What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Hughes, Langston. “Harlem.” Norton Anthology of American Poetry: Shorter Fifth Edition. Ed. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, Jon Stallworthy. New York. 2005. 915. Print
I first read this poem when I was in college. In 1992, after having my third child and while on my second marriage at the tender age of twenty-six, I fastened my seatbelt and began to pursue higher education.
Yes, it was a bumpy ride, my friends. My children were six, two, and one, respectively. I had been a full-time homemaker since marrying my second husband in 1989. My life revolved around them.
Now, here I was trying to realize those ethereal dreams to write, those dreams I had since I was a girl when I carried my composition books, pens, and pencils around like some kind of security blanket.
I walked into my American Literature class in my sophomore year on air, oblivious at first to the sagging shoulders and disdain worn by my classmates.
All I could think was, I’m finally where I belong!
Well, kiddies, as most of you probably know, my little bubble was busted when I realized being a full-time homemaker, mother, and part-time college student with a dream to write was not all pixie dust and rainbows.
Oh, hell fucking no.
I went to class while my children attended school or Mother’s Day Out, or at night when their father was gracious enough to stay home to watch them. That was the easy part.
Getting my homework finished, writing papers, studying for exams? These became exercises in warfare. I learned to strategize with my opponents (time, kids, husband) and most of the time, though I succeeded in accomplishing each task, I paid for it dearly in other ways, with plenty of battle scars to prove it.
My children would stand at the door and cry, “Mommy, don’t go! Please stay home!” Or, when I tried to sneak in some time to write a paper on Hemingway (my favorite modern author, by the way) my dear children refused to nap or watch their favorite Disney movie. Once I got them to bed at night after the hours-long ritual of dinner, play, bath time, reading, and singing them to sleep, I trudged downstairs to the study to finish what I started only to hear their father call out, “Hey! Where is my white oxford? Did you finish ironing my clothes?” Or, “Are you still working on that paper?”
Time to write. This is the exigent struggle for all writers.
Here is a glimpse of a typical day in the life of this writer now:
For instance, here I am at my computer on a Thursday morning at 5:05 am to write this article. I awoke at 3:15 am and made lunch for my husband, something I do every other week when he’s on day shift. Once I finish writing this, I have dishes to wash, dogs to feed and walk, kitty bowls to fill and a litter box to empty, perhaps some preparation for dinner tonight, and then I have to get ready for work. My day there starts at 9:30 am and ends roughly around 5:00 pm. As much as I love my job, I have to talk to people all day long. Afterward, I possibly go to the dreaded grocery store (more people), come home and take care of the pets, get dinner ready, maybe wash a load of clothes, and try to squeeze in some time to write before bed. If I’m lucky, I may get a few moments to read one of the many books on my to be read pile before I pass out.
By the way, I’m so far behind on that list I will never die.
Those who know me are snickering right now because they are well aware of my disdain for talking and interacting with people all the time. I’m your basic social introvert, but only because I had to learn to adapt to this world where we are expected to socially interact with other humans frequently and without limits. If it were up to me, I’d be in a cabin at least two miles off the main road, having the essential coffee on my porch, listening to the chirping of birds, screening my calls and texts, and writing all day long.
So, how does a typical writer like myself, with family, home, and job responsibilities, find time to write?
In the words of my Creative Writing professor, “You have to coffee and nerve it. Carve it out.”
Easier said than done, right?
My four children are now grown, so I don’t have to contend with those demands anymore. However, I do have responsibilities here at home and at work.
What makes this more difficult for me, is: I’m a woman.
Now, guys, don’t get your Hanes in a wad. This is a personal experience, not aimed to point out how much harder women have it.
Women tend to be caretakers. At least, that is how I was brought up. It’s hard to stand by and let the house go or let my husband fend for himself for dinner. My visceral compulsion is to do what I feel I must do, but then my writing comes last.
My dreams of being a writer have been deferred by this sense of obligation for nigh on fifty years now. Guilt is my number one enemy. If I don’t do what I think I should do at home and at work, I basically feel like shit.
I become Evil Kim each day that passes when my works-in-progress (two novels) receive zero attention. I growl when deadlines for my column, submissions to anthologies, journals, magazines, and contests, are delayed or not accomplished at all. My head spins around, my eyes bug out, and I have a meltdown.
Wow, this feels so familiar. Like when my kids were little and I had to take care of everyone else first.
I’m sure many writers can relate. Our writing time is not often seen as legitimate time spent, especially when we aren’t making any money for it. (I hear some of you yelling “Preach!” from the balcony).
Let me clarify, I do not regret my time as a mother. My kids are an integral part of my opus. Their existence in this world saved my life. I’m at this point because of them, a warrior who knows how to get shit done.
I don’t begrudge taking care of my family, helping my husband, caring for our pets, or spending time with them.
What do I regret?
Not putting my dreams up there on my list in the first place.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have pursued my writing vigorously, even with all I had to do otherwise. I didn’t have anyone who believed in me, and I definitely did not believe in myself, so my writing became a dream deferred.
So, how do we find time to write in this busy life?
Simply put, like the Nike commercial, we just do it.
How that looks depends on each writer. For me, it means making writing a priority, and reiterating this importance to my family and friends.
“Yes, I would love to go visit family and listen to them talk about the weather, politics, religion, or other people for hours on end, but I’m going to have to pass. I have to write.”
Even if it’s something you really want to do, like going to the beach, hiking a mountain trail, drinking and dancing at your favorite hangout—you must delay gratification or obligation to make your writing time a priority.
Let the dishes sit for a few more hours. Get take-out. Tell your significant other that he or she may have to wash clothes for the week. Encourage them to go without you sometimes so you can have time alone to write.
“Fend for yourself, mofos.”
Then, Turn off your phone.
When a dream is burning within, don’t push it down or delay its realization. As Stephen King says, “One day there is an awakening and you realize, this is what I’m supposed to do. And you must do it.” Hey, it’s worked well for him. Why not you? Why not me?
It ain’t pretty, but sometimes you just have to be selfish and do it. Otherwise, you could be that dried up raisin in the sun…or you may just…explode.
So, what are you waiting for?
Kim Bailey Deal writes Women’s Fiction, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. She is currently revising her first novel and finishing her second, as well as co-editing an anthology. Publications: MORE Magazine’s Member Voices, The Pull of Strays; Issue 3 of Firefly Magazine, A Journal of Luminous Writing; Writer’s Digest as part of editor Robert Lee Brewer’s blog. She lives in Chattanooga, TN and is the mother of four grown children, three boys and one girl, and “Nim” to her husband’s grandchildren. To connect, she can be found at kimbaileydeal.net, Kim Bailey Deal Page on Facebook, @wordjunkie1966 on Twitter.