There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall. – Cyril Connolly
My son Gabe and his wonderful partner Anna got married on the weekend. It was a joyous wedding, a moving ceremony they wrote themselves performed by a good-humoured officiant. Afterwards came a reception hosted by Anna’s brother. Good choice, to marry the sister of a professional comedian. Then to dance away the night.
Two days later, here I am, a writer with a married son, feeling that I’ve spent the past thirty years thumbing my nose at Cyril Connolly, that largely-forgotten fount of famous aphorisms. Chief among them is his famous quote about the pram in the hall being the enemy of good art, which he emitted in 1938 (before having children) and which still gets women arguing fiercely or drooping in dismay.
Most of the recent pram-related writing comes from young women in the throes of bringing up little kids. Online, I find fewer pieces by men, and very little written by older women who have come out the other side, perhaps with some perspective.
So here is mine.
When we’re young and having children, we are encountering duty, perhaps for the first time. After a notably painful day, we’re suddenly asked to subordinate our wishes to the needs of another—the usually very loud, squally and smelly needs of another—and this can strike us no-longer-quite-so-young-and-carefree writers with horror.
We want to write, right this moment! We need to dream, to travel, to not earn a living; to drink ouzo on a Greek Island with the ghost of Leonard Cohen, scribbling down insights on cocktail napkins which an always-present but undemanding acolyte will curate into our next book…
When in fact very few people in this world get to do what they want when they want to.
So suck it up.
We all grow up to duties. Almost everyone has to earn a living, and many people around the world have an enormously hard time doing so. Being an artist with children on top of a job or jobettes is very difficult, but most people are in the same boat, trying desperately to carve out some private time between the job and the kids and not always getting it. Especially as bombs fall, famine rages, the climate changes changes around them.
If you’re a writer, you have to be tough. You have to schedule—and to know you might have to interrupt your schedule if a kid is sick or the cupboard is bare. You won’t think you’re getting as much done as you would otherwise and certainly as you want to. Of course, when my son was young, I had teeth-gritting moments of desperately wanting some time to myself, to write, and not getting it.
But I have found a couple of things.
The first is that the great joy of being a mother has enriched my life immensely. I have full respect for those who choose not to have children and enormous sympathy for those who want to have them and can’t. But having my son was the best decision I have ever made and a great piece of luck. My son has brought joy, love and surprise into my life. Also pain when others have been nasty to him, and moments of rage when he has encountered the unfairness of life, and fear when he has adventured off on his own. Every emotion comes with parenting. You get—you’re allowed, you’re forced—to experience the world in all its depth and colour.
And by the way: my jobs as a journalist, a for-hire screenwriter, editor and teacher--jobs that have taken me away from my creative work for much more time than parenting--have enriched my life deeply as well.
In the course of my paid work, I have got to know fabulous people I wouldn’t otherwise have met (as well as truly awful people) and crossed paths with others, famous or obscure, whom I’ve never stopped thinking about. I’ve gone places that enchanted me and enchant me still in memory, and had experiences that I wouldn’t trade for gold. Not all of them have been good experiences. Some, in fact, have been dire, while others have become funny in retrospect even when they were difficult or even frightening at the time.
If I’m hit by a bus tomorrow, I will feel I’ve made the best of my life, and having a son was a huge part of that.
Yet—rephrasing the Connolly quote—have I written as much as I might have written, or written it as well, as if I hadn’t had children or needed to work?
Maybe not, but I’m not so sure about that. When I’ve had months entirely free to write, courtesy of my husband’s support or a gratefully-received writing grant or because one of my freelance gigs has fallen through at the last moment, I’ve loved sitting down every morning to write and loved writing throughout the day. It’s never stopped being a treat.
But I’m not convinced that at the end of the month I’ve accomplished much more than I accomplish during a normal month, when I’ve had to snatch time to write, sometimes getting up at 5:30 in the morning to have a few hours free, sometimes putting off a paid gig for a couple of hours to write madly on a novel before writing madly on the paid work to meet my deadline.
I don’t keep page counts, but my sense is that I do about the same amount of creative work during a year of slack employment as in a busy year. The quality, of course, is for others to evaluate. Yet I have a sense about that, too, and one that’s not always articulated.
Having a kid, meeting those wonderful (or awful) people at work, travelling for jobs, washing up on movie sets or at bizarre parties I can’t wait/can’t bear to leave, I’m coming across material for my writing. Sometimes it’s details, sometimes it’s characters, sometimes it’s insights that the experiences bring me, or that descend on me afterwards as I'm writing in my journal.
All of these things have matured me as a person and therefore as a writer. Duties have matured me. I don’t have to fish and flail for something to say. In fact (when I finish this piece) I have a novella, a screenplay and the intimation of a short story waiting to be written, and a notebook of ideas ready to be tackled after that.
Maybe the pram in the hallway isn’t an enemy of good art but a route towards it.
Just putting it out there.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Lesley Krueger is a novelist and screenwriter. Richard Dadd’s first cousin-in-law five times removed (if she has the genealogy right), Lesley drew on family information unknown to biographers in writing Mad Richard. The author of six books, she lives with her husband in Toronto where she’s an avid member of a women’s hockey league and a writer-mentor at the Canadian Film Centre. Find her online at LesleyKrueger.com.