My sister and I are creatives marooned in the family home. Our parents want us to get real jobs
Recently my sister and I have been discussing how at odds we both feel living under the conventions of a western, capitalist society. We are two of five children (all millennials) and fondly refer to the other three as “squares” who have happily embraced these conventions; they have partners, stable jobs, savings and the usual aspirations of getting married, buying houses and starting families.
Meanwhile my sister and I remain in the family home (marooned by the pandemic) and are both working on manuscripts and at the height of our creative output. However, we lament the fact our parents want us to get “real jobs” and live “normal” lives. We have no savings or hope of changing our current circumstances to gain some independence without making huge sacrifices.
The space, time and freedom to be creative in the arts seems vitally more important to both of us than a 9 to 5 job, which we would largely be doing just to pay the bills and would detract from our real goals and passions.
What are the options for doomed millennials who resist current ways of living, but can’t afford the freedom to gain independence from our parents and live a creative life on our own terms?
Eleanor says: Listen, I’m a writer and my best friend just bought a house, so I know the place you’re coming from, and from that place I’m telling you, eye to eye: when the pandemic is over you have to leave your parents’ house.
There’s nothing wrong with living at home if it works for your family: I’ve said before that splitting generations between residences is a relatively recent invention and it’s not a coincidence that we spend more on property when we think living separately is the only way to have dignity. The argument isn’t that you should move because that’s what society wants, or that there’s anything wrong with accepting parental assistance when it’s enthusiastically offered.
The argument is: I’m not sure the offer is all that enthusiastic. I only have your small letter, so I know much less about this dynamic than you do – but to stay in someone’s house you need to be very, very confident that they don’t mind, and these remarks about getting a job undermine my confidence that your parents don’t mind.
They could very well have their own dreams of creativity and autonomy. They might want to travel, or spend time together as a couple, or live on their own terms after decades of supporting five kids. And to put it bluntly – I hope they and you will forgive me – they have less time for those dreams than you do for yours.
You know firsthand what a tragic waste it seems to spend your one precious life in a way you don’t want to – imagine feeling that while feeling that you have more of life behind you than to look forward to. That’s the place your parents might be in, so please don’t dismiss their exhortations as straitjacketed conservatism. They might be asking you to start living like a Proper Grown Up so they can finally stop.
Besides, if it is straitjacketed conservatism, moving shuts them up: the only time people get to tell you you’re not living right is when they pay for how you live. Once you finance yourself, you answer to yourself, and you will be able to stand tall and say “I’m a writer”.
I know you’re worried that the “huge sacrifices” you describe will affect your creativity, and they might – you will be tired, and you’ll have less time for writing. But if you’re really good at what you do, you can eventually make money doing it. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote to someone struggling in your position: “The world is pretty quick to catch the flavour of true originality. Nothing pleases an editor more than to get anything worth having from a new hand. You may have genius … if you have, the world wants you more than you want it.”
Holmes was right – readers want writers, publishers do too, and there is nothing like needing to pay rent to make you find those readers and publishers. You do not need to have the lawn and the tie and the savings if you don’t want to. But you do need to quadruple check with your parents that you aren’t asking them to delay their dreams so you can keep having yours.