We who are about to breed: Sebastian Matthews.
[In which WWAATD asks writers and other artist types about life as breeders/parents/kid-keepers.]
Name: Sebastian Matthews
1. What is your kid’s name, age?
Avery is an eight-year-old boy. We adopted him when he was seven weeks old. His older sister, Ursula, is an eleven-year-old Chocolate Lab.
2. How do you balance your time between parenting and writing?
For me the balance is between parenting, writing and teaching. I work part-time as a creative writing teacher, take care of my boy after school (and get him off to school in the mornings) and get to my writing in the gaps. Summers open up and, with Avery off to camp, I am allowed more time to write. Standard stuff.
My wife also teaches (though she’s not a writer), so she juggles teaching and directing a small Social Work program with parenting. She’s in charge of homework, nighttime reading, etc.
3. What is the best piece of advice about being a parent and a writer?
Don’t cling to old patterns; don’t expect to write as much or as well. It’s a new life. You’ll have to give up the sacred times at first and put up with shorter time periods in which to work. You’re more distracted than usual, and tired. Gradually, you get these things back—sacred time, clarity, energy—and a new schedule will hopefully work itself out.
I finally gave up working on clear-cut projects and instead wrote morning lines with friends for a few years. A couple paragraphs a day about what was happening, how I was feeling, what I was seeing and thinking. Now, years later, I am still mining those pages for my current writing life. And I cobbled together a long-essay out of it (on being a father) that I was able to place in an anthology.
4. How has your writing changed since becoming a parent?
My work is a little less self-involved. Partly because I can write about my boy now, but also because I can see how mundane my day-to-day life has become. I have to look outside my realm of experience. No more adventure stories to relate. It’s a good thing.
But the biggest change has been the level, or tenor, of my ambition. I still want to be this and that, win this and that, make this and that amount of money, but I have become less invested in having these things come about. I now use ambition as a way to tip myself into my work; it matters less if I am showing up in the Poets & Writers’ contest-winners- section.
5. Tell us something we don’t know about you and being an artist- or writer-slash-parent.
Besides writing poems and essays and novels, I also make collages. For the last few years, Avery joins me in the process. We sit at the table and cut-and-paste together. Recently, I have started including his images and cut-out shapes in my own work. I don’t give him credit. (Though Avery steals my camera from time to time, so I find random shots on it. I include some of those on my blog but always credit him as “guess snapper.”)