Not What She Expected

For years all she sought was a quiet place to work. Then, to her amazement, she discovered that solitude wasn’t the thing she wanted most. Here’s how she pursued her heart’s desire.

By Diana Abu-Jabar
NurseryJeff McNamara

I learned how to write at the bowling alley. At age 11, I took my two little sisters and assorted younger cousins to Flamingo Bowl almost every weekend. I kept track of points and, more crucially, kept the kids safe despite their tendency to hurl most of their body weight (along with the ball) down the lane. Children shrieked, and pins thundered. In my mind, however, there was silence. I had developed the habit of something my auntie called “half-mindedness”―partly attending to whatever was going on around me while the rest of my brain was engaged in reading and writing. Even though I held a scorecard and a pencil nub, I was flying between planets in The Little Prince, attending dances in Pride and Prejudice, and going on adventures entirely of my own imagining. The children, frankly, were a bit of a distraction. I managed to babysit them and write at the same time, but in so doing I absorbed this message: I could dedicate myself either to meaningful work or to having kids, but it would be nearly impossible to do both.

That was a lesson I also learned at home. My mother and father were young, enthusiastic parents. They had just entered their 20s when I was born. Children defined their new marriage and their lives as adults. Their daughters were their joy and legacy, the center of attention. Limited resources necessitated difficult choices: My sisters and I shared beds, we had a black-and-white TV in an age of color, and restaurants were a wild extravagance. Both my parents worked and worked at jobs they found unfulfilling and, when they were home, seemed to nap constantly.

I wanted something different. Namely, a satisfying career―and the freedom to move and to take risks, to be unencumbered. I dreamed of distant travel, elaborate dinner parties, and the world’s most secluded study. Kids didn’t seem compatible with these goals.

Many of my literary heroes had no children: Katherine Mansfield, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty. Virginia Woolf was childless, and her famous declaration on the importance of a room of one’s own made me feel she was even rather chilly toward houseguests. From these authors, I gleaned that the pursuit of one’s passion subsumed all of one’s energies, leaving little behind.

 

 
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