This is the last post to appear on Wild Muse. It’s been a fun few years writing here, but things are changing and I’ve decided the time is right to mosey on along. Wild Muse was born as a science blog in the summer of 2009. I was just getting started in freelance writing and enjoyed the idea of having my own little sandbox to play around with in cyberspace. A few years later, as work responsibilities grew to encompass a book project and my personal life expanded to encompass a baby, I had much less time than ever before to blog.
A year after my son was born, Wild Muse was reborn as a science, nature, and nonfiction book review site. It was the summer of 2013. I wrote reviews sporadically, when I had time, for every second or third book that I finished. My posts became more and more spaced out. Infrequent publishing is often the death rattle of a blog, and so it was with this one. As my family continues to expand, and we prepare to welcome a second baby into our home, I’ve taken a long and reflective look at what I spend my time on, as well as what I envision my time budget to be in the near future. This reflection allowed me to see that posting to Wild Muse has begun to feel more and more like a chore, and less and less like the invigorating outlet it once was.
Not many people know that after finishing my nonfiction book on red wolves, I began working as a financial oversight coordinator in a dental practice. I’m as trained in bookkeeping as I am in beekeeping. Ditto for human resources management, dental practice operations, and small business strategic growth management. But that’s what my time has been consumed with since October 2011. It was in that month that my life pivoted, and my path forever changed: all within a few weeks time, I discovered I was pregnant, I submitted my completed book manuscript to UNC Press, and I began working for the dental practice.
My path to working in the dentistry field was wholly unplanned. It was a byproduct of my marriage to a dentist who struck out as a sole practitioner in 2011. It often feels like we’ve been fighting to keep our heads above water since then. I won’t divulge specifics, but let’s just say that every single step of the way to getting this business going has been a struggle — every week, and every month. My husband works 60-70 hours per week. I work about half that while also being the primary caregiver to our beautiful son and running our household. There is so much to unpack in those last two sentences, it humbles me knowing the meaning with which they are suffused.
As a mom to a toddler, within another on the way, I have limited time to work each week. Three years after assuming my role in the business, I still feel ambivalent about the choice to spend my work time on dentistry versus within my chosen field. Perhaps this is illustrated by the fact I’ve listed my dental position on my LinkedIn profile, only to later delete it, at least a half dozen times in the past two years. Here’s the rub, I want to project to the world that in my worklife, I am a writer. But increasingly, my worklife is defined by the business of dentistry.
I haven’t known how to process this. How to make the pieces fit. How to own it. I pine for the writer’s life — the intellectual stimulation! the artistry! the research! the words! the puzzle of putting it all together! — even while benefitting from my current life. It’s my husband’s business that supports us, not my writing. It’s because of him that we were able to buy a home; it’s because of him that we save for the future.
I’m in good company, I fear, as more than one writer friend has told me that behind every science writer is a spouse with a steady paycheck. But I must no longer feel honest about projecting myself to the world solely in the capacity of being a writer, because today I put my dental field experience back on LinkedIn. And it’s staying there. (Even if LinkedIn is largely irrelevant nowadays, there’s something about this act that signifies my acceptance.)
Most days I feel bifurcated by desire and responsibility: one foot on the path to my dream career as a writer and author, one foot on the path to fiscal responsibility for my family. But regardless of my ‘druthers, the dental industry is where I’ve spent my work weeks for the past three years. It’s time I own that.
My path to science writing, marriage, and a change of plans
For as long as I can remember I’ve held an affinity for words and books. As a little girl, I remember climbing behind rose-patterned curtains and onto the padded window seat in my bedroom . There, I devoured book after book in the hours between school and dinner. My eyes could not drink enough of the pages. I dreamed of my hands and my mind creating the sentences and ideas behind the uniform, authoritative, typeset paragraphs.
About the time I returned to graduate school in 2005 to study science writing, I had the rather anticlimactic self-realization that perhaps I wasn’t the marrying kind, and that perhaps this was just fine. A few years earlier, after earning a bachelor of design, I’d moved to Orlando where I worked in a series of architecture and deisgn offices. I left Orlando because of serious questions about the profession I’d been trained for, and because I knew (on some gut level) that I wasn’t finding the type of quality people who make life-long friends or relationship partners. While the blame for the latter point likely lay entirely with me, it was the deep misgivings about spending my life as a commercial interior designer which prompted me back to university. That, and a sense of confidence that perhaps I could fulfill my dream of being a writer if I joined it with my growing affinity for the natural sciences.
But then a funny thing happened while in graduate school: I met my future husband. I was studying science writing, working at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and I was deeply engrossed with the Gainesville Cycling Club, where I routinely racked up 150-250 miles of riding per week. My legs had never been more thick with muscle. When I got to know M., via cycling, the feelings that permeated our time together were overwhelming. I somehow knew that he was the one I wanted to spend my life with; the one I trusted my life with; the one to whom I would entrust my future. And I did. When he moved to North Carolina after graduation, I followed. I jumped prematurely into freelance writing, it seemed the only way to swim in the Tar Heel State. We married two years later.
M. is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. As a dentist, his knowledge of medicine, materials science, and chemistry never ceases to amaze me. That alone would be enough, but his business acumen is uncanny. He has a nose for commerce and efficiency born of common sense but infused with sharp critical thinking skills. He would have been a rare student in an MBA program. He also possesses the brain of an engineer, someone who is just as at home using his hands to rebuild the architecture of someone’s mouth as he is rewiring the lights in his truck.
His intellectual qualities and work ethic are admirable traits. But he would be the first to admit they are not always easy for those working with him. He is exacting, demanding, relentless, and unstoppable in the ways he pushes himself toward excellence every day. And he expects no less from others; a combination of factors that can sometimes explode in our entwined working lives into unmet expectations and disappointment on his end, and frustration on mine. I’ve wondered if it’s healthy for husbands and wives to work together. Surely some of my work traits drive him mad too. Such as my utter inability to remember oral directions or tasks unless they are written down, or the way I think and think about an issue and then fail to communicate to him what’s in my mind. Perhaps one of our saving graces, for now, is that I am not physically in the dental practice. I work from home. Which is lonely in a way that being a writer working at home never seemed to generate. Maybe it’s because working with numbers all day leaves me a little less intellectually engaged than working with words, ideas and the endlessly-fascinating puzzle of designing an article’s framework.
I never dreamed I’d be a glorified bookkeper. I never dreamed I’d fall in love with a dentist. Or become a wife, or a mother. Or live in a home with a glorious window wall overlooking a beautiful Appalachian mountain cove. But all these things have happened. Change has happened. And I am learning to keep pace.
The question now is, will I learn to reincorporate the parts of myself that got lost along the way? Or am I forged into someone new?
The path ahead
I’ve questioned, at times, if I’m letting the me of myself be drowned out by motherhood and wifery. (M. too, I know, mourns what he’s lost of himself to the totality of what his business demands.) I write this because I work in his dental practice not to earn money, but because I love him. Because he asked me to. Because he needs me to. Because we need me to. It’s a need that subsumes my wants and ‘druthers. Maybe this is part of adultood, the casting aside of childhood dreams for the embracement of realities that will ensure a solid future for your family. (The irony is not lost on me that having reconciled myself to the fact I may not marry, it was my marriage that led me off the path to the writing career of which I’d long dreamed. Our marriage has given me a great many other things, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a fateful twist worthy of a novella plot.)
Perhaps if we had no children I could sustain my writing in a dual career. But we do have a child. A beautiful, energetic, smart child who wakes up like a freight train with a wide open throttle and sucks the energy out of me like a vampire until he goes to sleep twelve hours later. Soon we’ll have two. And so far I’ve found the trinity of a toddler, my dental job, and my writing career to be untenable. Writing as a career — my dream — is what I have to abdicate, for now, to make everything else in my life, our life, work. I have no idea if I’ll find my way back to a career in science writing, I certainly hope so; but I am beginning to see a path where I can keep writing in my life in some capacity. Maybe it won’t be the career I envisioned, but perhaps penning a dozen or so articles a year will suffice. And maybe that will have to be just fine. For now.