After the last of the kids started school and we were both working for someone else the money was abundant and so too was the impulse to have the things that money could buy. If you let it money can spoil a perfectly good thing, such as happiness and peace of mind. Some have it backwards, that you cannot be happy or have peace of mind without money, but on those occasions it is the money talking, not the people, and so you can only hope they turn it around before it does all of their thinking for them.
But the idea of both of us earning an income was new to us and for the first time in our lives we could consider making some significant changes: A bigger house. A better car. Nicer furniture. A well-funded retirement. The list of possibilities was long and the obstacles seemed small and insignificant. It was just money after all and with Franca planning to re-enter the workforce after an eight year hiatus to raise children we saw ourselves, finally, having more of it.
Before that time though when we did not have those choices or the pressures that come with them we were happy still and made time for the things we loved, such as writing and the outdoors and spending an active time together. During the week, before I would head off to my workday as a director of supply chain for a major company well known for its skin and personal care products, I would wake at four in the morning and come downstairs in the dark and pour myself a cup of coffee and sit down at my desk and spend the next two hours alone writing. It was a wonderfully quiet and still time of the night and there was little else to do but write, so I learned through the discipline of doing the same thing every day how to focus on the words and the telling of the story and nothing else. For fifteen years this was how I wrote: two novels, a few short stories and several creative non-fiction pieces. In darkness, quiet, solitude. This was the terrain of my apprenticeship and though it was often frustrating to stop to get ready for work, I left my desk knowing that no matter what happened the rest of the day I had pursued my passion.
On weekends I would do the same, but afterwards we would do things together, especially in the spring and fall when the weather in the southeast is the nicest and we might go camping or for a hike or visit with family. We shopped for the things we needed, not for what others owned or what we may have thought for ourselves that we wanted, and in so doing learned to live in sync with our means. This was important because as Franca and I contemplated the opportunities that presented themselves with the possibility of two incomes, we were not accustomed to even wanting to spend great amounts of money on unnecessary things, like new cars (I write this, of course, as two of ours sit in a shop for repairs). As long as we could afford the things we needed, we were fine.
Nonetheless, the mood as Franca prepared to re-enter the workforce was upbeat, I won’t lie. We both were, as I mentioned, thinking of the changes two incomes would have in our lives and for our children. Then something happened that changed everything.
Franca was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez, and because she loved the story and the writing she was moved to learn a bit about the author’s history. Afterwards she came to me and told me of his frustrations first with law school, then journalism and eventually even his fiction writing. Then one day, while he and his family were en route to Acapulco on vacation, inspiration struck and he stopped and turned the car around and went back to his home and put his wife in charge of the family and he wrote, crafting for the next eighteen months the mythical world of Macando around which One Hundred Years of Solitude was centered. When he finished they had sold the car, pawned many of the household items they owned, gone greatly in debt, and in García Márquez’s case, was mentally and physically spent. But he was happy.
I listened to her and I thought about it for the next three days and then sat down with Franca and said that, if I was to become a good writer, I needed to do what García Márquez had done. I needed to remove the obstacles and focus on writing. I had spent all those years toiling at four in the morning, developing the diligence, the discipline, learning how to write, then leaving them two hours later and going off to work, for what? A bigger house. A better car. Nicer Furniture. Those things weren’t important to me, writing was. More importantly, they weren’t important to Franca either and she agreed and for the next year and a half, part of which we were both employed, we set aside thoughts of spending and tucked as much as we could away to provide in the future for our family. Then in the spring, on April 13th, 2007, exactly three years ago today, I left my job and became a full time writer.
Following this dream, I’ll admit, has had it’s share of downside with the upside. I’ve not published a book, though I was recognized with an Arts Council Grant for the opening chapter. Some of the reserves we set aside have been used to pay for costly unseen emergencies, but we have not had to sell any cars or pawn appliances. I am home more with the children, but presence sometimes incites participation and I find it difficult to write when there are more exciting things to do, like jump on the trampoline or ride bikes. Finally, there is the usual constant barrage of commercialism telling us we need new things, better things, more and more stuff. Mostly though, we have all learned how to do with a bit less and none of us are generally bothered by it.
There are moments though when not having more freedom financially causes me to second guess my decision. Lia’s diagnosis with diabetes is one of those. I worry about our ability to give her what she needs. I worry that we will not be able to afford the newest technology, the best treatment, the most effective care. And I worry that the stories I wanted to write about and which inspired me to leave my job are not worthy anymore of attention. Reality now occupies me; it, more than imagination, primes my writing.
So it is that Without Envy is my story too, one that has been in the works for much longer than any archive or calendar can give credit to, but one I won’t ever regret. It has been a wonderful experience and though in a way I have Gabo to thank, I know the great writer would understand if instead my dedication read: To Franca, of course.