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.