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We who are about to breed: Ted Pelton.

September 23, 2011 \am\30 11:00 am

[In which WWAATD asks writers and other artist types about life as breeders/parents/kid-keepers.]

Name: Ted Pelton

1. What is your kid’s name, age?

Sophia Boonyen Pelton. She just turned two.

2. How do you balance your time between parenting and writing?

Ha! I haven’t written any new fiction that I’m happy with for about two years; the last good story I completed was a month after Sophie was born. Part of this is my own fault, because a number of years ago, when I was childless, I started a press, Starcherone Books, which just turned 11. Starcherone has also for many years been my child, and throws tantrums, poops its pants, makes me proud, keeps me up at night, surprises me with how fast it grows — really has analogous aspects to many of the things that I am now experiencing with Sophie.

But now with the two of them, kid and press, it remains to be seen if the writer-me will ever get out again. Really–I’m waiting to see when and how this will break. The next few months are crucial, because I have a sabbatical from my paying job this Fall. If I can’t get some new writing done now, maybe it is all over! I had some things in the pipeline the past couple of years — my novella, Bartleby, the Sportscaster, came out in 2010; really, it had been finished about five years before that; I also have had my Woodchuck story series still appearing. But all the good ones are now published, so it’s time to see.

I think the toughest part is the sense of responsibility. As a younger writer, doing new work was an escape from responsibilities, and in fact thrived somewhat on that sense of being irresponsible. When I started writing fiction, it was the thing I would do when I was supposed to be doing something else, something required. But the responsibility of parenting is harder — impossible really — to feel a thrill about avoiding! Where with other kinds of responsibility, you can get off on being the bad boy, the bad girl. But parenting, the guilt is there; not even guilt, a kind of sick feeling in your stomach, if you play at the expense of something you should be doing for your kid. And I feel in many ways the same about Starcherone, about letting authors down, who I’m supposed to be working for, and who depend upon me. With the two of them — whew!

3. What is the best piece of advice about being a parent and a writer?

I think that when I do turn back to the Woodchuck series this Fall, it will have something new to it, and that’s the sense that I’ve learned from Sophie about seeing the world anew. I love, for instance, how she interacts with objects in the world, and it really got me looking at things differently. There’s a rock outside in our backyard, by the driveway, about the size of a basketball, and of course I had noticed it and knew it was there, and was even kind of fond of it. But when Sophie sees it, she says, “Hi, Rock,” and it takes on identity and spirit, like you see in native tales, which have been very inspiring to me in recent years, while I’ve been doing my take on trickster tales in the Woodchuck series, stories that have been published mostly in The Brooklyn Rail. So my advice is — and it is advice to myself as well, because now I look forward to being able to carry it out — to learn that the world can be seen anew. That’s a powerful sense of what the artist does, back to the romantics also. Rimbaud gives that off very powerfully, and whatever you think of him, Wordsworth does as well, and that’s one of the most powerful things about Wordsworth, the gorgeous mystery of “our birth is a sleep and a forgetting…,” where all learning and education is actually cutting you off from the world, from the immensity of the spirit that is in everything. I don’t want to make this religious; I want to keep it about the imagination. BUT… there is that wonderful euphoria of child-like imagination that doesn’t insist on categories, and so you can’t discount transcendence either. So the advice? “The child is father of the man” — there’s stuff to be learned about what we do, at the highest levels of creative accomplishment, from kids…. Or, that is, unlearned.

4. How has your writing changed since becoming a parent?

I guess I got that above. It stopped. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s the amount of literal time I have for writing — or for anything, for concentration — that’s changed. Yeah — for all the abstraction about responsibility and guilt above, it really comes down to time. I used to have it, and I didn’t ever realize how much time I used to have.

5. Tell us something we don’t know about you and being an artist- or writer-slash-parent.

I long wanted to become a parent because I thought it would be good for me to stop being all about myself, and ultimately good for my art as well. Since being a writer is so much about being an egotist, I’m curious to see how that one plays out.

I was right: continual little ego-deaths are a lot of what parenting brings. You can’t even feel good and complacent about your parenting itself, because it keeps changing. When my daughter was a newborn, I learned to wrap a swaddle cloth really well. That was my job; my wife would ask me to do it for her. I was kind of sad when Sophie got too old for me to need that anymore. I want to think such a continual humbling is good for me as an artist.

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2 Comments
  1. Stella Padnos-Shea permalink
    September 24, 2011 \pm\30 1:45 pm 1:45 pm

    Can you please stop by, say, around 9:30 tonight & swaddle up our 6-week-old baby?
    Thank you madly.

  2. September 27, 2011 \am\30 6:15 am 6:15 am

    Being present and paying attention takes all of ones time. But isn’t that the point?
    Ah yes, once you had time – now you’re getting wisdom. Don’t try to figure out what’s fair.
    Sounds like you are making wise choices.

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