After a week of whirlwind family time, day trips and laughter, the house is nearly empty again. I am at my desk, watching the moon rise through the tips of the pine trees and into the pale gray sky. I’ve held all my children and my husband and my niece and my sister, and although they’ve scattered again, I am soothed by the reminder that I still can call them mine.

A writer’s craving for solitude is so innate and profound that at times I think we forget the point of our self-imposed isolation: human connection. We come to rely on the expression of written words instead of verbal ones, on x’s and o’s instead of real hugs and big sloppy kisses. Written words are safer, less impulsive. If your tendency like mine is to be annoyingly demonstrative with your affections, writing is a way to dampen the impulse and keep your distance from the people who might feel smothered by such undistilled endearments. It’s a form of emotional camouflage. It’s a way to reach out without having to look into another person’s face to see whether he accepts or rejects what you have to offer. Maybe what that all adds up to is nothing more nor less than cowardice, for all that we think we’re being brave.3a43194afc19378bcd70f221c23ebd87

My first husband used to tell me that I was too passionate. (I thought of him yesterday while watching a movie called Downloading Nancy (god, what a moronic title), about a woman whose life is so bleak and haunted that she hires a guy to kill her during sex. Anyway, there’s this scene where Nancy and her obtuse husband are at a company party, and she begs him to dance until finally he agrees, and she’s dancing at last and smiling and twirling under the corrugated ceiling strung with crepe paper streamers and dispirited balloons . . . and when she opens her eyes, the husband has wandered off and left her there alone. That scene was my first marriage.) Later boyfriends would disagree, baffled: It’s not possible to be too passionate. But it is, of course it is, and so I’ve spent the past twenty years in a slow withdrawal, unhelped by this new crack-junkie dependence on the written word. Maybe part of me feels that by channeling my passions into writing, I can turn them into something more palatable. Or at least set them a little aside.

But I wonder if it’s a case of being poisoned by the cure; sometimes I feel as emotionally boxed-in by the fix as I was by the original problem. Which is why being with the members of my family who don’t read is good for me. They only know of me what I choose to express, face to face, which forces me to say aloud the things I would normally suppress.

Or not, as is more often the case. I left several things unsaid last week. I tempered my endearments out of habit. Not fatally so, I mean I squeezed the stuffing out of them from time to time and gave them all my glib I-love-yous, but still I’m not sure I got the point across. I’m not sure there’s a way to express a love as big as this; there are only inadequate human attempts to connect—any way we can.

How does writing affect your relationships?

35 responses

  1. Wow . . . In many ways, I think, and in cycles of resentment, guilt, support, misunderstandings, acceptance, and repeat from start.

    My husband calls himself a Book Widower sometimes. And the kids are a little tired of hearing, “One more sentence!” when they ask for something. And my MIL thinks I’m wasting my time, but that’s nothing new.

    Sigh . . .

  2. My husband does not read, not because he cannot read, but because he reads every single word slowly as if each is a sip of fine wine to be savored. Sounds nice huh? The man drinks beer for Christ’s sake and is in love with Judge Judy. They have a couch affair each evening and when he’s finished with her he onto Vanna, Pat watches.

    My husband is very supportive of my writing, especially now that I’m getting paid. I’ve always been supportive of his golf, he plays, I type.
    My writing has made my family laugh and I’ve had them bawling. Verbalizing has never been a problem for me but writing from the heart, about the depth of what they mean to me, is safe and lasting. I like that because we word-cooks use a lot of ingredients, sometimes we forget the most important ones unless they’re written down.

    One side note:
    You’re first paragraph is one of the most beautifully written pieces I have ever read about family.

  3. Writing is the most personal form of expession there is, that will ever be. I have never seen you, but through this exchange, a little bit of us will intermix, will come together in a way that no other form of communication will ever match. If even on a small level, I know something of you. It’s beautiful.


  4. I imagine your family knew anyway.

    Writing is not so great for my marriage or my friendships. Everyone gets tired hearing me talk of this shit, and the husband feels neglected. He supports the book in theory, but not when it gets in the way of his plans. I understand. I’d be cranky too. Oh, yeah, I am cranky already.

    • I sometimes talk about writing just to watch the interest drain from the other person’s face. A happy little masochistic game to pass the time.

  5. Oh dear, this. I write so much better than I talk. When I really have something to say I stumble all over myself and screw it completely up. I’d much rather write, which includes writing a letter or note or even giving a cheesy greeting cards to my husband, kids, friends, etc…. When we first got married and the kids were 9 and 15, I wrote them the kids a letter for the first few Christmases, telling them how lucky I was to be their mom, how proud I was of them and why. I wish I’d kept this up, but alas no.

    Interestingly (or strangely?), my grown kids now read my blog and we often have email conversations about the more personal topics or revelations.

    As for feeling abandoned by my writing, not so. My husband reads more than I do, and he’s as interested in my writing (and finishing!) this book as I am, which is great treasure.

    • I used to take my kids on date nights. We’d go out to the movies or dinner or whatever, just to hang out. I so wish I’d kept that up through their teen years, we had such good times.

      I sent my husband off this time with a copy of Joyland. I’ll make a reader out of him yet!

  6. my extended family is split. i have my family that i grew up with as the big sister. mom, (step)dad, sister, brother, sister. and then there are all the aunts uncles and cousins that came with that dad. my writing has distanced me from them, greatly. (and, in turn, i have used them as the excuse for why i am so distant from my own writing voice.)

    on the other side of the family tree is the family of my first dad (deceased) and all the aunts, uncles and cousins (and still a grandma) that comes with my last name. my writing has deepened those relationships and has triggered conversations around what was mostly not discussed before I started writing about it.

    one side wants me to write more, the other, i’m sure, wishes i hadn’t written so much. i’m stuck in the middle…waiting. (i don’t know for what)

    • Maybe you’re waiting for permission to continue. I think most of us need that at some point, and it can take a long time and come from the oddest places.

      (I’m speaking of female writers, of course. Male writers just seem to forge ahead, permission be damned.)

  7. First – welcome back! I know you enjoyed seeing your family – it shows in your words.

    How does writing affect your relationships?

    I’ve found myself withdrawing. Not from my husband, he’s with me and we’re great, but, I don’t know. The example I can think of is that I actually used to talk. You know? Talk, talk, talk. And not just writing stuff, just …conversation. I don’t know what’s happened exactly except that I’d rather they talk and me listen. If they don’t ask about anything pertaining to me, what I’m doing, how I’m doing, I don’t volunteer it. Maybe that’s a good thing.

    It’s also funny you posted about how writing affects relationships b/c I just blogged about my writing schedule – which appears to have affected my LIFE. 🙂

    • I was never much good at conversation (although, give me a little wine and I’ll talk your ear off), so in my case it’s no great loss. But I used to at least be able to bat the ball back and get the other person going. Now, not so much.

      • Oh. Damn. That’s right, I’d forgot about wine. It definitely loosens me up too. I can only manage to sputter a few words without a glass. Two glasses? I’m liable to become effusive and even gesture grandly

        I just had a thought. Maybe THIS is why I’m having trouble with dialogue – if I can’t figure out what to say in real life, how the hell can I make it up? I guess I need to drink some wine, then write the dialogue. Yeah. That ought to do it!

      • it was when
        i came to take writing seriously
        so seriously
        not as the spewing of words
        but as the crafting of sentences
        that i found

        that i found
        myself often rendered speechless
        or slowed of speech
        by the immensity of language
        the power of words
        the ever-present necessity
        of getting it right

        it is often
        difficult for me to speak
        as i wish to utter carefully
        only the correct words

        and the world
        its people
        they are in such a hurry

        • Exactly. Everything to do with language has slowed for me: writing, speaking, listening, reading. And my confidence has evaporated along with my impetuosity. I’ve developed a mental stutter.

  8. Oh, it causes problems. When I write I am disconnected from the “real” world, and when someone tries to call me back it can get ugly. I’m usually sorry about it later. But I have to come and go at the times of my choosing, like a ghost. Seems apropos to being a writer.

    • Oh, I used to get really grumpy when interrupted while I was writing. But now it happens so often that there’s no alternative but to smile and wait and swing the butterfly net at the idea once the room is quiet again.

  9. Is it still classed as a relationship when the other person’s dead?
    I am writing for my dad right now. I started this book more than two years ago, sent him the first 50 pages, and he loved it.
    Then, with too much pain, too much medication, I couldn’t write for a long time.
    But now I can.
    Somehow, I am writing this for him — Shit, I’ve answered the wrong question, haven’t I? I’ve started answering the “How do relationships affect your writing?” question.
    So I’ll just finish answering that one.
    Truly, Sadly, Deeply. In all good ways.

    To your question — I drive everyone nuts, because I’m so writing obsessed I relate everything to it, and it’s almost certain my life will end when someone can’t take it any more, and stabs me to death with my own pen, sets me on fire using my own discarded pages, and buries me under a pile of my own failed ideas.
    “Hey,” I’ll be saying to them. “This would make a great story!”

    • ‘How relationships affect your writing’ is a far better question, and could lead to a very long answer which is probably beyond the scope of this blog. I would imagine that our relationships are at the heart of everything we write, because we’re trying so hard to understand what makes other people tick. We write to figure shit out, yeah?

  10. My husband and I met because something I wrote years ago attracted his attention. Luckily he has never come to resent the very thing that captured his interest in the first place. He’s always been completely supportive. I’ve also got a great friend who’s a writer and we can talk about plots and characters for hours without boring each other. I feel really fortunate.

    P.S. I love what harryipants said above.

    • That story about your husband is so romantic. It always seems like the purest kind of love starts with something in writing.

      Some of my writer-friends are married to other writers, and I fucking love the idea of that. Having someone to talk to about writing sounds like the ultimate luxury to me where relationships are concerned. (That and having someone to cook with.)

  11. Strange, because writing is where I tend to put all the passion. So it’s had the pleasantly surprising affect of making me a little more at ease in real life relationships. But I find myself bringing my real life reserve into my online interactions, for fear of being that overly emotional person that writing allows me to be. Wish there was a way to get the balance right!

    • I think that’s far and away the better way to manage it. Online interactions can always stand to be a little more reserved (something I should take note of; I am hopelessly TMI). Surely it should be the other way around.

  12. “…I’m not sure there’s a way to express a love as big as this; there are only inadequate human attempts to connect—any way we can.”