Writer, with Kids: Ben Tanzer


Ben Tanzer is the author of Lost in Space: A Father’s Journey There and Back Again, Orphans, You Can Make Him Like You, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine, Daddy Cool, Lucky Man, and I Am.

I don’t know balance and I never have. I don’t know from moderation either, but I love the sound of it.

I do compulsive and mania well though. I understand extremes. Binge eating, television watching, gin & tonics. I know those things intimately. Give me five Jelly Bellies or 500 hundred and I will eat them all in one sitting. Feel free to tell me that 24 is on DVD or that Orange is the New Black has been released en masse on Netflix and I will consume them. Pitchers of drinks. Those too. I’ve done all of it.

I can quit anything, stop, dead to me, easy, but manage something. No. Not really. Barely. Never. Not reading or running or jerking-off or drinking or watching television.

I’m all in, and I am all consumption all of the time.

But I am also a parent and I have a day job and I write, and I am fully engaged in those things as well, and so, how should I talk about the balance between writing and family and work?

How do I balance all of that? How does it work? And what does it look like?

It looks a lot like family and work coming first and everything else, writing, my compulsions, being bent and molded around those things. It’s also about stealing time, my time, down time, extra time for work or children or spouse or rest, and seeing every new or unexpected free moment as an opportunity. If lunch is suddenly free, I write. If my wife Debbie and the kids go out for several hours, I write, run, watch television, jerk-off, all of it.

Which also means endless slotting, planning, thinking about what every hour of every day might look like, and trying to work that schedule, no flagging, no perfection, or fatigue, nothing precious, constantly plotting, and making it happen.

When it is time to go to work, I work, when it is time to parent, I try to be in it, and when I have decided I am supposed to write, I write, 30 minutes a day, every day,

Except for when I don’t, the writing that is, because Dr. Seuss will tell you, sometimes it won’t, or can’t, so you adjust, new plan, new time frame, new slotting.

All of that and small bites, always small, and doable. To be thinking about everything, and all of the moving pieces is overwhelming, but focusing on the parts that comprise those pieces, and looking at everything incrementally, that works, it can work, and much of the time it does.

The other thing, no fat, no unplanned Breaking Bad marathons, no losing myself on the internet, no excessive drinking, or sleeping in, because even my compulsive, manic binges need to be scheduled.

Which might mean they are not really so manic, and may in fact represent a kind of balance, I guess, hope. Or at least a balancing of sorts, though more like playing Jenga than walking a tightrope. Shifting pieces, making adjustments, being in the moment, and focused, breathing, believing it will all work, and trying to make it so.

As I write this, I am struck that this all sounds boring, or I do anyway, possibly crazy, and not that fun, or funny, and I am fun, and funny. Really. Ask anyone.

I also think that I may sound like kind of dick, that I am making it sound like this works smoothly, and that it is doable if you just fucking do it. That there is no real failure or frustration. There is, but I have to ignore those things, the rejections, the things that don’t work, and the spikes in depression I feel when something doesn’t hit like I want it to.

I don’t have time to dwell on that stuff, not here in this piece, not in real life, not when I’m writing or parenting or going to work. Not anywhere.

I didn’t get started for a long time, not with writing, or parenting, none of it, and before the kids, and the writing, and the work, I was all compulsion and fat and wallow, and I had fun, but I don’t want that anymore.

Which is also a kind of balance I guess, I lived one way, and now I try to live another.

Both versions are fine, but this one is better.

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Writer, With Kids