Episode 65! On Being Your Husband's Boss, Conversation with Lita Judge
Welcome to episode 65 of our kidlitwomen* podcast! Usually, this podcast features an essay about an issue in the children's literature community (Monday) and a discussion about the essay (Wednesday).
In this episode, author Lita Judge and Grace Lin discuss Lita’s essay, On Being Your Husband’s Boss, which can be heard in episode 64 .
On today's podcast you will hear:
Lita Judge is the award winning author and illustrator of 26 fiction and nonfiction books including Mary's Monster, a YA novel about Mary Shelley and the creation of Frankenstein. Her picture books include Penguin Flies Home, Born in the Wild, Red Sled, Hoot and Peep, and One Thousand Tracings, winner of the International Reading Association Award and an ALA Notable Book. Her book, Flight School, was adapted into an off-Broadway musical and is currently running in New York and China and its companion book Penguin Flies Home was just released this January. Lita lives in Peterborough, NH, see more about her at www.litajudge.net
Grace Lin, a NY Times bestselling author/ illustrator, won the Newbery Honor for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the Theodor Geisel Honor for Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same. Her most recent novel When the Sea Turned to Silver was a National Book Award Finalist and her most recent picture book, A Big Mooncake for Little Star, was awarded the Caldecott Honor. Grace is an occasional commentator for New England Public Radio and video essayist for PBS NewsHour (here & here), as well as the speaker of the popular TEDx talk, The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf.
grace: Okay. Hello, this is Grace Lin, the author and illustrator of the upcoming picture book, Big Moon Cake For Little Star. Today I am talking to Lita Judge about her essay on Being Your Husband's Boss.
grace: Hi, Lita.
lita: Hi, Grace.
grace: Thanks so much for talking with me. I am really happy to talk to you, because I thought your essay was fascinating and it really struck home to me, because I am also I guess the main bread bringer in my family. Thanks so much for your essay, let's talk a little bit about it.
grace: In your essay you talk about how you are the main bread bringer and your husband Dave is your assistant. You're very specific that he's your assistant and not your manager, you want to talk about that for a little bit?
lita: Yeah. I brought the point up, because I have felt when we introduce him as my assistant to people, people so often sometimes jokingly, but usually they're really serious. They say, "Oh. He's your manager?"
lita: It's like they are uncomfortable with the idea of me being his boss, but comfortable with him being my boss and I really wanted to point out the fact that we feel very much like I'm driving my career and he is helping me by facilitating a lot of the tasks that I don't have time for.
lita: He acts as a driver for me, because I do a lot of school visits, and he answers a lot of emails, and does a lot of speaking conferences. He serves very much ... Oh. Sorry. Contractor, speaking conferences. But, he works very much as my assistant and I just find it interesting how that is a difficult title for a lot of people when it's put towards a man.
lita: I think we should, in the spirit of gender equality we should get over that fact and start thinking in terms of the title should be interchangeable between a man and a woman.
grace: The title should be what the person does. I mean, it's very interesting-
grace: ... because I think you're right. I think a lot of male authors and illustrators who have their wives work for them, I think the wives they have no problem saying that, "Oh. I'm his assistant." Versus, "I'm the manager."
grace: Another thing that you talk about that I found really fascinating was the idea of luck and how so many ... Well, how a colleague of yours said, "Oh. You're so lucky that your husband works for you." Let's talk about that.
lita: Yeah. I hear that all the time and I'm always kind of startled and sort of saddened by it, because I think we as women have been kind of trained for so long to not try to have the words ambition, and goals, and taking on risks for our family. We're supposed to kind of be facilitating our husbands careers and I just feel like when it comes to our own accomplishments we're supposed to kind of put a back seat to that.
lita: And so, this word luck comes up over and over again. I really feel like it disempowers us. I feel like we should claim what we've achieved and be able to say that. I think we should recognize it when another woman achieves success with her career and recognize that, that comes through hard work and it comes through dedication, and through setting goals that we strive to achieve for, because when we say we are lucky ...
lita: On the one hand it can be noting gratitude for where we are, but on the other hand it can be a very disempowering word, because it can take away what we have worked so hard to achieve.
grace: Yeah, because in the conversation that you mentioned in your essay you talk about people say, "Oh. You're so lucky that your husband works for you." If he manages my career, but what it really comes down to is that you have set it up this way. It's not luck, you purposely have set up your roles this way.
grace: It's not luck, it's really just hard work and planning.
lita: Yeah. I mean, it's a lot of hard work and for years we strived to do this. Even when we were newly weds we had always wanted to work together and my career was more adaptable for doing that.
lita: It also means a lot of sacrifice, it's not just luck. It's working really hard, long hours to make up for one person making income. Where before there were two people making an income. It's giving up health insurance and having to find the extra income to pay for that, it's giving up the consistency of having a salary as opposed to having two people self-employed.
lita: In the case of our experience, if I'm sick, which I lose a lot of time due to illness. And so, we are taking on that risk factor, whereas before if Dave was working a job or we had outside income that wasn't quite such a scary factor in our lives.
lita: There's a lot of sacrifices we have made for it and people don't discuss that when they give kind of this offhand answer, "Oh. You're so lucky." You're not really dissecting the complexity of that decision and also the rich satisfaction that comes from the fact that you have worked so hard to achieve this partnership.
grace: I'm gonna ask you kind of a two part question of the same question. You are the main bread bringer of your family, but also you work in partnership with Dave. What I want to ask is what is the best part of being the main bread bringer and what is the best part of working with Dave? And then, we'll do the reverse.
lita: Okay. The best part is that every time I achieve something, every time I get a book published, every time you have this exciting interaction with readers or you have that day that's just beautiful ... You go into schools and kids are really engaged or maybe you're traveling to a conferences and teachers are really connected to what you're working on and you feel this deep, meaningful satisfaction in the work that you're doing.
lita: The best part of that is Dave is right at my side and he is just as much contributing to that happening as I am. And so, we're deeply invested in everything that we achieve. I think when he worked an outside job he had his own goals that he was striving for, and his own success, and though we shared happiness over those successes we didn't have ownership in the same way as we do now.
lita: That we both know we both worked really hard to make that happen. And so, it makes for a very rich, satisfying relationship. He knows all the ups and downs, and so he knows those victorious days when you feel like you've really done something. He knows it in his own cells. I like to say that he's so much a part of that.
grace: And so, what is the worst part?
lita: Yeah. The worst part is ... On the downside is that it is really long hours and sometimes you don't have that best day. Sometimes you're writing a manuscript, and nothing is working, and somebody leaves a comment about a book you're doing. Just this calamity of things that happen.
lita: When Dave used to work an outside job I could come home and just vent, or blow off steam, or get a hug. Now, he's deeply invested in it too and, in fact I think sometimes those days affect him even more than me. I feel like I kind of have to buck up and say, "We can keep marching."
lita: Whereas before maybe he could be sympathetic to it, because he wasn't quite so emotionally invested in those days as well. Also, just the long hours. It's not easy to work six to seven days a week with your partner, and then suddenly turn that off, and then become husband and wife.
lita: We are constantly trying to set the goal of learning how to have fun, learning how to take a day off, because when you are self-employed that suddenly becomes a difficult challenge, which wasn't so much when he had an outside job.
grace: If somebody listening wants to do what you're doing, if they want to become a main bread bringer, they want their husband to become their assistant, and the husband is all for it what kind of advice would you give to them?
lita: Well, the two things that I think really served us well was one, is we had a long-term plan. We didn't just go cold turkey have him quit his job. We tried to start ramping up my income long before he ever cut the cord to his job, so that we weren't kind of plunged into the deep end of financial insecurity.
lita: The other thing in the act of doing that, that really helped us is he was kind of training himself to know what he need to do and whether he wanted to do it, because he used to be a lead design engineer for a company and he had a lot of responsibility. With that came a lot of satisfaction and acknowledgements in his own career.
lita: Suddenly playing a backseat to my job meant kind of giving up on some of that, but he worked enough on the weekends, and at nights, and over holidays that he knew that he loved this work kind of equally, but differently. And so, when he quit his job we kind of already were doing it.
lita: We visualized that we would just suddenly have a little bit more free time. The reverse was actually true that we suddenly had less free time, because we were both working so hard, which was kind of a shocking blow to us.
lita: But, we had our sea legs going, in terms of working as a partnership, and what our roles would be, and clearly having those defined before we suddenly were self-employed and trying to work that out.
grace: How long has this arrangement been for the two of you?
lita: About four years now.
grace: So, four years? How long do you foresee this going or what are your plans? Do you have any plans of growing or how do you foresee you guys continuing this? Or, any changes in this relationship as working together? Not your marriage relationship, but your working relationship.
lita: Our working relationship. Yeah. I mean, I know one of my clearest goals is I would like the day before my last day on the planet to be creating. I never want to retire, I always want to work on this, and I hope that Dave will always be by my side being assistant.
lita: I do hope though that we have the financial security through my work to allow him to have more creative time to discover things that he can do either in partnership to what I'm doing or even in his own creative way where he has a little bit more time to kind of pursue and keep exploring.
lita: As an artist and a writer I constantly get to be rejuvenated, and constantly curious about things, and searching for new project. His work is a lot of the nitty-gritty details of this life as writer and illustrator and I would like if I could have the financial security to allow him a little bit more freedom to pursue more creative outlets in terms of what he's doing.
lita: I know he wants to get into making videos for me and doing a lot of things on our website. A lot of the things he hasn't even had time to visualize, because there is so much refining. There's just so much work to do on a daily basis.
grace: Does he have any aspirations to write and to be the writer of a book and you illustrate it or anything like that?
lita: Well, ironically I wrote my first children's book because we thought he was gonna be the writer. When we met in college I was certain he was gonna be a writer and I think he was courting that idea, but he was so supportive of me as an artist that he really exposed me to the idea of being an artist.
lita: He took me to my first museum and he really encouraged me to put myself out there and show my work in a gallery. Somehow that just kind of inhaled all the oxygen in the room. I mean, it just ... We've been for so long trying to build up this career, so I would like him to explore going back to those roots and writing.
lita: Although, what he has found that he finds even more satisfying is research. He loves researching. I write a lot of nonfiction, and he is an intense researcher, and he kind of really likes that role.
lita: And so, sometimes we think that maybe it isn't that he'll become a writer, but that we will explore the idea of me writing more books that I wouldn't have been able to write without him kind of discovering these really cool facts.
lita: One book that I can't talk about yet, but it's in its inception is an idea that he really uncovered by reading a lot of science and nature journals and I thought that was really cool. He came to me with this article that he had read, and he had explored other ideas, and realized that is his gift. That's what he [inaudible 00:13:28].
grace: That's awesome. He's kind of like your muse.
lita: Yeah. Totally. He also serves as my model [inaudible 00:13:34] books and whenever I have to do model shops with students he is often climbing up on ladders and photographing kids from above. It's amazing what different skills he as to bring to the table constantly for me.
grace: Muse, model, and assistant. That's awesome.
grace: All right. Well, thank you so much Lita. I've got two more questions for you before I say goodbye. The first question is, is there any projects that you'd like to tell us that you're working on, or you've worked on, or that you just newly finished? What projects for you have going on?
lita: Well, my YA book, Mary's Monster, which is an illustrated novel of course is very new to the world. And so, right now my life is very much bringing that book to readers and finally enjoying the fact that it's out after working on it for six years.
lita: And then, down the road early next winter I have a book called, Penguin Goes Home, which I'm very excited about. It's a companion to my book, Flight School. A young picture book.
lita: This time the little penguin goes back to the Antarctic to teach his fellow penguins how to fly and I've been very excited about that book, because that is a story that has been near and dear to my heart for many years.
grace: Aw. All right. And now, the last question. Okay. Now, this actually is completely in line with your essay when you say that you feel like women or all people should feel comfortable about saying that we have ambitions or goals.
grace: My question to you is, what is your biggest publishing ambition? Like, the biggest ambition that you can think of that you're almost embarrassed to say. I want you ... The idea being, we're going to dare to say what we want. What's your biggest publishing ambition?
lita: The thing I would dare to want is to have an animated movie or series made from a character that I've created. When I'm working on these things, when I'm drawing I see them and full motion and it's like I have to choose tiny clips to put in my books.
lita: I hear a soundtrack, I see the whole animated version in my head, and it would be really spectacularly cool if I could visualize that all the way.
grace: That's awesome. Is there a specific character that you would really want or any of them?
lita: I would love to see my character Flight School brought to the pages. Its already been brought to a stage in an off Broadway musical and I'm very attached to that character, but that said I hope that some of my coolest characters lay unborn yet. I hope that they're knocking around in my brain and they're yet to fall onto the page.
lita: So, yeah. I mean, I'm always grateful that I have yet to get burnt out. It's like your best idea around the corner kind of feeling is such a beautiful part of my day. So, yeah. I think I'm gonna vote for a character I have yet to conceive yet.
grace: Awesome. All right. Well, I can't wait to watch your animated movie someday.
lita: That would be cool.
grace: Well, thanks so much Lita. It was so great talking to you.
lita: Thanks, Grace.