The Writer, Long Emerged

Last month I went to see a reading at the HammerMichael Chabon, Pulitzer winner and best-selling author, was reading from his most recently published novel, Telegraph Avenue.

At the following Q&A, led by Mona Simpson (an accomplished author herself), Chabon and his wife Ayelet Waldman (note: also a best-selling author) discussed the writers’ life and process, their lives together, raising children, editing each other’s work, their differing writing habits and reading tastes. This, I think, is one of the moments young writers fantasize about – being on stage, among other successful writers, with an audience clinging to your spoken words as well as your written ones – this is one of those moments where you know you’ve emerged.

I’ve been to other readings where I’ve shown up right before it’s supposed to start, gone in, and found a seat a few rows from the front. At this event, I arrived half an hour early to stand at the back of the box office line, which was shorter even than the entrance line. I ended up getting in, so to speak – aside from the main room, where you get to share breathing air with these literary adepts, there is a second room for the overflow of eager listeners, where you watch the goings on of the adjacent room projected on a slide screen. (I heard that for the Lakers’ major away games, they sold tickets at astronomical prices for fans to come to the Staples Center and watch the game on huge television screens. And they sold out. Being in the slide room was like that, I imagine – not the same as actually being there, but almost as good, and still surrounded by the energy of fellow fans.)

I was surprised by the couple’s ease, by the way they sounded like real people. They joked, laughed, swore. Ayelet had a head cold. Just like everyone else, they have to figure out who’s doing the cooking and how the kids are getting looked after while the parents need creative space. (They take turns, I understand, getting away to just write.) No minor feat, to make a living as a novelist. Let alone to raise a successful household, when both parents are creative writers.

I think about my own future and how badly I want to be able to make a living purely with my fiction. How my boyfriend is also an artist. How you have to create a dance with each other, to support each other and each person’s respective passions. For the last seven months while I participated in an incredibly consuming leadership program, my boyfriend was the one who cooked for me when I got home starving at midnight, who worked extra on the days when I couldn’t, who told me I could do it when I thought I couldn’t. Now, with my program complete, my boyfriend is completing his degree in an intensive animation program, and it is my turn to do the extra dishes, remind him to go to bed early, and tell him that he can do it.

It is hard enough to be an artist alone. It is harder, sometimes, to be two artists together, and sometimes having an artist partner makes it easier. Becoming two successful artists together, long-emerged artists, now that’s a trick. Watching Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, I wanted to point and say, I know, I know, they are rare. How often does this happen? But see, it’s possible! It is!

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