creating a/broad, April 12, 2014
My Own Personal Vera
by Cameryn Moore
I ranted about this a few months ago, but I didn’t know there was a name for it.
Specifically Vera Nabokov, Vladimir Nabokov’s wife, who not only did all the wifely things that a good stay-at-home wife did in the mid-20th century—all the housekeeping and feeding and general domestic upkeep—but she was her husband’s assistant in a very prolific career that apparently everyone knew he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish without her.
I read with interest the recent article in The Atlantic about this arrangement. The author interviewed writers of all genders about whether they had a “Vera”. Nobody wanted to own that term, but everyone seemed to know what it meant, and if you put aside the word and just looked at the function(s), the verdict was pretty solid: a few rare writers had them, but most either hired Vera proxies, or wished they could.
The most interesting part to me was how the piece started, not with Vera or Vladimir at all, but with Lorrie Moore, a justifiably famous writer, some of whose critics got a little snarky about her most recent, highly anticipated collection of short stories. An underlying sentiment among these assholes critics was that they were expecting a lot more for having to wait 16 years for this book. Why haven’t you gotten more done in that time?
And, fuck that.
And, boy howdy do I know how that feels.
So I have gradually learned to create alone, and it is one of the hardest things I do.
As I have mentioned in this space before and in detail, it is very difficult to produce steadily and with quality if you do not have someone else around to handle the mundane details both of creating—the editing and promoting and and the Facebook event listings and the 2am sounding board—and of living. You know, what to eat and when. Is the laundry getting done. Have we set aside money for the quarterly self-employed tax payment? Et cetera.
This is nothing new, for artists. Nothing new at all. These things have to be done, and it is so much easier when someone else is doing it for us, and loving us, and supporting us through every damn thing.
I do not think it is a coincidence that the writerly term for this person is a female name.
I do not think it is helpful to point out straight couples with cis-gendered partners where the male is the Vera.
And actually I do not think we are doing ourselves any favours by continuing to place creative and domestic support as a function inherent to any couple dynamic. Because couples break up and notebooks get burned, and suddenly the person you have been waking up to every day, to tell your dreams to, suddenly that person is not there any more. Some people are not the right people to watch your post-modern dance performances and never will be. Maybe your partner feels they are an artist manqué; is your creative buzz something they need to be around?
So I have gradually learned to create alone, and it is one of the hardest things I do. By 'alone' I mean, keeping my artistic process as much as possible out of the faces of my loved ones. I share bits and pieces, and I keep my friends apprised, but generally I just clock out of the public eye and grind away by myself. I don’t want the hassle.
And if we don’t have that kind of relationship with anyone?
But I do wish I had the support. If we happen to have a partner who is willing to throw themselves into our work, who among us would say no? “No, darling, I know you want me to succeed, but I cannot accept your offer of updating my website. You need time to develop your own talents, which I’m sure are many and valuable in their own right.” (I wouldn’t say no. My web site really needs updating.)
And if we don’t have that kind of relationship with anyone? Well, hiring a Vera, or divvying up the load among several hired Veras, or trading Vera-like tasks with one another… these are the logical options, the only options, for those of us without domestic arrangements that are conducive to Vera-like dynamics cropping up. But that’s a whole other level of hard. We have to be on top of it, we have to know what needs to be done, at least at the beginning. It’s not the same thing, is it?
That’s the lure of a Vera. Someone who knows us and our work well enough to know what needs to be done, someone who feels the emotional urgency of it all, someone who can give head and give line-by-line feedback on our new script if asked for, someone who has made it their life mission to make it easier for us to achieve our life mission …
I’d be weirded out, but yeah… I admit, I’d totally jump on that.
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