You have to be an outlaw

by Wolf Pascoe on October 15, 2012

More years ago than I care to remember, I found myself at a writing conference in the pacific northwest. I remember islands. Islands and ferry boats and shades of blue.

In those days writer wasn’t a word I would have used to describe myself. Many battles had I still to fight before pinning that badge on myself. I had gone to meet the women more than anything else, and women there were.

Nora was a few years away. Nick was something further, a possibility orbiting the earth, a single star out of thousands, and I had other things to do at night than look at stars.


I audited a workshop taught by a novelist, Doug Unger. Audited because I had brought no work. I had no work to speak of, some chapters of a non-fiction book I’d been chasing for five or six years, never to be born. What I had brought to that place was a sensibility about words, and the suspicion that here was a habitable world.

I sat in that workshop and listened to others, mostly to Doug. I liked him immediately. He’d just published his first novel and had a right to be proud of it, though pride didn’t show. He was intense, thoughtful, modest. Smart as a whip.

“What do you think writing is?” he said to me one day.

“Writing is voice,” I said.

He nodded. We talked awhile about voices, then about how long it all took to develop.

“You have to be an outlaw,” he said.

Without asking, I knew what he meant. You have to steal time. You have to steal it from everyone else you owe it to, lovers, children, yourself. It sounded romantic.

It wasn’t romantic. It was crappy. I didn’t know that then because I had no children to steal from. When Nick came along I knew. I had been going to see three plays a week, and on days I wasn’t at the hospital, had ten-hour expanses of time to luxuriate in.

“This kid is going to cost me ten plays,” I said to Nora.

“Five,” she said.


I’m not an outlaw at heart. You read stories of crummy dads who wrote. Memoirs of movie stars’ kids, C.E.O kids. Every day there’s another. The narrative arc is always the same: I wish I’d known the bastard better.

You don’t even have to have a career to be a lousy parent. Anyone can do it. I do it, and I’m not even an outlaw.

I got up early this morning to write this. I had about half an hour before Nick woke. He’s interrupted six times already. Neither of us is well. So it goes. You can do a blog post this way, not a novel.

A room of one’s own and an income, said Virginia Wolff, who had no kids.


Childhood, I believe, is a modern invention. What was the world like before we got sentimental about childhood? Sentimental is the right word, I think, in this sense:

All sentimentality is repressed brutality. — Sigmund Freud

In the middle ages nobody had a childhood. Whatever they had, I’ve heard, was nasty, brutish, and short.

For all this there is no solution. I imagine a time, say a decade from now, when I have the moments to watch the clouds go by, and to reminisce about Nick when he used to live here.

It’s been nice chatting. I’ve got to go walk the dog.



Pipers at the gates of dawn




By Douglas Unger




What’s your misdemeanor? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Carel October 15, 2012 at 5:12 pm

have been rolling around the idea of “childhood being a modern invention”.. or rather, letting it roll me around. I like it. I was one of those kids who kept waiting for the childhood that books and movies told me I was s’posed to have. At 62, (and no kids) I think I’m AT LAST beginning to acquaint myself with the joys attributed to childhood.. I s’pose that makes me a modern woman??


Wolf Pascoe October 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Or an outlaw.


Barbara October 16, 2012 at 8:47 am

Boy, oh boy, do I understand this one. I’ve never been much of an outlaw, either, which is why I’m still working on the same children’s book almost 15 years down the road. “Babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow…” But those huge chunks of time are still rare, because I don’t want to steal from Tom, either. Alas, it’s still 30 minute increments (praying for no interruptions) or nothing for me most of the time. But I know now that that’s okay. Hang in there!


Wolf Pascoe October 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Muddling along about sums it up.


Mitchell October 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Yes, indeed. I’m fascinated that the Great Ones (regardless of where their greatness may lie) are almost always terrible at most other parts of their lives. They’re outlaws. I’ve never thought of it that way and I like that a lot. I’m no outlaw either. I’m a dad and a husband and a cook and a bunch of other stuff. Way down the list, I’m a writer. Little w. I guess in my dreams I’m an outlaw. And if it’s an either/or thing, it will probably stay in my dreams.


Wolf Pascoe October 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Everyone should check out Mitchell’s Halloween post, Give me everything in the bowl and no one gets hurt


Mitchell October 17, 2012 at 10:11 am

Thanks, Wolf.


Wolf Pascoe October 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Love that title.


The Exception October 16, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I am so far from being an outlaw. Piles of books stand beside my bed, thoughts never leave my head to find their way to page. I know that children were once raised out of sight of their parents. It was just the way kids were raised in many cultures. I can’t imagine that life or not being engaged to the extent possible. I do probably play “anti-outlaw” more than I could at times, but at the end of the day…
I am happy being the plain Jane, law abiding, nothing to hide, coloring between the lines “mom”


Wolf Pascoe October 16, 2012 at 11:39 pm

There’s a lot to be said for sensible shoes.


Privilege of Parenting October 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Words can be important, so I guess Freud meant something akin to falsely exaggerated and over-compensatory of repressed hurt at rejection and loneliness and abandonment by “sentimentality”

By the algebra of reversal of operations, perhaps all the brutality rolling around on the deck of our Geoge Raft of the Medusa is, at heart, repressed Love

Hug the dog


Wolf Pascoe October 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Freud meant that Hitler fussed too much over children and dogs.


Kyle Bradford October 18, 2012 at 8:20 am

“For all this there is no solution.” —

I think there is. And it simply requires priorities. Staunch, hard-lined priorities. The kind of priorities that make close your eyes and wish you were somewhere and someone else every so often. Parenthood is, by definition, sacrifice. I don’t believe the vast majority of moms and dads realize that.

If divorcing our children became acceptable like divorcing our spouses, I’m convinced people would do it. I’m not cynical, it’s just the cold hard reality of the “all about me” times we live in.

You know what needs to be done, you’re doing it.

Writing will always be there our children, however, won’t.


Wolf Pascoe October 18, 2012 at 6:42 pm

“If divorcing our children became acceptable like divorcing our spouses, I’m convinced people would do it.”

Sometimes I wonder if my kid would divorce me.


Jane October 18, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Ha! First I’ll tell a story. I attended a parenting workshop with Robert Bly and company when I was 40-something. At lunch everyone talked about going home and making changes in their parenting based on the heart level lessons of parenting we’d been learning. I was quiet. What could I say? I’d had my kids when I was in my early 20’s and now in my 40’s they were launched. Most of their growing up years I’d been young, a working and single parent. Unlike my friends around the lunch table, I couldn’t go home and change a thing! I had no choice but to become an advocate of ‘good enough parenting’. I believe my kids took over somewhere along the line and filled in the gaps because they’ve both grown up to be endlessly interesting individuals as well as deeply and lovingly partnered. In the bargain, I now enjoy two grandsons in their 20’s who laugh and argue with me about the movies. I used to recommend “Children the Challenge” as my parenting bible. Now I recommend Dr. Dan Siegel at UCLA — he’s the real deal, incredibly productive while walking his talk with his own children and putting his Wheel of Awareness up on his website to be used for free as much as you like. I’m just sayin’ 🙂


Wolf Pascoe October 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Thanks, Jane.

Dan Siegel is an original but no outlaw. Here’s the link to Wheel of Awareness


pamela October 25, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Amen! Write the book or wash the dishes and I always choose the dishes (sigh).


Wolf Pascoe October 26, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Write the book or wash the dishes

That poetic line is it’s own little Haiku, it is.


Stacy @ Sweet Sky October 26, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Your last line cracked me up. As well as the line about Virginia Woolf.

The other day I was at a weekend retreat and a woman raised her hand toward the end of the second day. She said, “I am pretty new to meditation… and well, I am feeling pretty overwhelmed right now.” She paused and then added, “It’s just that what you are saying is pretty much the opposite of everything I’ve learned my whole life.”

Everyone in the room cracked up, including the questioning woman, and the teacher said, “Thanks for noticing.”


Wolf Pascoe October 26, 2012 at 11:43 pm

I don’t think Virginia Wolff had a dog either.

That’s a lovely story about the retreat.


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