My Labor Day Tribute to becoming a writer. Or not.
If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.—Dorothy Parker
“Dear Barb,” a reader asks, “How did you become a writer?”
Well, Dear Reader, it’s not a pretty story. My parents were too poor to afford guardian angels for each of their ten children, so I went through childhood with two little guardian social workers sitting on my shoulders. One had a three-piece suit and a briefcase, the other had sensible shoes and a diaper bag.
Age 5: Guardian-SW#1: “Barb, you can use your school years to construct a foundation of cultural values, human experience and long division on which to build a successful career as a best-selling writer.”
Guardian-SW#2: “Be a super-mommy, be a super-mommy!”
Age 17: Guardian-SW#1: “Barb, here in college you can share the lives and ideas of the greatest writers of history.”
Guardian-SW#2:”Be a super-mom, be a super-mom!”
Age 21: Guardian-SW#1: “Barb, you can walk on the moon, achieve racial and sexual equality, invent a $1.49 pantyhose that looks like silk and never runs, and write about all of it. And, thanks to the pill, you’ll never have to swab a baby’s behind.”
Guardian-SW#2: “Be a super-mother, be a super-mother!”
Age 28: Guardian-SW#1: Barb, you have a great writing career, car, and sex life. One more thing and you’ll have it all. Be a super-mother!”
Barb: “Hey, what happened to Guardian-SW#2?”
Guardian-SW#1: “I took over her caseload when her job was cut during that last round of celestial downsizing. So she’s gone back to get a PhD in Women’s Studies at Berkeley, and I’m about to take maternity leave myself.”
Another reader writes, “Dear Barb, How do you know if you should be a writer or a super-mother?”
Dear Reader, I’m glad you asked me that.
In 1894, William O. Atwater of the U.S.D.A. offered nutrition advice about basic food groups for free. In 1992, the U.S. Government spent over $1.5 million to convert his nutrition information into a poster with pyramid-shaped color graphics.
[No, Dear Reader, I didn’t forget your question, I just get paid by the word. Now, watch this.]
Now that they’ve got the nutrition issue settled, the government will obviously be looking for another project to fund. So I’m offering them The Super-Mother Quiz. Of course, while I wouldn’t dream of charging the Feds for such essential information, I will obviously have to ask them for $1.5 million to cover the cost of the color graphics. In the meantime, I’m offering you, Dear Reader, a chance to be one of the first to test your maternal qualifications by taking the following quiz.
The Super-Mother Quiz
Check Each Category Which Applies:
_____1. You employ the wisdom of Solomon to adjudicate a dispute over a Tinkertoy, but you answer questions about universal truths with, “Because I’m the mother and I say so.”
_____2. When you sing along with “Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips” in the car, not only are you alone, but you know the words. All of them.
_____3. In dressing for your professional role as a MFTAKU (Mobile Field Trashcan and Kleenex Unit), you find that the latest Gucci or Versace lacks the sartorial cachet of the “Chocolate Chips” Desert Storm uniforms.
_____4. You rock back and forth, one hip permanently higher than the other even when the only thing you’re cradling is the phone.
_____5. Your walls display framed works of art featuring stick figures whose arms and legs protrude directly from their heads.
_____6. You drive to another store during a blizzard because the first one is out of your child’s preferred brands of peanut-butter or hotdogs.
_____7. You wrote your college term paper (“Feminist Influences in the Periodic Table of the Elements”) in two hours and 45 minutes, but you stay up until dawn assembling your third-grader’s science fair project (“Our Friend the Electron”).
_____8. You have just returned from scuba-diving in New Zealand and you’re trying to decide how to spend all your leisure time. In your living room (which is filled with antique furniture, first editions, and your notes for the photo-essay book on your growing world-class collection of early Dan Quayle speeches), you set this quiz amid the handblown glass collectibles on the glass-topped coffee table over the white carpet while you sit on the white leather couch sipping (red) wine and considering each answer.
SCORING: If you checked #8, congratulations! You are obviously ready for the enriching and fulfilling experience of super-motherhood. We here at the Super-Motherhood Quiz recommend you have several children, preferably male, as quickly as possible.
If you checked 1-7, super-motherhood is definitely not for you, and you’re destined for a career with indefinite hours, low pay, little recognition, and occasionally getting thrown up on—professional writer (or Mom). Have you given any thought to the Women’s Studies program at Berkley?