I met my wife while we were both in graduate school. The two of us had cubicles across from one another in the bullpen office we shared with several others, the Deuce-38 that might be of story and song had I paid more attention to the world around me and were I a better writer than I am. We got to know one another as we worked together, first on translating early English into modern, later on other projects, not all of which were academic in nature. But our first association was as scholars, laboring together to master knowledge so that we could make more of it, and that foundation still shows in our relationship and conversations.
I point all this out to offer context for what follows, of course. My wife and I are both trained as scholars, although both of us have left off academia as a profession; she opted out of continued study soon after we learned of our daughter, while I gave up the search for full-time academic work a while back and left teaching at the beginning of the year this year. Even so, I continue to write, putting out chapter-by-chapter summaries of one author’s corpus and putting together such essays and other pieces as this. Indeed, I’ve been doing more writing, and more public writing, since leaving academe than I did while I was making a go of an academic career. (And, yes, I am aware that writing syllabi and assignments, and making comments on students’ papers for grading all “count” as writing. I think more of what I write now gets read, though, although how much of that was my attitude towards students and how much was the students’ attitude toward the work is not entirely clear to me.)
Not long before this writing, although some time before it will appear where others can see it, my wife asked me why I need to keep writing. I was penning pages in my journal when she asked, and I had said something about needing to write when she had asked what I wanted to do with her and our daughter on a sunny afternoon. And I didn’t have a good answer for her. I mean, I could have quoted Asimov, talking about writing as breathing, but she and I both know it’s not quite that important for me; I’ve spent many days not writing, although I admit to feeling some compulsion to keep putting words together. And it’s not as if I was writing for pay, which would have justified the time away to some extent.
The question has stuck with me, as might be imagined. I still do not have a good answer for it. Yes, I continue to entertain the fantasies that what I write will be of some use to others and that I will, at some point, be able to bring in a bit of money for my family from doing it. But they are largely–not entirely, but largely–fantasies. A more concrete answer, well, that slab hasn’t yet been poured.