Ru Freeman on Life as Writer, Wife, & Mother

Ru Freeman, author of A DISOBEDIENT GIRL Kirkus called Ru Freeman‘s novel, A DISOBEDIENT GIRL, “an earnest, worthy, well-crafted debut,” and Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “Freeman illustrates contemporary Sri Lankan life through the battles waged between lovers, friends and strangers alike in this study in dignity, strength of character, tolerance and perseverance.”

Ru was born into a family of writers and many boys in Colombo, Sri Lanka. After a year of informal study at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, she arrived in the United States with a Parker ink pen and a box of Staedler pencils to attend Bates College in Maine. She completed her Masters in Labor Relations at the University of Colombo, and worked in the field of American and international humanitarian assistance and workers’ rights.

Her political writing has appeared in English and in translation. Her creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Guernica, Story Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, WriteCorner Press, Kaduwa and elsewhere and was nominated for the Best New American Voices anthologies in 2006 and 2008.

She calls both Sri Lanka and America home and writes and blogs about the people and countries underneath her skin.

To be entered into a drawing for a free copy of A DISOBEDIENT GIRL, please leave a comment below! Thank you and welcome, Ru.

A Disobedient Girl, by Ru Freeman

Don’t drink, don’t smoke … What do I do?

Until I had the book contract, it was difficult for me to answer, “I’m a writer” when people asked me what I did. If I managed to squeeze those words out, I’d add, “I write, that’s what I do,” a sort of qualification of the statement. Of course I always cringed after the fact. Do plumbers say “I’m a plumber, I plumb, that’s what I do,” or policeman say “I am a policeman, I police, that’s what I do?” I wondered. What was the matter with me?

That has certainly changed; now I even add the little hand movement, quite as though I were a scribe of yore, carving vaste wordes upon parchmente for prosperite. I talk freely about my political writing, journalism and, of course, fiction. But one thing that hasn’t changed is this: my life as wife and mother remains something I either bestow — upon people I like — or brandish — against people I don’t — as the case may be.

The writer that I am appears to want to stand unequivocally in that sphere where I am free to say yes to everything, but where that wanting to say yes rests in full awareness of the questions that won’t be asked, were I to divulge the domestic source of my other stability. I understood without knowing how I did that the opportunities that were offered to women were far fewer than those offered to men. I won’t go into the whole Publisher’s Weekly fracas over the top 100 best books of 2009 except to say that I support Women in Letters & Literary Arts (WILLA) work and advocacy which I find to be just as vital a part of human progress in the United States as the Million Mom March, Code Pink and other comparable organizations sweeping the nation during our age and time.

Suffice to say that there is a very different approach taken by booksellers, college administrators and other industry professionals when they ask a seemingly unencumbered woman to wine, dine, speak, read and discuss-among-ourselves than when that offer is made to a woman who is also a mother and wife. Frankly, it isn’t made that often to the latter group, whereas men of similar social registry hustle on up in correspondingly significant numbers to be feted and fawned upon.

Women writers are rarely profiled with baby on hip and hand upon spoon within tureen of soup on stove. Unless they are writing cookbooks. Men, on the other hand, appear to pop up willy nilly next to stoves, babies and batches of muffins as though they relied on nothing less than full domesticity in order to create the brilliant fictions of their mind. Perhaps they do. Female writers either look glamorous or imposing. Male writers can be handsome, lovable, bashful, quirky, and fully domesticated, an entire smorgasbord of possibilities denied to women. More than one blogger even questioned why this summer’s profile of me the Poets & Writers Debut Fiction Issue did not include my age. Did I have something to hide, she asked. Apparently, if I were as youthful as my publicity photo implies (am I? aren’t I?), why would I not flash my actual age? Presumably, along with my thigh, perhaps?

Why does age, gender, and marital and maternal status impinge so greatly upon the reception accorded to female writers? Why does it impinge so little upon the status given to a man of equal merit and competence? The companion question for all of us women who find ourselves debuting on the rather uneven stage of literary fiction, and one which I hope will cease to be relevant sooner rather than later.

My writing life is both escape from and antidote to the 24/7 day job of mothering. My themes are rooted firmly within the negotiation of relationships between self and other, thatemotional crucible understood only too well by wives and mothers. When the writing has no cumulative audience in mind, opinion pieces on the political oeuvre of the day for instance, the no-holds-barred, hammer to the heart approach that I take is rooted firmly within the constraints of motherhood whose million demands leave little time for subtlety. It is that home, that source of so much of what moves me and in whose truths all my fiction is steeped, that I keep secret from the world. It is that life, also, that I wield, shield-like, after the fact. When all the reading and talking is done, when all the jokes are over, all the clever witticisms laid out and then packed up again for the return journey, then I might mention my most sacred words: mother, daughter.

~Ru Freeman

16 Replies to “Ru Freeman on Life as Writer, Wife, & Mother”

  1. Ru–I read the whole essay, but one early sentence–“my life as wife and mother remains something I either bestow — upon people I like — or brandish — against people I don’t”–has distracted me from all the rest. I’m still thinking about it. What a provocative, fascinating, challenging and immensely personal idea.

    Thank you.

  2. I love this essay — so much to think about. I can totally relate to the “escape from and antidote to 24/7 day job of mothering.” I think you are so fortunate that you’ve found that in writing!

  3. “Until I had the book contract, it was difficult for me to answer, ‘I’m a writer’ when people asked me what I did.” Amen to that! I wonder if others — men & women alike — have that issue? Thanks, Ru, for guesting here.

  4. Ru – I enjoyed reading your essay and thinking about some things, including women’s multi-faceted lives, juggling many simultaneous tasks and roles as wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, etc. And then with the role of “writer” added to the mix! You describe well the complexities!

  5. I think many writers feel that they are not qualified to say they are writers until they have a contract or had something published, especially that is the first question they are asked. But regardless, they carry on. And its great that there are discussions about women writers’ place in literature because it is a pertinent and very current topic. Great article!

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