Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Living with a Writer: A Gratitude

Living with a writer (or an artist of any type, I suspect) is a recipe for irritation.

Few weeks go by when I don't think to myself at some point, I am a pain in the ass.

When I am not working, or when my writing isn't going well, I can be grouchy or emotionally needy.

When the work is going well, I am distracted. I may well forget to feed the dog, or myself, or to put on underwear, or lock the front door, or ask my husband how his day was, because I am thinking about exactly how to phrase a piece of dialogue or where to break a line or what color of paint I need.

This is a no-win situation for my husband, who frequently gets to choose from a delicious, two-option buffet: gaga, overly sensitive emotionalism, or "What did you say, honey?"

Luckily, he is also a writer, so he is also (by the rules established above) a pain in the ass.

Learning to tolerate and accept the quirks of sharing space with another writerly brain is key to our happy relationship.

I would not trade my husband for all the world. We can talk about the craft, we can do first reads on each other's work, we can share good and bad nuggets from our scads of reading material, we can say honestly (but gently) when something isn't working. We understand the annoyance of working for days on a piece, only to submit it and have it rejected, or damned with faint praise, or picked apart by blog commenters who respond to a piece that took hours of interviews and research by pointing out that you made a typo and forgot to include the "l" in "public." Ha ha! Good times.

We can also--every now and then--sit around with our dog and watch bad movies, drink beer, listen to music, chill out with friends, and talk about everything but writing. Those are good times: when we stop, for a moment, being neurotic, narrative-driven freaks and exist as human beings--human beings who have no need or obligation to commit anything to a page, no obligation to do anything but enjoy each other's company and feel happy that we get to go through the world with another person who has to love and tolerate our pain-in-the-assness, because we love and tolerate theirs.

I give thanks for this almost daily, while remembering that not everyone is so lucky. The newsletter of the Kenyon Review this week highlighted an old gem by Roger Rosenblatt, (who wrote the terrific novel Beet--certainly the funniest academic satire since Russo's Straight Man). The story first appeared in the Kenyon Review in Fall 2007.

I don't live with this guy, but I have met or observed him many times at readings. And I have met his long-suffering wife. Oh boy, did this story make me laugh--with amusement, recognition, and appreciation for my own writer-spouse, whose egotistical writer B.S. is minimal and whose patience for my occasional dark moods and "Clean the kitchen? We have a kitchen?" absentmindedness is great.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Writer's Wife

Look at him, my active man. Sometimes he sits and turns to the left. Sometimes, to the right. I wouldn't think of disturbing him. He is dreaming his writer's dreams, and his dreams are inviolable. I have the privilege of serving him, and of watching him.

Did you say something, dear? Nothing yet? Still dreaming? Well, while you're at it, I'd better get to my chores. No, don't get up. I can handle it: Fix the engine on the Prius; recondition the Steinway; point up the bricks on the west wall; build a bathroom in the basement, from scratch.
Busy, busy is the writer's wife.

And please, don't even think of lowering yourself to the details of bill paying, dry cleaning, shopping, cooking, dishwashing, trash toting. May I get the door for you? May I get two?

Am I complaining about my lot? Never, sweetheart. The intellectual challenges alone make it worthwhile. How many ways can I invent to assure you that you're not losing your touch? Our topics of conversation: Your obligation to your gift. My obligation to your obligation. Were you born before your time, or after your time, or just in time? I forget.

Then there's our social life. The dinner parties, where everyone speaks in quotations. The book parties, where everyone says, “There he is.” Or variously: “There she is!”

Do I want to go to Elaine's? Are you kidding? I want to live there!

And don't worry. I've laid out your uniform. Dark suit, dark shirt, dark tie. Your special look.

Do you think you might speak to me this month? It was so nice last month, or was it the month before that, when you asked me how I was. For a moment there, I thought you'd asked who I was. That's just a little joke. Nothing to upset yourself about. But what am I saying? Why would you be upset? Why would you -- sitting there in your dreamscape -- why would you even look up?

My folks, having met you but once, suggested I marry an actuary or a mortgage broker. Or a wife beater. Hell, what do parents know about the life of the mind -- yours. The precious moments we share --

Such as the times you ask me to read something you've written, and if I say “I love it!” you say I'm blowing you off, and if I appear disappointed or confused, you go into a clinical depression, and if I say, “Then, please don't ask me, if you don't want my opinion,” you go into a clinical depression.

Oh, dear. Did I say, “That was the best thing you ever wrote”? Of course, what I meant to say was, “Everything you write is a masterpiece. And this latest masterpiece just proves it.” That's what I meant to say. You're right. I must learn to say what I mean. Forgive me?

But soon we make up, and you'll say, “Let's go to so-and-so's poetry reading.” And I'll say, “Oh, darling! Let's! Just give me a minute to freshen up and hang myself from the hall chandelier” -- which, by the way, I repaired last week.

Memories? Say, rather, treasures! The day your agent returned your call. The day your editor returned your call. The day you found your name in the papers. In the phone book. Remember the time we saw your first novel on sale in the Strand for one dollar? How we laughed! The night you awoke with an inspiration for a story, and in the morning it sounded so silly?

Remember when I tried to write something myself, and you said it was “interesting”?

You know? I used to like books.

Ah. You've turned to the left again. I'm pooped, just watching you. Watching you in your dreams. I dream, too. Here's mine:

Lord, please let him find a younger woman.

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