Jimin Han, author of short stories and essays, some of which can be found online at NPR’s “Weekend America,” The Rumpus.net, The Good Men Project, Kartika Review, and KoreanAmericanStory.com. I’m working on a novel centered on a college campus shooting in 1983 in upstate New York alongside the pro-democracy movement in South Korea that was taking place during that same time.
Age of kids: 15 and 12
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
The biggest change has been predictability. I could schedule writing before I had kids. Barring disaster of global proportions, I could depend on the time I’d planned to write. After kids, all was up for grabs and continues to be (probably even after they go off to college I’ll get a midnight call for help from them). You can’t know when you can write and when you can’t. Illnesses of all kinds strike without warning, afflicting your kid and the one who is hosting your kid at her house (the worst being the call from the mother that her kid has been vomiting in front of your kid because then you know the tidal wave of illness is coming straight at you and all you can do is grimace and bear it). Rise early, you say? Yes, well, your child might wake early with an ear infection. Stay up late, you think? Yes, there’s the nightmare/quarrel with a friend/tormenting philosophical questions that keep your child awake and in need of your counsel. Certainly, as your child grows, your writing time increases. They can wait out that headache they have in school because they’re having a party in math class and you won’t be called to pick them up, or you can bargain with them: go back to bed despite the nightmare and stay in bed or else you can’t go the waterpark the next day with your friends. (Just now my 12-year-old was trying to dribble a styrofoam ball in the hallway and I had to stop writing this, open my door, and ask: “Really?”) That brings me to point #2. Noise. NOISE. You have to learn to write with it. All kinds of it.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deep into a current project?
This is such a hard question because I don’t remain present for my family very well. And sometimes I can’t get deep into a project to write very well. Both are problematic. I feel like I’m failing at both being a parent and being a writer most of the time. That whole compartmentalizing mental thing people talk about is not possible for me. I have to work very, very hard at meeting deadlines for my family (that event at school I’ve signed up to bring in a snack for) and for myself (immediate deadlines and long term ones).
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
I always worried before I had children about what my parents and extended family would think. My parents pounded into me the idea that what I did reflected on them. I never rebelled the way I probably should have as a teenager. So after I had children, I worried about what my parents and extended family would think and added my kids to that large audience of judges. What parenthood did for me though was give me a deep sense of unconditional love. My kids completely accept me and I feel buoyed by their love even when the writing isn’t going well. I find myself telling them to be brave and see that it can apply to me, too. I feel less stifled by other people’s judgements now. And I can see as they grow into teenagers that they’re capable of understanding complex ideas. So I think parenthood has helped me reach for deeper material even as it restricts me in terms of having time to pursue it.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
Getting enough sleep, sustaining long work when I only have short bursts of time, making sure there’s enough food in the frig.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
I wrote a long list of “advice” and then deleted it. If you’d asked me right after my kids were born I’d have pages and pages for you, and I’m ashamed to say I unloaded many of those pages on friends of mine who had babies right after me (some thanked me, others did not). So now maybe there’s only one piece of advice I have that has remained true and others have said it so I can’t claim to be original: the only thing you can rely on is change. Whatever is going on with you and your child, it will change. The worst nights will change into hopeful mornings. Not much stays the same.