LevGrossman

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Benedictus: Thoughts on Being a Writer and Having Children

There’s a lot of reasons why I haven’t been blogging much lately, but here’s the most important one: my new son. His name is Benedict Christopher Lev Grossman.

This is him at about four hours old. Note in particular his hair. He was almost two weeks late, and I’m pretty sure he spent the extra time touching up his blond highlights.

His name is Benedict, but mostly we’re calling him Baz, which is the Australian way of shortening pretty much every name that starts with a B. (His mom’s Australian. If you’ve ever wondered about the slight but detectable pro-Australian bias in the Magicians books, there’s your answer.) He has also been addressed as Basil, Basil Brush, and Mr. Brush. I don’t think anybody has actually called him Benedict yet.

I’ve talked in the past about the general question of child-bearing, which is something I think about a lot, to the boredom and disgust of Younger Me who couldn’t have cared less about that stuff. Younger Me, if you’re reading this blog, bail now, dude.

Having kids is a practice regarded with fear and suspicion in my family. I now have three children– there’s also Lily, 8, and Halcyon, 2 — which makes me something of an outlier among Grossmen. Neither my sister (older) nor my brother (twin) have kids, and to be honest I never thought I would either. I thought having kids would get in the way of all that other important stuff I had going on, like, I don’t know, writing and drinking and traveling around.

And it does. A lot. Just for example: I was supposed to be at a conference in Zürich this weekend. I’m not. I had to cancel, because my family needed me here.

But there are other ways to look at it. One is that the business of making new people is actually really important too, because otherwise where would new people come from? I mean, there’s always more people, but what about new people who care about the same stuff I do? I think of children sort of like Voyager probes, except instead of sending them out into space you send them forward in time. They carry messages from your civilization inside them, on into the weirdness of the future. They keep going and going long after you’re gone.

There also this: I personally needed to have kids to become the person and the writer I wanted to be. This is not a universal thing; I’m not recommending having children as a writing tip. I think it only applies to people who even as adults are the emotional equivalent of frozen cavemen, and who need somebody to thaw them out and seriously kick the shit out of them, emotionally speaking, before they have any idea who they are or what they’re doing. I was one of those people. Having children did that for me.

I bitch and moan a lot about how I’m always changing diapers and giving baths and making school lunches and strapping and unstrapping little people into and out of car seats while I could be writing books. And it’s true: it’s insane how relentless and exhausting raising kids is. If anything it’s tougher than people make out. At this exact second there is a tiny person lying on the bed next to me making a noise like an air horn every time I take my finger out of his mouth to type. (Brief rant: modern American society sucks at child-rearing. Humans evolved to live in communities, with their extended families around them. Trying to raise kids as a twosome, alone in your locked house, with no family around and both parents working full-time, is ridiculously hard. We’re doing it wrong.)

But it’s also true that I never wrote a book I was proud of till I had children. I started The Magicians two months after Lily was born, and that’s not a coincidence. Before that happened I never wrote anything worth a damn. Maybe I would write more if I didn’t have kids, but I’m not at all convinced that anything I wrote would be worth reading.

 


38 comments on “Benedictus: Thoughts on Being a Writer and Having Children

  1. Adam says:

    That is one handsome lad. Congrats!

  2. Congratulations, Lev. I swear I don’t know how you do it. I only have one and I have trouble remembering to put on pants in the morning. You have three and write literature. Show-off.

  3. He is precious. Well done.

    (Also, dead @ the frozen cavemen tag. Priceless)

  4. K. M. Walton says:

    It’s rather wild, this “making and then raising human beings” gig. It involves a love like no other.

    Massive congratulations to you and your family. Such a thrilling time!!

    PS My sister is married to an Australian too. I love how they “ie” everything: Chrissie Prezzies = Christmas Presents, for example.

  5. Yamile says:

    Congrats on your baby boy! I have a 10 week old boy, my 5th child. Last night, I wrote 1,000 words while he slept beside me. Being a parent has filled me with the determination to be the best I can be, for them.
    I love the idea of children being our probes into the future. Everything I do is worth doing because of them.
    Thanks for this post and happy babymoon.

  6. Rita says:

    He is bee-youuuu-tee-ful, Lev. I noticed the fabulous hair when you posted the picture on Facebook.

    As usual, you pounded out a couple things here that made me nod in complete agreement. First, ” I think it only applies to people who even as adults are the emotional equivalent of frozen cavemen, and who need somebody to thaw them out and seriously kick the shit out of them, emotionally speaking, before they have any idea who they are or what they’re doing. I was one of those people. Having children did that for me.”

    Yes, yes, and yes. For me, having people touch me (other than for important stuff that needed doing), it made my skin crawl. Kids kind of desensitize you to that, and yet also make you more sensitive to touch in a different way. They kind of crack you open and then fill those cracks with warm, gooey lovey stuff.

    Secondly, your commentary about raising kids as a couple instead of a community is dead on. I remember feeling that way, too, most profoundly when I was stretched over with my finger in my youngest’s mouth when she was half a day old, unable to move to get her from her isolette to feed her because I had a c-section. Her dad was out doing dad stuff with the other two kids, since they also needed parenting and I just had to contort myself in that weird way while I waited for a nurse to have time to come give her to me. I knew then that we’re all doing it wrong in that way.

    I have lots of opinions on parenting, Lev, and it looks to me like you’re doing a great job. Just enjoy it. You know how fast this time goes. Soak it in. You can hold that book in your hand forever and it’ll never change, but that child is slipping through your fingers and becoming someone else as you speak.

  7. Collin says:

    Thanks for the post. You’ve articulated my thoughts on writing and family. Sometimes we need to remember that the most important body of work we leave behind will be our children, not our art. I expect that one of my kids will be more creative and prolific than I am. I’m going to invest in the future.

  8. Alex Bledsoe says:

    I feel the same way about my kids, too. They keep me honest, both morally and artistically.

  9. I love your blog and your new son is a real cutie! I agree that the business of making people is an important one. I’ve got three; they are grown now and they are the people I love to spend time with and the people who are the most fun to have around me. Enjoy.

  10. Jeanne says:

    Aw. Really, just…aw.

  11. Claire Winkler says:

    You absolutely nailed it with this. Like you, I couldn’t make peace with my childhood until I held my own child in my arms. The love they teach you is the only truly unconditional love there is, and coupled with the constant underlying fear for their safety they expand your range of emotion almost instantly. It’s the damndest thing. Lovely blog post, and Benedict is a fantastic name.

  12. William Hafner says:

    To Master Benedict, Welcome to the world! May your stay here be a happy one – filled with love. Be good!

    my very best wishes,
    William Hafner

  13. Paul says:

    Congratulations Grossmans on a new addition! Baz is looking stylish with his highlights. Odd side note… the company that makes and sells the hospitals “standard issue new baby wrap/blanket” must be making a killing. Every new child comes with one! Seriously. That blue/red stripe shows up in every new kid pic.

  14. Emil says:

    Many congratulations, Baz looks absolutely beautiful!

  15. Jaimie says:

    You know if you keep having more kids you train the older ones to take care of the younger ones. Bingo.

    Congrats!

  16. Robbi Nester says:

    Lev,
    Congratulations! Baz is lovely, and I wish you and your family all the best.
    I think you are right about writing and children. You don’t have a clear perspective of yourself and your work in relation to the rest of the world until you join the parenting club, or at least that is how I have felt about it.
    I have only one, who is grown now (22), and I miss talking to a little child, caring for him, reading to him, etc. Yeah, it’s extremely hard, and especially when the kid has disabilities, but I miss that now. I think about it a lot.
    Enjoy it while you can.

  17. Brandon says:

    Congrats. Your kid is furry for a newborn! :D

  18. Gus Dahlberg says:

    Congratulations, Lev. He’s adorable.

  19. M says:

    nowadays whenever i do something that i’m unsure about i just tell myself im doing research for a book

    srsly nice hair though SRSLY

  20. Brittany says:

    Congratulations to your family! I was one of three children and I think it was a magical number. My sisters and I went from being a duo to a tribe. Now I have an almost 8-yr. old special needs child at home (and my spouse and I both work, so I feel your frustration) and I think I rely on that daily emotional thaw you were talking about! Cheers!

  21. […] Benedictus: View on Being a Writer and Having Family « Lev Grossman […]

  22. Diyona Joe says:

    Wish You A Happy Family with the new arrival. Lovely child ….

  23. Gina Nelson says:

    Hello,

    Gina of the Baby Name List here. This is a superlative name and it is going straightaway on my list. Warmest congratulations to all the Grossmans, childless and otherwise.

    Besides these, my most enthusiastic message is to Benedict: You are one very blessed boy.

  24. Carly says:

    You’ve inspired me to go get pregnant and write a book. :-) Thank you as always for your inspiration. Welcome Sir Benedict.

  25. […] of as Ponyo. (In the meantime, Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, has expressed his thoughts on writing and fatherhood better than I ever could.) Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to […]

  26. Reginald Baltimore says:

    SUPER DUPER! /Ron Burgundy

    Congrats & Best wishes

  27. toni says:

    congratulations on the new addition, what a gorgeous wee boy! I like what you say about having children thawing you out emotionally. I am constantly in flux, bewildered at my life, in doubt about everything, especially feelings. would love kids, but first maybe I just need to start taking chances on people.

    anyway interesting post, congrats again :)

  28. Elissa Field says:

    I laughed and nodded all the way through this. I remember meeting with a prof when I was a know it all undergrad, commenting that I didn’t think successful writers had kids. These years later, I still remember the dazed look she gave me. You said it perfectly: it’s not that you’d suggest having kids “as a writing tip,” but they genuinely challenge you to experience life fully, in the ways writers always seek to do. My crazy boys (and students) sap my energy, yet I see so much more deeply and empathetically into the details of life around me than I did before them. Enjoy your new son!

  29. Christopher Wallace says:

    Every time I think you couldn’t be a bigger hero to me, you go and write something like this.

  30. I just finished rereading “The Magicians” and started rereading “The Magician King”. And I thought, “Hey, it’s been awhile, where’s the next one?” Thought I might have missed the release, so I checked Amazon. Here I am and now I know why there isn’t another (yet). You are kinda busy. (And he is beautiful!) I’ve had two of my own, both girls, and one of them turned me on to Harry Potter, so now we are all Potter Heads together. Yet another benefit of kids.(She’s in college now and also is waiting for the next Magician book. No pressure.) OK, so you’ve got a good excuse. I guess I’ll have to be patient. Good luck, enjoy your three and try to get some sleep!
    P.S. You are absolutely right–American society does suck at the child rearing thing. How can this NOT be a priority!

  31. Am I the _only_ person who thinks Baz looks like a tiny Sting?

  32. I thought you wrote well on the subject. I say this as someone who had four young kids himself before he started writing seriously. (Two are now married, and my youngest is in his last year of college.)

    Yeah, you’ll write less because you have kids. But yes, what you do write really will be better—because you have taken upon yourself one of the ultimate adult responsibilities. It’s not only that kids ‘unfreeze the emotional caveman,’ although that certainly happens. Really trying to be decent parents requires people to reach down into themselves and bring out all sorts of qualities that they didn’t even know were in them. (Perhaps surprisingly, these are so very often good qualities.) You are the better human being for trying to do this.

    Yeah, you’ll continue to bitch, moan, and complain. And when the diapers are over—along with the macaroni art and the dance and music recitals and the school plays and sports games and, heaven help us, proms, and all the other paraphernalia and activities that go along with raising human beings pre-pre-K through 12—you will miss it more than anything. (Take heart. There are likely grandchildren ahead.) But your life will be deeper, and thus your writing deeper, for having put your heart and soul into this. Good for you, and your wife. Blessings on you all.

    As for me, I’m back to updating Faust. I think I’m about up to that, now.

  33. Mor Shemesh says:

    You know, that’s a good reason to update your bio… your newborn might feel neglected. Kids these days have a surprisingly fast knack for technology :)

    Looks like a beautiful kid, congrads you cool, amazing, smart man.

  34. Mark Waldo says:

    Hello Mr. Grossman,

    I Followed you here from a great article of yours in Time, “Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle”.

    Thank you for tagging “Basil Brush”

    Regards,
    -Mark

  35. Heather Head says:

    Touching up blond highlights indeed.

    And I love Codex almost as much as The Magicians, so it’s not ALL about the kids.

    But I do agree about them being like Voyager probes. I wonder what they will see and learn?

  36. Frank says:

    I cannot believe how much hair he has. At only 4 hours yet! He’s got more hair than my 8 month old daughter.

    Like you, I never thought I’d have kids. How will I write? Go to movies? See Stonehendge? I just finished my first semester of grad school with her in my life, and it was tough, no doubt, but, as cliche as it sounds, I wouldn’t trade her smile for anything in the world.

    I’m reading “The Magician King” now, and can’t turn the pages fast enough. Keep it up, sir, and best of luck with your new Baz.

  37. Hi there, just wanted to mention, I loved this blog post. It was practical. Keep on posting!

  38. […] balance isn’t easy. But I don’t think it’s an accident that so many writers, from Lev Grossman to Stephen King, trace their full understanding of themselves and their craft from their engagement […]

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