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?”