This is one of those texts I keep going back to when creative juices are low and when I get sick of my day job. It's a beautiful preface George Saunders wrote for his first short story collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (for anyone here who hasn't read Saunders yet - I don't think I'm being controversial by saying it's brilliant), about his experience raising a family before he was even published, juggling writing in his spare time and a dreary daytime corporate job...
“Capitalism plunders the sensuality of the body,” wrote Terry Eagleton, and that was certainly true of my body at that time. It was being plundered of its sensuality every day. I had an engineering degree but was working as a tech writer. I had earned a reputation as the go-to guy where document covers were concerned. I was good at taping figures into place on frame sheets. I spent a lot of time at the photocopier, producing copies of the reports I had just edited, so we could send them to Kodak or the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, who, we suspected, often filed them without having read them. I was gaining weight, losing energy, had grown a consolation ponytail, would go home sore in my ankles and knees from walking what felt like miles on the thin carpeting that ran over our concrete floors.
There was a lot going on at home during those years, too. My wife, Paula, and I had gotten engaged after dating for three weeks. She became pregnant on the honeymoon, then went into labor at four months. She was put on total bed rest and required to take a drug (since outlawed by the FDA) to suppress her contractions. This happened again during her second pregnancy. So, while I was writing this book, we had two baby daughters at home, each made doubly precious by how close we’d come to losing her. We didn’t have any money and were into our thirties and were (maybe, just a little) wondering how it was that we’d missed the boat in terms of this thing called upward mobility.
At one point our second car broke and we couldn’t afford to replace it, so I started riding my bike the seven miles to and from work, along the Erie Canal. As winter approached, Paula put together an ad hoc winterproofing ensemble for me: a set of lab goggles, a rain poncho, some high rubber boots that, as I remember, had little spacemen on them. Biking along the canal I’d be composing in my head, and might arrive at work with a sentence or two all worked out. Then I’d dash through the atrium, into the men’s room, and try to get myself cleaned up, while not forgetting those sentences. Ah, those were the days.
But seriously: those were the days.
Biking back into town after dark, past the cozy colonial houses orange with firelight, I’d think: I have a home. I have people waiting for me, who love me. This is it. This is my life. These are the best years of my life. Full text here: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/01/07/civilwarland-in-bad-decline-preface/