There she is, front and center. Do you see the glee on my wife’s face? Matched only by the devilish glint in Christie White’s eyes. You bear witness to the “what the hell was Wrath James White (and apparently Monica O’Rourke) thinking putting our wives together as the tag team of evil” on the panel the Seven Deadly Sins of Living With a Writer: the Highs and Lows of Life With A Writer at KillerCon. I am still torn about whether this was the worst idea ever or the most insightful panel I’ve witnessed in a while.
It sprang originally from a panel at Mo*Con IV where we were discussing what it was like as writers to be married to spouses who were fellow writers. Apparently the non-writing spouses wanted a voice in the matter. An interesting phrase was used by Karen Lansdale. She referred to what she called “the curtain,” the all-too-visible expression on our faces we get when it’s obvious that we’re in our heads writing.
This became evident to me on two occasions within the past week or so. My youngest son, Malcolm, employs a screech (it’s the most awful sound you’ll ever hear) when it’s time for me to help him with his homework. He says it’s to get my attention because he knows I’m writing. In other words, he’s learned already that he has to pierce the curtain. Even my boss recently commented that he recognizes the look of when my mind is no longer on the job, but rather working out plot points and character arcs.
We ask a lot of our spouses, wanting them to support us in different ways. To read our work, maybe even edit it, or let us run ideas by them. To us, that’s including you in the creative process, that part of our lives. Sometimes it’s a matter of taking care of the banalities (realities) of life, from having a career, providing little things like financial support and insurance benefits. Sometimes it’s a matter of giving us room to write by taking the kids out of the house so we can have peace and quiet to concentrate.
We can say “we’re working” all we want. Yes, hanging out on a message board and on blogs is work because it’s a matter of networking and interacting with fans Hanging out at a room party is work. Reading is work. Playing Scrabble on FaceBook counts as work (ok, a bit of a stretch, but I do play with my agent). As Leslie Banks pointed out, we’re like entrepreneurs in the middle of a business launch in terms of how much time, energy, and finances we pour into our career. Many times this is our second job (or even third for some of us).
Then there are the little things—which are bigger than we’d like to recognize things—that also take a toll. What we call “at least being there” as quality spouse or family time, they see as either just the back of our heads or just our eyes above the cover of our laptops as we write. We also ask them (sometimes just expect them) to give up a slice of their privacy as they find out that parts of their life has been shared within a bit of fiction. Be it arguments or personal situations. Many of us have had that … “corrective memo” … delivered to us that what was put in a story wasn’t meant for public consumption. (Does this sound familiar: “but honey, no one will know that you said this or this happened to you.” * “But I’ll know.” This scene may or may not be followed by a night on the couch.)
And they have to put up with our moods, the emotional frisson of creation, or what my wife may call my silent cry for the need for medication. (The “existential terror” sounds too grandiose for what she simply refers to as my “mood”.) The process is like giving my personal demons shape and substance, the accompanying mix of anger and depression that comes as I leap from inside one character’s head to another. Even friends find me especially hard to read if I’m not present in the moment but rather half in a character’s head wondering how’d s/he’d respond in that situation.
And I appreciate how great my wife has been about understanding all of this and put up with me. At the same time, I’ve promised to try to do better at being present with her and the family, learning to be in the moment and raising the curtain. It’s funny how any of us can be at home yet functionally absent, focused on whatever side project or work we’re doing.
Plus, there’s no winning an argument when I have to say at any point “seriously, honey. I was googling ‘autoerotic asphyxiation’ for research for my novel!”