Living with another writer is both amazing and difficult. On the upside, we both understand the need for alone time (When else can the words appear on the page?). We get the idea that our collective time and resources need to be channeled towards a potentially financially fruitless artistic pursuit. Need an in-house editor? Done. Want a living, breathing thesaurus at 10pm? He's here, in the kitchen, probably brewing a final cup of Barry's Irish tea (with milk, of course).
Less wonderful, however, are the inevitable comparisons between careers, petty jealousies, parallel deadlines and quibbles over who gets ownership of a particular amazing detail (like a person with pale, translucent skin being named the "glass fish"). At its lowest moment, I compare our relationship to the crumbling couple in that great indie film, The Squid and the Whale.
Unlike that couple, however, we're still happily together. We have managed to work these scribe-related annoyances out over post-dinner beers, when the baby is asleep and important topics can be poked and prodded and ironed and smoothed out. I guess I was totally naive when I imagined our writer's life together, pre-marriage, pre-kids, pre-dueling MFAs. I had no idea how difficult it would be for us to navigate both creative careers at once.
Back then, James dreamed of writing a novel, while I had three manuscripts under my belt (and also unpublished in boxes under my bed). I encouraged him to apply for writing programs and then, behold, he got in and, behold again, he got a great scholarship! He wrote and wrote, and I wrote a little, and soon enough he'd graduated and was still writing like he was in grad school (I have no idea how he found the time) and soon enough we both found ourselves buffing our manuscripts (his bright new Blood a Cold Blue and mine, Women Float, like an ancient vampire from the crypt) out to their final shine and preparing to send them out.
At this point, I got really nervous. It felt like a no-win moment. Of course I wanted us both to get books published. However, I felt anxious about the order of things. If I got a book deal first, I worried that I'd feel horrible at somehow overshadowing my writer-love. But if he got the acceptance first, that meant that I'd have yet another debilitating bout of "trailing wife" syndrome, that creepy feeling that you're living in your partner's writing shadow. You see where this is going.
"Wouldn't it be amazing if we both got book deals at the same time?" I asked my husband one day last year.
He gave me the "poor dear" look, that wordless Irish sneer of his that speaks volumes. I was probably pregnant at the time, which never helped me win any logic-bound arguments.
"What?" I asked. "It's possible."
But we both knew that idea was ridiculous. Childish. Magical thinking. An outlandish thought, like many of my so-called brilliant schemes, like owning a used car lot and selling all the cars for a penny. Not going to happen.
And then it did. But of course, James had to out-do me by getting two books into the world (more on the second one later this year.) It turns out both of our book deals were less "Oprah" moments, and more carefully negotiated conversations that resulted in publishing deals with small presses. I think this simultaneous show of success is the universe's way of reinforcing our bond, telling us, "Hey, you two, stick together and I'll make big things happen for you both."
I do believe that creative people, when paired up, have a logarithmic affect on each other, like the Richter scale to measure earthquakes. Two creatives don't double each other's possibilities. Instead, their energies are increased exponentially, in ways they can't always see. Get a group of creatives together and watch out. I've seen this happen more than once with my own circles, but somehow I didn't anticipate it in my marriage.
Or for my own creative work. Individually, I've labeled this in-tune-with-the-universe moment, "en fuego." You've seen this happen. When a friend gets drink bought for them, wins the lottery, gets honors bestowed without trying, this is all an "en fuego" moment. Now I need a new term, for two people in the flow. Or more. Do you feel like James and I are influencing your creative luck? Are you part of this pod of creative souls who are flinging yourselves into our orbits? Or are we all just becoming aware of the same creative moon as it rises on our collective horizon at the same time, like people living on the same lattitude and longitude of the same slow-spinning planet that is just now seeing the rising of its lone moon for the first time in our lives?
James and I are not always on the same planet, nor in the same place at the same time, creatively speaking. Sometimes we're not even in the same solar system. But when we are: watch out. We are like supernovas of writing brilliance. Or at least my Irish writer is a pretty stunning cosmic array. To find out what I'm talking about, pre-order his book Blood a Cold Blue HERE.