It took me 24 revisions to get chapter 3 of my novel right and I’ve been slugging away at that beast for at least 4 months. Longer than that, really. Versions of that chapter have been emerging months before that. For most of last week, I was up until 1:30 am working on that chapter. Thursday, at midnight, I finally finished it.
Those 24 revisions are in a folder titled “Revision 4” under a folder titled “Thesis Revisions.” Since graduation in 2012, I’ve been trying to revise my thesis into a fully robust, sound novel ready for publication. Revision 24 of chapter 3 isn’t good enough right now to send off to a publisher, but it’s good enough to send to writer friends to look at. Which will get me headed into my next chapter, which will head me to the next and finally, one day, it will be done enough. Done enough to send to an agent. Done enough for an editor to pick it up. Done enough, hopefully, to get picked up by a publisher.
I don’t talk about life outside of autism on this blog very often. In fact, I don’t talk about my life outside of autism very much to other people at all. The fact is, I don’t really have much of a life outside of autism, or at least one that’s worth talking about. I am a mom of an autistic son and a neurotypical daughter. My alter-ego is writer. Both require a lot of invested time that result in small growth and sometimes major of setbacks.
But in the last couple of weeks, I got a glimpse of what it would be like if I had more time to devote to writing and teaching and publication if I had the luxury of a life without autism–and it sparked an excitement inside of me because it was just amazing to think of how much I could do if I weren’t so consumed with J. This week I met on campus with the English department to talk about goals for and the future of the creative writing program. I attended a reading by a local writer. I’ve sent my chapter 3 to some writer friends. Suddenly, these last two weeks, my mind has been thinking about all of the possibilities.
And at the same time, I realized that because of our autism life, I’m out of the loop in a lot of ways. During that meeting with the English department, I sat at the table with colleagues and friends who have taught dozens more classes than me and have clocked in way more experience with the university’s current creative program. Some of those colleagues had graduated at the exact same time as me (for the record, I have no hard feelings about this at all–they’re great writers and teachers and I have tremendous admiration for them. I seriously love them all. Workshops and writing have made us close friends and I’m so happy they’ve had these opportunities). It’s been my choice not to take up more classes and semesters of teaching. It’s my choice to say no because, right now at this point in time, it’s just way too much with J’s autism. Right now, teaching for me looks like trying to find a million different ways to help J manage his emotions, or Algebra 1, or running, or vision therapy. High school is high stakes for both my kids. And that’s what my life looks like right now. There is a time and season for everything.
I attended Jacqueline Bussie’s reading two weeks ago and absolutely loved her energy and zeal for writing. I loved the interactions she had with her students (she had invited them to her reading) and the rapport she had with them was truly inspiring. She knew her students personally. Her students had great questions on the writing process, and I came out of that reading thinking, “Wow, I really wish I had the opportunity to teach long term somewhere where I can develop a relationship and rapport with students like that and help them discover their voices and support writing and the arts. I wish I could make a difference–contribute to society in a way that reached young people and artists like that.” And I started thinking of all the other ways I wanted to get involved more in growing my craft, supporting other writers, and helping local presses, attending writing and publishing conferences, even possibly outreaching to public schools. The things I would logistically be able to do if my life wasn’t still so consumed with autism. Sometimes I’m just itching to really dive into it. This week really gave me that itch.
I know a lot of parents–both moms and dads–feel this feeling of being torn all the time. Torn that they need to spend more time with their kids. Torn that they want to spend more time fulfilling their goals in their careers or work outside of parenting. I’m not alone in this at all. Autism magnifies this struggle, but it’s a struggle I share with most moms and dads I know.
But here’s the bright side–I’m 37 (okay, weeks away from 38) and I am trying to squeeze in writing/publishing/teaching opportunities whenever I can. I try to pick up manuscripts to screen or proofread when I see an opportunity come by and it works with my schedule/kids. I’m writing everyday–like crazy–to get that novel done. And here’s the best part–I know exactly what “I want to do with my life” and “what exactly that looks like.” I’m not naive, those opportunities don’t come easily, but I might just get a chance someday to try to pursue them a little more. I know I’ll never have a life that isn’t affected by autism, but I know that one day I’ll have more time available to focus on my life outside of it. In the meantime, I’ll just have to wait until J grows a little more and becomes a little more independent before I can fully dive in.