Party Clown, Writer, and Marathoner: The Choices We Make

I hear it a lot – this dichotomy between “life” and “work,” as in “I work to live.”  We say it because we’re trying to express that our work isn’t the central point of our lives, and I get that and respect the idea. But I hate the dichotomy.

I hate it especially when it comes to art and writing because we live in a culture where artistic pursuits are already demeaned and devalued, where the creation of art is supposed to be a “pastime,” not a vocation.

So when a someone sets up a battle between “life” and “writing,” I feel my hackles rise a bit. When we set up this configuration, there’s no way for writing to be acceptable because if we choose writing, then, we are not living.  We relegate, as my friend A said, writing to the place of a hobby, and hobbies are always dispensable.

There’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with prioritizing other things over writing. We all have to make the choices each day requires within the 24 hours we are given.

The trouble isn’t hobbies or priorities; the trouble is when we act as if we’re making some sort of grand ethical choice when we put our writing aside or when we don’t. Because choosing to write or not write isn’t an ethical issue – it’s just a matter of how we choose to spend our time. 

For me, writing is life giving. I need it to feel whole and healthy. For others, it’s a pastime, a way to remember what happened in the day, an activity which gives them pleasure but which isn’t central to their lives.  Both of those ways of viewing writing are healthy and good.

The unhealthiness is when we use our own guilt about not doing what we think we should be doing – for many people I know, that’s writing – and turn it into a place to take the moral high ground.  When we position our choice to do something – writing, working at the coffee shop, serving as a criminal defense attorney, raising children, baking really good bread – as superior to the choices others make about how to spend their time in healthy ways, when we declare what we are doing as “right” or “real” or “life,” we marginalize the choices of others. We declare ourselves superior.

And we subtly imply, perhaps unintentionally, that someone who chooses to, say, write or teach or read or run with her time isn’t really living.  We act as if those people who are not doing the thing we have chosen to do are making lesser choices rather than just different ones.

The writing life does not express the pinnacle of existence for everyone, but neither is it the life of dilettante who doesn’t know what “real” life is about.  And neither is (most) any other way of spending our days.  These are all just choices of how we make life out of the hours we’ve been given.

I choose to spend my hours writing, to prioritize that in my life because it’s what keeps me healthy and loving to other people in my life. It’s also how I make my living. But if you choose to spend your hours running marathons or caring for horses or being a clown at people’s birthday parties and that choice makes you healthy and whole, then I applaud you.

But let’s not pretend that our choice to NOT to do those things is because we have chosen a superior way.

When have you marginalized your writing or other things you enjoy doing or that make you healthy because somehow you believe they are not really “life?”

  • Amy

    This is good. In fact, maybe I’ll print it and post it at my writing desk. Just to clarify, (and I’m sitting here thinking maybe this is a completely separate issue altogether), when I commented yesterday on making this choice, it came from a heart that had been broken seeing my husband in the hospital for eighteen days, knowing life was going to change drastically for a while, and knowing I’d spent much of our time “together” over the previous months with my head buried in my laptop. I wanted that time back desperately in that moment. I know it doesn’t have to be either/or, but it felt like I’d made a choice that was indeed writing…over family. Writing over and instead of experiencing moments I would never get back. Writing instead of living moments to later write about! I confess, I’m still figuring all of this out. Apparently not very well at times. This helps. All of this is still very fresh. I need to wrestle with it in print for a bit so that I’ll begin to hear what my heart’s really saying here.

  • Andi

    I hear ya, Amy, and I know just what you mean. The problem, as I see it, is when we blame the act for what we’ve missed. I used to do that with teaching – if I wasn’t teaching, then I’d be living. Well, the truth is that I made the choice to teach and to teach the way I did, and that choice was part of living. The only way to change that is to make different choices in the future. And writing is part of living moments . . . it may not be the way some of us want to spend those moments, but it is about living. It really is.

    I look forward to seeing what you come to as you think about these things.

  • Jamie Kocur

    I agree that writing (or whatever it is that makes you alive) needs to be part of life. One of my big problems is just getting caught up in the drama of everyday life and everything else that *must* get done and before I know it the day’s gone and I haven’t written… but I think that’s a separate issue and all about my crappy time management skills. :)

    At the same time, some days I’ve found I simply don’t have time to write. Be it extra hours I have to work at my day job or a family event that takes up the whole day, some days I find the time is not there. Perhaps it’s still about my crappy time management, but sometimes I need to drop the guilt I feel about not writing and just be in the moment. And maybe I’m technically “writing” in that moment, even if it’s not pen to paper. My mind is taking mental notes that might be used later when I do sit down to write.

    I appreciate your perspective. I never thought of things this way.

    • Andi

      I know just what you mean, Jamie. Some days, it’s hard to find time to work on my creative stuff, too. That’s life, I think. But yeah, I think you need to drop the guilt and just grab hold of the priorities you have. If spending the day with family is more important one day, then, really enjoy it. You can maybe write about it later if you want or not. But the guilt does no good. It’s just about owning that your priority is family or the extra hours at work. And realizing that owning your choice to write is okay, too. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about people when you choose to make that your priority.

  • Christine Niles

    Honestly, the thing I marginalize most is rest. In a world that overvalues “busy,” as long as there’s a white space on the calendar, the extroverts in my house seem to think that there’s time for one more activity or meeting or lunch or coffee date. And I go along with it because, well, that’s what normal people do. It’s the selfish or weak that say “no, it’s too much.”

    Then I get sick and burned out and depressed, and I want to do nothing but watch Downton Abbey all day long.

    • Jamie Kocur

      Let me know when you do that Downton Abbey marathon. I’d like to get in on that. :)

    • Pilar

      I never watched Downton Abbey, but I keep hearing it’s great.

  • Andi

    Yep, exactly, Christine. We pick certain things as valuable – busyness, making money, keeping our house clean, etc – and we decide that if other people don’t live up that expectation they are lesser. But as you noted, the only thing we can control is our own choices . . . so here’s to a hug and an affirmation that you can say, “No.” But if you end up doing that marathon, I’m with Jamie . . . just let me know. I”ll make the drive up. :)

  • Pilar

    When I was in my teens and pursuing my dream of an acting/singing career. My father would accuse me of playing. He believed in working to make money. If you weren’t successful and making money, then you were just playing and wasting your life away. This is what my father drilled into me, which is why I pursued a steady income, a job, instead of continuing my art. I do regret it. So I completely concur with everything you wrote Andi and commend you for living your dreams. I admire you.

    • Andi

      I’m so sorry that you were not encouraged in your dreams and were told that your work was just play. How hurtful.

      I think we can do that to other artists, too, if we act like our work isn’t important because it doesn’t make money or because we – sometimes – have to do it alone.

      Thanks for sharing this.

  • tim gallen

    completely agree, andi. life is about the choices. and after yesterday’s facebook thread i got thinking. for too long i made the choice not to write and i fell into deep pits of depression and anxiety. when i got back into my writing, i realized my life is my writing. there is no way to suppress the latter because, as the past few years have shown me, without it, i’m not living.

    • Andi

      It’s so hard, Tim, to embrace what we need to do because, I think, sometimes we’re told that doing what is healthy for us is selfish. In fact, though, it’s the opposite because when we aren’t healthy we don’t love well. Bravo to you for embracing what you need.

  • LarryTheDeuce

    I know people who would poo poo writing, but spend their time hunting, fishing, or bar hopping. Funny that they don’t see value in writing, but they do in those other things.

  • Steve Thomas

    It makes me mad when people quote that line about “nobody ever regretted on their deathbed having spent too little time working.”

    I know too many people who’ve complained to me that their late husband spent too little on life insurance, but their late husband had previously complained to me that their wives spent too much time frittering away their money on useless crap instead of using if for something important like paying down the mortgage or buying life insurance.

    And I’ve had people whine about the time I spent on the computer writing or programming when my wife was spending 17 years dying of lupus, but a job in town would have cost us money for commuting, money for laundry, and would have left my wife alone, instead of being able to respond to her cry when she needed something.

    At the time, I tried to explain to them. Then I progressed to ignoring them. What I should have done, I thought at the time, was to ask them for a donation equal to the money I was earning and the value of the skills I was learning. These days, I’m thinking I should have thrown those people out of the house, using the vilest, most objectionable language I could come up with.

    In the Godfather Saga, we learn to keep our friends close and our enemies closer. No problem keeping your enemies close, though; in many cases, they are your relatives. Have you ever met my first mother-in-law, Beelzebub?

    Do the right thing, though the cock crows three times. You can never please everyone, but as a child of God, you need to please yourself.

  • Leigh

    We are such self-obsessed folks, aren’t we? We even make other’s choices about us! It’s crazy when I think about it. But I’m guilty of it too. What a great reminder to do what is important to me and let other’s choices be their own. No judgment.

  • Martha Orlando

    Writing for me, too, is something which makes me feel healthy, happy and fulfilled. I’m so grateful that I finally decided to pursue this dream full time. And, you are so right about not judging others because what makes them happy is something completely different. We all have our different gifts and interests which we should develop with a passion.
    Blessings to you, Andi!

  • Tara

    I marginalized my writing for years, thinking of it as a useful tool I successfully employed when necessary for different business and advocacy purposes. I am only now beginning to understand that it is a gift that is integral to the way I’ve been put together, a surprisingly important gift in and of itself along with comedy and speaking. I am only now getting comfortable elevating “my writing” to its proper place, but it is a fun journey. Figuring out where to go with it and what to do with it comes next, but right now it is enough to be acknowledging it for what it is! Thanks for prompting the thought, Andi.