I am a writer. It has taken me years to speak those words, and even then I tended to mumble my way through them when anyone asked what I did. I am a writer. A while back I quit a job and pursued my dream of writing full-time, but still it took me years to adopt that as part of my identity. Now, just as that label has started to feel comfortable and true, life and relationship are changing my priorities. I am a writer. I don’t know if that mantra fits me anymore. What do we do when marriage reorders our dreams and shifts our goals?
When I wrote last week about our first anniversary, I mentioned that two of the great stresses in our first year together have been new jobs for both of us. The difficulty of my transition has had less to do with adjusting to a new position and more about letting go of my old one: writing fiction. I left a great full-time job in Los Angeles in 2012 to spend a season of life as a full-time writer. I co-wrote a few screenplays, mostly silly comedies that still make me laugh out loud even if no one else will ever get the chance to laugh at them on-screen. When my writing partner became pregnant and took time off for family, it afforded me the space to work on my own project, a series of fantasy novels that take place in 1930s Hollywood. I released two of the books in 2015 and have been finishing the next two, which were supposed to be released in early spring but are still languishing in the final editing stages. Life has a way of getting in the way.
Writing has been everything I ever hoped it would be: productive, challenging, rewarding, maddening, empowering. It has been exactly the career I’ve wanted except for one crucial element — it has not been especially profitable. I saved up going into the endeavor, knowing that it takes years to build an audience and gain traction. But that traction has not been as forthcoming as I’d hoped, and last year it became clear that my career of writing fiction full-time may last for a season rather than for a lifetime.
Enter marriage. It has a way of sending priorities topsy-turvy. Constantino has been nothing but supportive of my writing; he’s been my biggest fan. When I told him I thought it was time for me to go back to work, he seemed as reluctant about the change as I was. We have a fantastical dream of our own that allows me to continue writing my books. In this dream, Constantino works full time, and I write part time while I homeschool our (not-yet-existent) children. It’s a nice dream, but it’s not practical. To have children we need more space; to have space we need more money; to have more money I need a better-paying job. And that leads us to where we are today.
It’s not easy when two dreams compete for our time and attention. Before marriage, nothing competed with my goal of being a full-time writer. My schedule, my finances, and my social life were all ordered around it. Marriage hasn’t quashed that dream, but it has demoted it. Now, having a home in which we can potentially raise children is the guiding dream, and everything else falls secondary to that. Neither of us has bemoaned this reordering of priorities — it feels as if a larger, more significant dream has blossomed between us, and we’re both excited about what the future holds. Although we’re not yet prepared to buy a home, we have fun poking around online and imagining the possibilities.
And yet, something in me aches. The thing I’ve loved so dearly now sits in the corner and collects dust. My writing is like the family dog that gets neglected after a new baby is born. It was once the center of my attention, and now it’s the afterthought. The few minutes I throw into my writing two or three times a week is a halfhearted attempt to pretend that it still is a priority. I usually end these sessions feeling worse, like an absentee father who takes his kid out for ice cream once a month and calls it a relationship.
This weekend I had some time alone to process what I was feeling, and it felt like grief. When Constantino read a first draft of this blog post, we both broke into tears and spent the next few minutes blubbering on the couch. My dream became his dream too. But for one dream to grow, sometimes another must pass. We’ve planted the seed of our new dream, and it will be beautiful. But right now I’m still sitting by the sickbed of my old dream, watching it suffer. I haven’t given up hope; I will comfort it and hold its hand, hoping to resuscitate it some day.
And yet, as I try to speak my mantra, the words get jumbled and they come out differently: Am I a writer? For a time I was. I hope I still am.
David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland.