Make Me a Better Writer
While watching one of my favorite home improvement shows, one of the couples paused on the doorstep of their newly remodeled home. The young man knelt, held out a ring to the young woman, and said, “Make me a better man. Marry me.” My first thought was how sweet. My second thought was wait a second.
The question was asked with love and with the best of intentions, but it wriggled around in my brain and refused to die quietly. What did he just say? What is he asking her to do? Why doesn’t he make himself a better man before asking her to share his life? Does he believe she only deserves second best? Or does his assumption hark back to olden days, when men not only expected their wives to be virgins (when they themselves were not), but placed the burden of upholding the morality of the nation on their young wives. As in, I’m going to mess around, but you must remain pure. Or, I’m going to come home drunk, but I’d better not see you taking a swig. And God forbid you ever smoke a cigarette. Oh, honey, would you hand me the ashtray?
After pondering all the hidden resentments that swelled to the surface, I chastised myself for being a sexist, even if history bore me out to the beginning of civilization. If women had not taken care of men, children, and the home—what would men have become, left to their own devices? And now, in the 21st century, what man has the right to ask a woman to shoulder his responsibilities of self-control and contribution to the partner arrangement?
The Bronte sisters come to mind. They published under male pseudonyms because “women simply weren’t published.” Virginia Woolf understood the double standard for gender in authors and emphasized the point in her heart-opening “A Room of One’s Own.” She explains the obvious regarding the absence of all but a handful of women authors as late as the 1920s. Where were they? Raising children, taking care of the home, even working—either outside or inside the home—to bring extra income to the household. Where were their writer husbands? Sitting at a desk in their studies or libraries, rooms of their own, crafting novels.
I’m surprised the practice of keeping women in the shadows continued into the 1930s and beyond. “The Other Einstein” by Marie Benedict chronicles the never-acknowledged contributions of Albert Einstein’s first wife, Mileva Maric, a brilliant physicist in her own right who came up with many of the theories her husband published under his name and his name alone. After doing the majority of work, she received none of the credit. Her research revealed that the more famous he became, the more he relegated his wife to the shadows.
What if one could say, “Marry me and make me a better writer.” How? When? By doing the housework and the laundry, fixing the meals, taking care of the kids, doing the dishes, and keeping track of the bills while holding down a full-time job? Alas, it doesn’t work that way. Most of us are “real characters” and we thrive on what fills our short stories and novels — conflict. Whether internal or external, our natures demand it. If you are privileged to have a significant other, perhaps what matters even more than the dishes is that magical gift of unconditional love called encouragement. Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said he could live two months on a good compliment?
Writing is hard work. Duh. If you chance upon an aspiring author and catch him or her staring at the window, lost in thought, rest assured. THEY ARE WORKING. Let them have a place to write, the time to capture words and emotions on that blank computer screen, and the offer to watch the kids while they meet with other writers to hone their craft. It’s all we ask.
Respect my space. Time is a precious commodity, and I’m doing what I was born to do.
Go ahead. Make me a better writer.
Thanks for walking through the corridor with me.