I envy Ann Bauerâ€™s life.
I began reading her piece for Salon, â€œâ€˜Sponsoredâ€™ by my husband: Why itâ€™s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from,â€ in late January, when it was published and when I saw it my Twitter feed. I finished reading it and writing about it today because I donâ€™t have her life.
I feel bad for wanting her life, or perhaps just hypocritical. Sure, Iâ€™m breaking a commandment not to covet, but Iâ€™m on the fringes of Christianity anyway, so thatâ€™s not my issue. Desiring Bauerâ€™s life makes me feel like an impostor. Iâ€™m a traditional girl masquerading as a feminist.
Bauerâ€™s husband works hard at a job that pays enough for both of them and their children to live well, allowing her to write full-time, not as a journalist employed full-time at a magazine, or as a teacher or professor, but as a novelist, contributing columnist, and consultantâ€”the kind of writer who writes from a desk at home and attends yoga at noon and who doesnâ€™t make much money from the books she publishes but keeps doing it because she loves it.
I long for such privilege, but I also long for a marriage that would be a partnership. I remember attending AWP in 2013 and hearing a panel of writers who didnâ€™t have an MFA confess that theyâ€™re able to write because they married someone who had a good job with benefits. More than a year later, I went out on a dinner date with a man I never went out with again (his choice, not mine), and I told him what I had heard at AWP and that I had accepted that, due to the abundance of writers out there and the near impossibility of monetary success within the profession, whether I went for an MFA or not (because thatâ€™s more a predictor of debt than it is â€œsuccessâ€), I likely would need to depend on my spouse to make enough money for both of us if I was going to do what I love.
He asked me how I would reconcile my feminist vision of having a marriage that was a partnership with having a husband earning almost all of the money. Who would control the household finances? If you wanted to buy groceries or new clothes, it would be with your husbandâ€™s money. Wouldnâ€™t that be like your husband giving you an allowance? What would you contribute to make the marriage equal?
All good questions, but none of which I was prepared to answer. I hadnâ€™t really thought this through, and I attribute my lack of preparedness to two things: 1) Spending five years in an on again/off again relationship with a man who liked career women but wanted to enable his wife to stay home if she wanted to. I didnâ€™t think all men were like him; I just began to think, Well of course thatâ€™s the type of man Iâ€™ll end up with. 2) Spending nearly 30 years thinking I was exceptional, that no matter what I did, I was going to be the one who beat the odds, captured the fame, and made the millions. When writers at AWPâ€”and later instructors at VONA who said none of them, even the MacArthur award-winner among them, made a living strictly off of writing but also teachingâ€”burst my bubble, I hadnâ€™t had time to seriously consider the alternatives.
I firmly believe, and did express to the dinner date, that marriage is much more than a financial partnership. Itâ€™s moral support, companionship, sex, sometimes raising children. Itâ€™s building a life together. Just because Iâ€™m at home writing all dayâ€”which is work, in case anyone reading this doesnâ€™t know, because he didnâ€™t seem to get thatâ€”doesnâ€™t mean I would have nothing to offer in support of his dreams and goals. It just means I would be unlikely to contribute to those goals monetarily.
But I admit that seems lame. And very kept womanish, and not very feminist, and also very un-Strong Black Woman-like. I hear about people all the time who work two jobs, have kids, go to school, and are either single or stellar spouses. Iâ€™m just not sure I can be that person. When I was in college, I marveled at the women who pulled a 4.0, served as officers in various organizations, maintained strong friendships, and seemed sleep-deprived but unphased. I felt like an under-achiever. â€œDifferent strokes for different folks, honey,â€ a woman I admired advised when I expressed my discontent.
Today, I donâ€™t necessarily want to be different. I want to write. And blog more than once a month. And sleep. And exercise. And finish reading articles the same day I find them. And read books that arenâ€™t on a syllabus. And have a clean house without time created by a snow-induced four-day weekend. And I want a husband, and kids. And I want peopleâ€”lots and lots of peopleâ€”to read my writing. And as long as itâ€™s not via uppers, I want some of what everyone else who has all that is doing to get or maintain it.