Thursday, December 26, 2013

Being a Writer in a Family of "Normals"

The holidays have a beautiful and uneasiness of bringing families back together.

Though you are now 44, a writer, and living your life, you may still be seen as the lazy entitled twelve-year-old who never helped with chores or the perhaps, when they look at you, they see what you’ve become and well, aren’t 100% comfortable with it.  Mostly because it doesn’t fit their idea of “what is normal.”  They are regular folks just trying to live their lives and your poems about death are freaking them out.

Here are a few things that my family (and some friends) have said to me over the years:

“Why do all your poems have to be dark?  Why can’t you just write a poem about flowers and happy stuff?”

“I don’t understand why you have to leave your family to write?”

“It’s so great that your husband let’s you leave for a week just to write.”

“I don’t think you should write about that.”

“Billy just dropped grease and started an oven fire. You should write a poem about that!”

“It’s nice your husband is so understanding about your writing.”

“What does ____________ (fill in the blank) think about that poem?!”

“All you asked for were books? Why does one person need so many books?”

“You know what you should do?  You should write a bestselling novel.”

Other things writers and friends of mine have heard—

“You were always kind of the odd duck/black sheep/weirdo in the family.”

“Why do you have to dress/look like that?

“Shouldn’t you be home more with the kids? Why do you have to do all that writing/poetry/memoir stuff?

“Maybe you should find a real job.  One with a secure paycheck.”

“I think it’s weird you like being alone so much.  Normal people like spending time with their families.” 


It can get tiring.  It can feel as if you’re always being judged.  Or not accepted.  Or that they want you to be someone else.  Or maybe they want you to be who you were when you were five—Remember how you used to love wearing dresses to kindergarten?  You should wear more dresses.

Sometimes you fit in.  They notice you have a Kate Spade purse.  Or compliment your hairstyle.  You talk about easy subjects—funny memories of holidays past, the kids growing up, everyone’s iPhone.  You hope the subject doesn’t move to “what’s your next book about” or your art, especially any new projects, or the topics you’re writing about.  You hope the subject doesn’t move into your plans for the year, how you may be spending your time and with whom with/doing what.

The family always has an opinion about what’s appropriate and how what you are doing is just a little off. 

The family doesn’t want you walking close to the dark side—Come over here, sister.  Let’s listen to some Michael BublĂ©.

The family is concerned you aren’t 1) making enough money  2) aren’t worried enough about money  3) aren’t being a good enough mom or dad  4) so interested in “unnormal” things (shopping, TV, etc.)  5) aren’t normal enough.

They worry your weirdness will reflect poorly on the family.

They worry you’re so strange and you write about such strange things (and in first person!) 

They read everything you write as truth about you.  There are no such things as “persona poems” in their minds. 

They love you, but oh how they worry about you. 

They love you, but want you to be more like them.


The truth is, families are families and they like similarities.  If you’re "normal" in a family of artists, you can be judged/criticized/concerned about just as much. 

It’s just that usually there are more normal types in families than artistic types.  This is just our culture.  Go to school.  Go to college.  Get a good job.  Get married.  Have kids.  Live your life as others do.  Die. 

Anything that sways out of the normal path, can make people uncomfortable.  But remember, they are not uncomfortable with you, they are uncomfortable with themselves.   Their comments have nothing to do with you or what you’re doing. 

Sometimes you can see how proud they are of you.  They have never heard of Prairie Schooner, but can tell it's a big deal that you were published in it.

They love that you publish books.  They can tell their friends that their son/daughter is a writer!  A published author!  
They love that weird sense of famousness you bring to the family.  

But sometimes they say things that make you feel a little weird yourself.

Many times their thoughts, feelings, and actions reflect a time in their life when they were happier.  When things were more under their control, when you were more under their control.

Sometimes they judge who they are by what you are.

Sometimes as big or small or medium of a as a success you are in the writing world, does not equal the doctor/lawyer/_________fill-in-the-blank they wished you became. 

Because they want to believe their decisions are right in their life, your opposing decisions seem wrong.  They don’t realize there is more than one way to live a life.


We can love our families without changing our own passions.

We can exist with our families without feeling as if we aren’t enough or that we’ve disappointed someone. . .again.

We can walk into our families understanding that we’re not the only ones who are broken, everyone’s broken, we just happen to write about our brokenness a little more, or maybe sometimes we hold hands with it, or aren’t afraid of it, or don’t push it into our Kate Spade purse, or maybe sometimes we do. 

Sometimes we take out our brokenness and we put it on the bookshelf.  That’s okay.

Holidays and family can also remind us of who we were and not who we are.  And that can be uncomfortable too.

Mostly, when I feel a little uneasy about the writing stuff at holidays, I focus on the good things.  For my family, they are hilarious, laugh a lot, they love me, they will always be there for me, they are tough, strong, and full of mama bears, and they would take down the world for me. 

They don’t always understand me.  But that’s okay.  (I don’t always understand myself.)


I hope you each found a little love during your holiday season, whenever and wherever that was.

And I hope you find love and compassionate in even the most ridiculous comments or moments. And that you realize you are being the person you are and they are being the person they are, and sometimes that means you’re wandering off to Bora Bora and they’re traveling to a sale at Target.  And that’s okay.  Different goals, different directions.  

I hope you realize there are other people like you out in the world and dealing with the same things you dealt with.

And that you keep writing into 2014 and throughout.

Cheers to a new year!

Merry Everything.

~ Kells

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  1. Kelli, this post is fabulous! (And that's all I'm going to say because I'm putting my name on this comment!)

  2. Ah yes. I too live this life, but for my family, it's even worse, because not only am I a poet, but I make my living in glass art. A double whammy of "why don't you just get a real job" which, of course means "why don't you just get a real life?"

    I've given up all defenses, as they are futile. What is not understood, in my case, is that their definition of a "real life" would be paramount to a living death, for me.

    I am thankful for writer/artist friends who understand this!

    Thank you for writing this, Kelli!

  3. This is the good thing about coming from a weird family (although I have repeatedly gotten the "just write a bestselling novel thing." When your siblings are scientologists, ninjas living in Thailand, cowboys and your mother and father are also the "eccentric" ones from their families...well, you're let off the hook just a little.

  4. Fabulous post Kelli! I like that it's not in FB under watchful family eyes ;)

  5. My family is incredibly supportive of my writing but I often feel these things (and get similar comments) in just about every other, non-writing social situation I find myself in. As always, it's good to know I'm not alone. Thanks for this post.

  6. While my mother brags about my writing, she doesn't get why I need so many books, either. My family worries about how I'll survive if I'm ever on my own. My mother did make a face when she saw my Kate Spade purse, but maybe silently she was thrilled I could afford it?

    Sounds like we have the same family. :)


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