Today’s blog post comes to you from an island of burrs, rough edges, tangled mats of hair, and seaweed clumps. Seriously, I wish I’d strung those words together myself, but I was just as glad to find them in a book called Writing Open the Mind, by Andy Couturier.
Like Andy, I am in the business of those burrs, those rough edges, tangled mats of hair and seaweed clumps. As a writer, I am interested in dark parts, those tucked away moments, not entirely pretty, sometimes hard to look at.
My mentor, Deena Metzger, says that poetry is beauty and ugliness side by side. I’m down with that kind of poetry, on the page and off – which means I’m also willing to live a more tangled, less perfect life where the pieces don’t always match and the burrs and rough edges show.
Driving around town the other day, I realized that I had been working something over in my mind for weeks without being conscious of it. I was trying to come up with some pithy statement about my marriage to offer my friends and family when I saw them at Thanksgiving the following week. “Aren’t you and Mark divorced?” I imagined them asking. “But you’re living together, right? What’s up with that?”
For weeks I’d been trying to come up with an assortment of answers that might satisfy the curious, and which would explain my colorful, paint outside the lines life. “Oh, you know us,” I’d laugh, “we’re shape shifters.” Or maybe something more serious, “Well, he needed a place to stay for a while and I had the room…but it’s temporary,” I’d add quickly lest they think me mad. Divorced people aren’t supposed to live together, right?
I was imagining each relative and friend I might run into at Thanksgiving, trying to find a one size fits all answer that would convince me that I knew what I was doing, and have all of them think so too.
The truth was, there was no perfect answer. I wasn’t even sure how to talk to myself about it. On the one hand, we were divorced after 27-years, and instead of separating us, it had brought us closer. Not as lovers, but as friends. It was as if the sharp knife of divorce had cut away the tired and dead parts of our marriage – money and sex and all the ways we’d let each other down – and left us feeling pruned, clean. We could see the light in each other again.
It wasn’t entirely a piece of cake. There were plenty of burrs and rough edges, –like the weak moment months after he’d moved out when I begged him to come home. “I can’t,” he’d said, giving me a hug, “I’m too happy.” And on most days so was I. We’d each done so much personal work over the years that by the time we signed on the dotted line of divorce we were standing fairly securely on our own two feet. The end of the marriage wasn’t the explosion it is for some couples. It was a sober truth that we’d been moving toward for a while.
Now there was nothing more to fight about and so we were free to be friendly, free to appreciate each other without the burden of all that baggage we’d been hauling from one therapist to the next over the years. When his housing fell through it felt right to invite him in until he found his next home.
It’s kind of perfect. He sleeps upstairs, we both work at home, sometimes we make meals together, he chops wood, I edit his work, he helps me with mine. At the end of the day we say goodnight and head in our separate directions.
“Isn’t that weird?” friends ask. “You spent 27 years with him and now you’re roommates?”
Oddly, no. If we’ve mastered anything it’s that we kept the heart of our connection alive and let the form of the marriage change, and that’s the best answer I can give people – though I don’t know whether that will make sense to them. But it’s all I have. Language is limiting in some ways and especially the language around divorce. As a writer, I want to be a part of creating a language that isn’t dualistic – that doesn’t reek of “this asshole did this to me,” and which instead respectfully reflects the changes and complexities we go through in relationships, and which honors the effort and the challenge of domestic life. Divorce isn’t one size fits all. It’s a collage of who we’ve been, who we are now and who we’re already changing into. If there’s still some love in the cooker then you’re more than lucky. That’s the fuel you’ll need to take the journey together. And if you have kids like we do, you better harness that love and dribble it over everyone.
As to what I’m going to tell my people next week when I see them – I still don’t know. I might say, “we’re divorced, I love him, he’s an awesome roommate,” and leave it at that. I’m not trying to be coy – it’s all I know right now. As I write these paragraphs I find I’m losing interest in figuring everything out, and reaching for pithy explanations that are meant to make us all feel better.
The image I have is of a long car ride. The kid in the backseat is asking his mom where they are now. “I don’t know,” she says, “but it’s real pretty out there, isn’t it?”
Here’s Andy Couturier’s whole gorgeous quote:
“When we give ourselves permission to play with writing, the subconscious is liberated and it makes patterns outside of the analyzing mind, outside of the Self-Other mind. And those patterns are far more complex (as in the logic of dreams), than a strict Euclidean geometry that has been cleansed of all the burrs, rough edges, tangled mats of hair, and seaweed clumps. That richness can be felt and sensed.”
– Writing Open the Mind