Sunday, May 16, 2010

Family Secrets

First of all, a big thanks to Pam Uphoff for being our guest blogger yesterday. Great post, Pam, and it started me thinking. One of my "escapes" when I can't focus on the writing or -- groan -- when I have hit that point in editing when I know if I have to read one more word of this book I wrote months ago, I'm going to go screaming into the night, is to do a quick on-line genealogy hunt for my ancestors. Sounds simple, right? After all, in this day and age of computers and the internet, you can find just about anything.

Well, the problem is, as I search, I discover I come from a family of liars. Or at least the champions of stretching the truth. Growing up, I was told my great-grandfather left Pennsylvania for Colorado because he was Amish and had a great singing voice and he had to get away so he could sing. Well, no. That wasn't it at all. My great-grandfather was a newspaper man. He went to Colorado and opened his own paper and ran it for years before moving to Kansas and doing the same there. My great uncle, his eldest son, was the youngest linotype operator in the country at the time -- not the dashing World War I spy we'd always been told. But his brother, the "responsible" member of the family, was a businessman, head of the chamber of commerce, etc. What wasn't talked about was his secret. It's a very deep and dark secret and one I may be tossed out of the family for revealing.

I don't know if I dare say it -- My Uncle Herb was -- horror of horrors -- a writer.

Which brings me back to this past weekend. Uncle Herb's daughter and granddaughter were here visiting from Kansas. Clarice, Herb's daughter, is the family genealogist. We were talking and I got curious and did a quick search on the internet and discovered that the family secret is no longer, well, secret. It's there for the world to see if it looks. Listed in the Catalog of Copyright Entries by the Library of Congress are two entries for plays written by "Port Weatherly" and the revelation that Port is -- gasp -- Uncle Herb. It says so right there.

Oh the shame, the horror...the family secret is out. It was bad enough we had journalists in the family. But at least they ran the paper and edited the content. They didn't actually WRITE it. Well, they did, but it was so long ago we can forget it. Besides, those papers aren't really online so people can find them. But this is listed in OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS. What to do, what to do?

I wish I could say I was being completely facetious about this, but I'm not. Like many writers, many of my family simply don't understand the need we have to write. They don't understand that writing is something more than a hobby. It is a job and, for some of us, a need. If we don't write, we go a bit crazy because it is our outlet for frustration, fears, anger, etc. I'm one of the lucky ones -- sort of. My son knows about my writing and is in full support of it. My mother, on the other hand, is different. We have sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" understanding. She tries to act supportive, but the disapproval and the lack of understanding is there. So long ago we reached the unspoken agreement of just not talking about it.

What about the rest of you? Does writing seem to run in your family? Does your family support you as a writer or not? Do you talk to your family about writing? Curious minds want to know.

22 comments:

matapam said...

::snicker:: My family...

They are very supportive.

Mother always double-checks that I'm still reading slush, and thus not, you know, unemployed.

Amanda Green said...

Uh, Matapam, does your mother KNOW what slush is? Are you sure she isn't making sure you're reading it as some for of penance for something you did as a child? ;-)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Good point, Amanda.

The need to write -- here I am at 1 am, having spent the night plastered to my computer doing the page proofs of my book. Again.

I'm not doing it for the money.

And certainly not for the glory!

I think it is the need to be creative. We don't feel right in ourselves, unless we are creating. And it applies to all those artists, photographers and musicians, too.

Kate said...

My family is... a mixed bag. One of my sisters doesn't think I'm exactly respectable, but she does think it's cool that I've got stuff published. The rest are somewhere between "Oh, that's just Kate being strange" and "Oh, COOL! I'm related to a real writer".

They do know the drive, though - Dad and another sister are musicians and don't really feel alive unless they're on stage, performing. Tracking back some, there are musicians and artists and assorted other creative types (including actors) in the known family tree, plus dark rumors of a family connection to Lord Byron (I have no idea how that one came to be, nor how truthful it is). Add to that, my maiden name is rare enough that it's guaranteed everyone who's got it is related somehow, especially the English branch (Golding), so if we could track it far enough there's a high chance of a definable, if distant connection to William Golding (don't disown me, please!).

Of course, since another branch of the family tracks back to Viking royalty, it's no wonder I'm a mess - I got the berserker thing out of that. So, I can say with absolute certainty that I fit the typical characteristics of a writer. I'm crazy, have crazy ancestors, and I do stuff in ways no-one else would even consider, even my equally crazy family.

Jim McCoy said...

My family is fairly supportive. Even my mom seems to have realized that I can express myself in writing now, which is something I wasn't always good at. My fourth grade teacher told my mom that twenty-plus years ago. I had to show her some of my more recent writing to convince her that I have indeed learned how to put a sentence together. Everyone else seems to be supportive.

The crazy thing is that my wife writes too. She had a few articles published actually, in a magazine she used to freelance for. She's very supportive but the situation can be a bit frustrating on occasion when I walk into the house after work having FINALLY figured out how I'm going to make the end of a chapter work and she's sitting at the computer typing something she's working on.

Chris McMahon said...

My brothers and sisters are supportive in a vague sort of way, but like my dear departed parents probabaly just don't 'get' it.

My parents, particularly my father, was dead set against it & argued me out of doing an arts degree after my engineering degree. 'Those writers end up being bottlewashers and any damn thing. Taking any odd job around the place.' So. Not a lot of support there. They were about as concrete and black and white as you could get. My father believed '
If you don't have a job - you are nothing.' And would often repeat this. Bit tough to be creative in my family.

I grew up as the odd one out in a family of eleven (the youngest). We lived in my grandparents old house, and I would see these relics of a different sort of person there - my uncles old gramaphone records, my grandmothers old piano which had been too heavy to move and was never played. At least I had a sense there was something else, even if that creative atmosphere was not present at the time.

It hardly matters. The writing draws you no matter where you start from.

Dave Freer said...

My family are divided neatly. Barbs and my brother have always been behind me, and I'd never have done all this without them. My sister still seems to think it must be an easy thing to do... and my mum asked me when I was going to get a real job again.

Stephen Simmons said...

My family has an extremely high concentration of teachers, particularly English and Special-Ed teachers. Also quite a large number of engineers. But, to the best of my knowldge, no writers. I'm told that one of my Murphy relatives, several generations back, was one of the founders of the Grolier publishing house, though.

My wife generally just sees it as "spending time on the computer", actually. Now that I've sold several stories, she's starting to come around, but it's still going to take a while (and substantially more sales) before she really sees it as "a second job".

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I think you're right. I think there is a need to have that creative outlet. That said, for me at least, it's a very specific creative outlet. While I can draw -- of a sort -- crochet, build things, etc., writing has always been a part of me. When I try to cut it off, I sort of short circuit. There are times when I wish there was another outlet. Still, I wouldn't give up my writing for anything.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, LOL!

Are you sure we aren't related? Of course, my family also says that we are descended from royalty AND from pirates, and that we lie a lot. That counts, right?

Amanda Green said...

Jim, you're very lucky that your wife understands what being a writer means. And I understand the frustration of coming home with the idea for a story finally gelling only to be unable to get on the computer. That's when I learned -- again -- how to do quick drafts on paper. In fact, I still resort to the old fashioned pen and paper when I get stuck in a story. There's something about being able to actually write it out that seems to start the creative juices flowing again.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, I completely understand. But, in some ways, it was worse for me. I'm the only child. So there were expectations that I would do something to make a mark on the world. Not that my parents ever said it quite like that. But it was clear that I was expected to have a career, raise a family and fit the mold of what a modern woman should be.

That said, my maternal grandmother -- she from the family of liars and closet writers -- always knew, even before I did, that I wanted to write. She encouraged me with words and by buying me pencils and paper, even when I was in grade school. When I wasn't writing stories, she wanted me to tell her stories. I'm not sure I'd ever have had the courage to show anyone something I'd written if it hadn't been for her.

And you are right. No matter what, the writing draws you. The harder you fight it, the more determined it is to come out.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, you are so very lucky to have support not only from Barbs but from your brother as well. Your sister's attitude is one I've seen from so many people. They seem to think that because we all "write" -- after all, we all write. We learn it at an early age. So writing a book has to be easy -- not.

I also fully identify with your mother's comment. I get that now. Or I would but, because I had a variation of it when I was younger, my mother and I are in the "don't ask - don't tell".

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, I'm glad your wife is starting to "come around". Having someone who knows and supports your decision to be a writer, even if they don't necessarily understand it, makes it a whole lot easier. Good luck!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

ah. The family. uh.

My birth family is staunchly, devotedly, patiently... waiting for me to stop dirtying paper on one side. Heck, my mother knows I made enough to hypothetically feed the family for at least three years (clothe and house is something else) but she wants me to finish my doctorate and get a job teaching in college. She hides any copies of my books I give her in the pantry, under the emergency supplies. I have a bad feeling if an emergency comes, this is meant to be toilet paper. My mother in law thinks I've missed my vocation and should write only picture books for kids. Now, I have great respect for the people who do this but... I think my MIL means it as a comment on my writing. Also, all this stuff with fairies and dragons and magic, why am I putting sex in kid books.
So... If I envy anyone, I envy the people who hhave parents and relatives who are proud of them.
My husband, OTOH has been known to mug total strangers on the street and make them promise to visit my website and read the samples. So, what can I say.

matapam said...

LOL, Sarah. I too have a very supportive husband, and that makes up for all the rest.

Synova said...

When I was a teenager my dad used to say things like, "A lawyer? Why don't you do something respectable?" My best friend's dad said, "Math? What sort of job can you get with math?" My mom was too busy trying not to be her own mother to express an opinion. In the end I ended up pretty much not doing anything.

I feel like I didn't discover writing until I was much older but it's not true because I remember my dad one time being encouraging... he thought I should write, gosh, it was children's books or television... I can't remember.

And I took it as a discouragement, because I wasn't interested in children's books or television, at least not then.

I think there is a particularly unhelpful sort of help that people who are enthusiastically encouraging of writing ambitions give. I don't think my dad was thinking of less ambitious ambitions for me. I think he made the suggestions he made because he thought that there ought to be more good books for kids or more good television, and it was probably what he'd do, if he wrote. And for some reason I couldn't get past the specifics to take general encouragement from his remarks.

My husband's brand of encouraging tended toward telling people I was a writer when I didn't have anything to show. (Oh, gawd stop that!) Or enthusiastically responding to a plot summary with suggestions for a different plot altogether. (Write your own story then!) And now he's sort of mellowed into a beaten puppy where he doesn't dare try to encourage me too much past an occasional "You really are good enough you know," or "If you don't write how will I ever achieve my dream of being a kept man?"

I'm probably way too picky.

(Actually... I sometimes think that I could write *his* book, if I set out to do that from the start.)

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, I can certainly identify with what you deal with where your mother is concerned. As for your mother-in-law, my first thought was to wonder what she had against children, especially considering your current WIP. Then I figured it wasn't that -- at least I hope it wasn't that -- it's just that she probably is one of those myriad of people who doesn't see writing as a profession, much less a "respectable" one. Poor woman.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, you're right. Having a supportive spouse (or, as in my case, grown child) makes all the difference in the world.

Amanda Green said...

Synova, reading your comment reminded me of my own life through high school and college. All that "encouragement" led me into a field I enjoyed -- for all of 4 years. I took degrees I really didn't want because it was easier to get a "responsible" degree in a "worthwhile" major than to fight everyone about it. I'm firmly convinced my family -- and most people -- are trying to be helpful. My writing was just something I "tinkered" at to them, something to keep my occupied but would never make any money at. In their own way, they were trying to be helpful and to protect me. Still, it would have been nice to have had the same support when I talked about writing that I had when I said I'd get my teaching certificate or when I said I'd go to law school. Thank goodness for the friends and extended family who knew about my desire -- my need -- to write and encouraged it.

Synova said...

It's difficult from a parent's perspective, too. My oldest daughter is a talented artist. I sincerely want her to feel like she can do that for a living. At the same time I tell her that if she's planning on being self-employed, even if or especially if she hates the business part of it, it would probably do her good to take at least a business related minor.

I also tell the kids that although the economy is bad, (they range from 13 to 19 so they're thinking about what they will "do"), that they've got to make plans on the assumption that in a few years when it matters for them, things will have improved.

Oh, and I'd forgotten the complete stranger who told me, "Architecture? That's not a good field. I know someone with a degree in that who can't find a job." The silliness of that particular thing is why I'm not telling my daughter that almost no one makes a living as an artist, because that just means that some people do. It might be a long shot but the chance is zero if she doesn't try.

Amanda Green said...

Synova, it sounds like you have taken a very supportive and common-sense path with regard to your children. It's the same path I've tried to take for my son. It's the parents/spouses/family/friends who take the negative approach of saying, "you'll never be able to make a living doing this so give it up and get a real job," that drive me crazy.

I also agree with you on the education advice you've given your daughter. Being a writer or an artist, etc., doesn't mean not doing whatever is necessary to understand the business side of it. So props to you. You're doing what more parents should.