEGMENT TWO: We hear a conversation between Michelle Tea and Jerry Stahl, recorded at the Words & Ideas Stage at the 2015 Bumbershoot Festival. The panel, titled “Parenting with a Past,” was organized by Girl Friday Productions.

  • [6:18] – Jerry Stall’s book Permanent Midnight was made into a movie. The memoir details his struggle with drug addiction, and includes a scene where he’s shooting up heroin in the hospital bathroom while his first daughter is being born.
  • [7:19] – Jerry and Michelle discuss when to let your child read your work.
  • [8:05] – Twenty-six years later, Jerry now has a second daughter with his second wife, and has been sober for twenty years.
  • [8:30] – At age 59, Jerry got a do-over with his second daughter, and documented the early years of her life in a column for The Rumpus, which was eventually made into a book titled OG Dad.
  • [08:43] – OG Dad details Jerry’s struggles and triumphs as a father while battling Hepatitis C.
  •  [11:09] – The idea of having a baby came to Michelle Tea at age forty, which she describes in her book How to Grow Up.
  • [12:05] – Michelle had three problems in her way: 1) She wasn’t partnered at the time, 2) science said she was too old, and 3) the biggest problem for freelance writers: she might not have been financially stable enough to have a family.
  • [12:40] – Michelle resolved that having children couldn’t just be a privilege for rich people and decided to give it a shot.
  • [13:15] – Michelle came in contact with a drag queen who was willing to donate his sperm.
  • [18:15] – How does being a parent affect a writer’s creativity and the balance between work and family? Michelle gives her answer to this question.
  • [20:05] – Writing while parenting demands a certain kind of discipline.

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[22:00] SEGMENT THREE: Poet Wendy Chin-Tanner reads “Saying Yes”. Wendy discusses how being a mother reawakened her urge to write poetry.

  • [23:22] – After a negative experience with a literary agent, Wendy had a ten-year period of writer’s block. She went into academia during that time.
  • [24:10] – Wendy’s writing form changed after her daughter Lucy was born.
  • [25:23] – The ongoing failures of parenting allowed Wendy to accept the failures of writing.
  • [26:48] – Being a writer has a greater set of excuses for not getting the work done. Wendy discusses her creative rhythm and schedule.

[28:24] – SEGMENT FOUR: William “Bill Kenower is a father who learned about his relationship with writing through his relationship with his son.

  • [28:44] – Bill’s son, Sawyer, was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when he was eight years old.
  • [29:30] – Jen, Bill’s wife, proposed the idea of “joining” to engage Sawyer.
  • [30:35] – Bill and his wife decided to homeschool Sawyer. Everything Sawyer did at school felt wrong to him.
  •  [34:55] – Sawyer taught Bill how to love unconditionally, because he couldn’t require anything from him. Bill had to trust that his son would be fine on his own.
  • [35:33] – Sawyer’s laser focus inspired Bill in his writing. He says, “No one can tell you what to write.” It should come from within.
  • [36:08] – When it comes to craft, Bill says that’s only half the battle. The other half is confidence that can take the form of unconditional love, which you must have for the story you are telling.
  • [38:00] – Bill says that for parents who are writers, taking good care of themselves is necessary for good writing and good parenting.

[39:14] – LAST SEGMENT: Leslie “Lam” Miller, one of the CEOs of Girl Friday, describes how to strike a balance between writing, editing, and parenting.

  • [40:40] – Lam and her business partner, Ingrid, began working again one month after their children were born. It was difficult because work required a lot of multitasking between motherly duties and editing duties.
  • [41:37] – While working for their previous employer, Lam and Ingrid felt that their desire to be good parents and good editors wasn’t respected. Although they’d both moved to a“part-time” schedule, their hours and workload didn’t decrease. What did decrease was the pay. Both Lam and Ingrid felt that being a good editor and a good mom couldn’t be mutually exclusive.
  • [42:00] – Lam and Ingrid started Girl Friday ten years ago.
  • [44:34] – Lam says she thinks there are many ways that being a parent helped her become a better editor.
  • [48:10] – Fitting writing into the busy life of a parent is the eternal challenge. Lam says the trick is to not devalue writing.
  • [49:05] – How do you know you’re a writer? Lam answers: “Writers write, and they write because they are compelled to do so, and keep doing it.”

 [50:20] – CLOSING: Devon closes the episode with a quotation from Madeleine L’Engle

Key Points

  • Jerry Stahl describes how he has written about his second chance at being a good father.
  • Michelle Tea discusses how writing while parenting taught her many things, like how it demands a certain kind of discipline to put more meaning into the things you create.
  • Wendy Chin-Tanner describes how, through parenting, she was able to break through her writer’s block.
  • Bill Kenower reminds parents that taking good care of themselves is necessary for not only good writing but also good parenting.
  • Lam Miller explains how the parent-writer/editor balance was one of the founding principles of Girl Friday.

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