From the continuing, interweaving series, Why is Art?
I haven’t made much art lately, so your question, which is a good one, vital even, fills me with guilt and dread. The thing is, I wouldn’t call myself an artist. I rarely even call myself a writer. You know on the tax form, on the 1040, where they ask you what you do for a living? Over the years, I’ve said there that I’m a graduate student, a teacher, a journalist. Every April, when I get to that part, I think, What should I say I am? It’s a reckoning, that little box they give you, the blank space.
At my grandmother’s funeral—this was a couple of years ago, almost—my father introduced me to an old family friend. We were at the funeral home, standing around, milling. The family friend asked what I did, you know, as people do in those situations. I just told him I used to teach but lately I’d been staying at home and taking care of our son. We have a two-year-old, a boy, going on three now, actually. My father jumped in and said, He’s being modest. Paul’s a writer. He writes books. I got the feeling he was embarrassed by my answer, by his son staying at home. Like some woman. I suppose that’s what he was thinking anyway. I’m trying to be honest here. I want to be fair, but I want to be exact, too. You know what’s funny, though? Years before, when I told my father and mother that I wanted to write, that this is what I was going to do, I can remember how they were embarrassed by that. I mean, they were really concerned.