In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know. Our next guest is the dapper double threat, Andrew J McKiernan.
I’ve worked many different full-time jobs over the past 25 years, and I’ve hated every single one of them. I’ve been a bank clerk and a bank teller, a warehouse storeman, a paper salesman, a purchasing and logistics officer, a production manager, publications officer, network manager, web-developer, graphic designer… and none of them have worked out for me. I just don’t play well with people in an office environment. It’s the repetitiveness and day to day drudgery. It’s the need to be always wearing some kind of homogeneous uniform: be it King Gees and a workshirt and steel-capped boots, or a business suit with the old corporate noose around your neck. It’s the politics and the gossip and everyone’s little grabs for power and nobody really caring about the jobs they’ve actually been hired to do. Arghh! I couldn’t stand it. Some jobs, some days, it made me physically ill…
But I did it. I didn’t see there was much choice. Not for me, not for me family.
I didn’t really see myself as a writer back then. I wrote, but just because it was something I did. I never once considered sending anything off anywhere for publication. Wouldn’t have known where to send them if I did. Mostly, I was just trying to hold my shit together and stay in a job long enough to keep paying for food and rent. My record was probably about 2 years in a single job.
My wife and I have two boys, born two years apart. My wife stayed home and looked after them while I worked. She did an amazing job, looking after a newborn while our first son was rampaging his way through his terrible twos. I couldn’t have done it. I don’t know how mums get through that stage of bringing up children at all. It is a harrowing experience. But, by the time the boys were old enough to be starting school, I could tell my wife was getting very bored. She’s an academic with a passion for getting deep into projects, for working with people to solve problems, but here she was cooking and cleaning and washing clothes all day, alone, just waiting for her family to come home.
So, she was starting to hate her job. I always hated mine. When she suggested we swap roles, it was a fairly simple decision for me to make.
She’s more qualified than me. She gets on better with people than I do. She enjoys working in teams. She has drive and enthusiasm and a passion for work that I could never have.
Within a few weeks, my wife had found herself a job. It paid more than any job I’d had before.
That was just on eight years ago now. Since then, my wife has continued gaining qualifications and risen to the top of her field in this country. She’s a Key Speaker at National and International conferences. She loves her work and she earns enough to have bought us a beautiful house in a bushland setting, away from the bustle of city life. It was her suggestion that I spend the time when I’m not being a house-dad to maybe write something with a view to submitting it for publication. She bought me a kitten–my beautiful Cobweb–a writer’s cat, to keep my company while I write.
Not every day is easy for my wife. She works in a very high-stress position, dealing with the safety of people’s lives in war-torn and natural disaster areas. So, even though it seemed a win-win solution for us to swap roles, I still can’t see it as an even trade. She sacrifices a lot more, a hell of a lot more, in terms of time, energy and sheer emotional drain than I ever could endure. She says that fine because she gets to come home every afternoon to a house in the bush, and her dinner is cooked for her a cold glass of wine is waiting.
But I get to sit at home all day and make shit up! And, as long as the washing is done and dinner is taken care of, I pretty much get to do whatever I want.
I’ve tried real hard to make the best of those eight years. I’ve written and published sixteen short stories and/or novelettes. Been nominated for numerous awards. Had my short stories collected and published in a single volume, and picked up a contract with a publisher for a crime novel. And yet…it can’t possibly be enough. Not in comparison to what my wife accomplishes on a daily basis. And she’s doing it not only because it fits her better than the lonely madness of staying home, but because she truly wants me to be able to write.
Sometimes, that’s the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around. Jobs I’ve worked have made me physically ill, I hate them, and yet here is someone who is willing to endure that, day after day, just so that I can stay home and do something that I love. She says she knows one day I’ll be a famous writer and I’ll be able to pay it all back…she’s deluded. But I can’t possibly express how much I love her for that delusion. It means a lot to know someone has that much faith in you. That they’ll work so hard for you, to help make your dream possible.
So yeah, I pay for my passion. Every word I type is to pay back my wife for the faith she has in me. Without her, none of it would be possible.
Andrew J McKiernan is an author and illustrator living and working on the Central Coast of New South Wales. First published in 2007, his stories have since been short-listed for multiple Aurealis, Ditmar and Australian Shadows awards and reprinted in a number of Year’s Best anthologies. He was Art Director for Aurealis magazine for 8 years and his illustrations have graced the covers and internals of a number of books and magazines. Last Year, When We Were Young, a collection of his short stories was released in 2014 by Satalyte Publishing. You can find out more at http://www.andrewmckiernan.com