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.
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?