One of the treats that comes from spending time with my nephew is seeing his completely different take on the world. During the last 2 visits, we played hide-and-seek. But he makes up the rules as he goes along. He'll say, "You go hide, and count, and then yell, 'Ready or not, here you come." Or "You count, and I'll hide, but don't look for me behind the sofa." One variation that he loved involved me hiding, and then him chasing me once he found me. One time we ran through the house exactly 3 times. One time we had to go to certain parts of the house, but not others.
He's not a rule-bound little guy. When he paints, his mom (my sister) squirts all the paints on a paper plate palette. He takes his brush and swirls all the colors together.
As far as I know, he's never said, "Yuck, I made a color I didn't want." He's never balled up a painting and said, "This doesn't look like a turkey at all!"
I've been trying to adopt his attitude. Adults get too bound by the world as they've always known it. As the years go by, if we're not careful, our world constricts until we can't even dream another possibility.
Yesterday, I talked with a student in an elevator. Her sister works 3 shifts of 12 hours each during a week, and she says she'd like a job like that. I said, "Yeah, but a 12 hour shift--how exhausting. What if we worked 10 hour shifts? Or had a boss who gave us the task and the deadline and said, 'Do it however works best for you.'" She looked at me like I had lost my mind.
If she sees that dream as radical, what does that say? I see it as a modest little dream, this dream of not having to sit in an office just because work tradition has it that people sit in an office for x number of hours a week.
I've noticed something similar in the Internet storms over whether or not an MFA is valuable: all these people, holding tightly to what they know to be true--but all these conflicting truths can't all be true, can they? I like Kelli's response best, that there are many ways to be a writer. The important thing is to find out what works best for you and your work. No other writer can do what you're doing, in the way that you're doing it. It's important to structure your life in a way that nurtures your work. For some of us, we can make a life in academia. For some of us, we may need a different path. There are thousands of ways to be a writer.
We should take a lesson from pre-schoolers, who don't have decades of socialization molding them. If we could have any kind of life we wanted, what would that look like? If we could make up the rules and the boundaries, what would we create? If we believed that any kind of life we wanted was possible, what would we create?