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
Love this. Year one I avoided the holiday altogether and spent the day in NYC delivering food to strangers who could care less if I was single or married. They had bigger problems than than divorce. They were dying. Year two I showed up and made awkward conversation over the crab dip my Jewish girlfriend couldn’t eat. No one asked us any questions at all. The elephant sat in all his glory in the middle of the room. I was glad my ex-husband and I had some love left in the cooker so I could dribble it like gravy over everyone. None of it is easy, but showing up with love makes the edges feel less rough. Thanks for this, Laurie. Between your post this morning and a poem I read by Glenis Redmond yesterday, I feel much more courageous about wielding my pen.
“As a writer, I want to be a part of creating a language that isn’t dualistic…” Yes! We need more honesty and transparency in the stories we tell about relationships and we need to keep challenging ourselves to look beyond what’s easy to say about them. In this vein, I just watched a short piece about genderless/bi-gendered/non-gendered people (including children) and was amazed at how the simple dichotomy of male and female is so patently untrue. Thanks for publishing this.
Laurie Marks Wagner, this piece is such a colorful, brilliant jewel and I love how you continue writing open your mind!
This Thanksgiving when people ask about your arrangement with your ex, you will just know what to say if you say the truth from your heart and not worry about what they may think. I enjoyed this blog and can relate to every word. Again, you always inspire me! Gaye Franklin
You nailed it. I wish all families were as mindful and loving and honest as yours. Your ability to put all this complexity into words is the icing on the cake.
The wood chopper
Laurie – great piece. Totally perfect for The Huffington Post or Modern Love NYTimes!
Laurie, This is a beautiful and important piece about how relationships change over time and when you are committed to your children, each person can grow and develop along with their humanness. I moved out from my partner this summer and now he stays with me when he Airbnbs his house. We are enjoying each other more than ever. Think about writing the book of spousal love after divorce, You can interview me! and we can catch up after all these years. People need to know about other forms of being “together.” You rock!
Hey baby cakes – it doesn’t really matter what others think of this relationship you carved out post divorce. Having been on the uglier side of divorce (and you’ve known my story from when it was raw to when it just didn’t matter anymore) what you have is really beautiful. No one else needs to understand it.
I share that with you because on the other side of my life people don’t understand when I tell them I’m going to my husband’s ex-mother-in-laws for Thanksgiving. And I’ve given up trying to explain Family Dinner when his ex-wife shows up with her dogs or that she came over for Halloween so she could trick or treat with our 3 year old grandson. I stayed in the house and passed out candy. There’s no drama. It’s all rather nice and peaceful.
And I agree- great piece for Huff Post!
You sound like my parents! They were married for 5 years, divorced, and now 45+ years later they are best friends and care deeply for each other. I’m glad to know they have eachother to depend on as I’m far away. I don’t have that with my ex and it’s fine! Happy Thanks giving!
Such a moving most — thanks so much for your commitment to sharing your “skin.” My ex-husband is also still “family” nine years after the marriage part ended. For no reason other than our deep care for each other (we don’t have kids, or shared property, or any ‘excuse’ as to why we have to be bound), he continues to be one of the most important people in my life. Thanks so much for sharing, and in doing so validating, another way to talk about love after divorce.
“I’m not trying to be coy – it’s all I know right now.” Everything you’ve written here resonates for me. As you know, Laurie, you and I have been on parallel paths with our marriages/divorces. I’m not living with my former husband P, but we are business partners, caring parents and friends. I pat P and me on the back for staying true to ourselves, each other and our children. I commend P and me for all the work we did to arrive at what you term the “sober truth.” But I don’t seem to have anything right now that I can neatly define. My boundaries bleed with so many others’ boundaries. Like a rag rug. There’s a wish for the map of me to be crystal clear and all one color. Maybe akin to a map of, say, Canada? In the meantime, all I know is an ever shifting landscape. I’m not being coy. Just traveling on and seeing where this road leads.
This beats “conscious uncoupling” by a mile. Way to get to the heart of the matter. Beautiful, as always!
I remember thinking when I was still married to my first and former husband, “I want to be the ‘other’ woman.” Eventually I became that woman, not in the sexual sense, but in the ‘wow, I now really appreciate, honor and respect you’ sense. Sometime relationships (and people) grow deeper with age and experience. I love that there is no apology in your words and that even though you spent some time in that quiet space of ‘psyche seeks language’ to explain that which needs no explanation, you came back to, “We’re divorced, I love him, he’s an awesome roommate.” If that isn’t poetry I don’t know what is.
yes yes yes yes yes!!!! Love you. Love this piece. You are such a beautiful writer — and human.
““As a writer, I want to be a part of creating a language that isn’t dualistic…” And as a human being, I want to live in a world that isn’t dualistic, too.
As someone who also lives with her ex-husband, I am all in favor of redefining what divorce can look like in our culture. My experience, like yours, is that my ex and I were able to fully love each other better outside of marriage. We’re awesome co-parents. Awesome friends. I love him so much.
Thanks for your beautifully-written post!
I am pleased to be mentioned in this blog in particular. You had a dinner party a week ago or so and from the guests invited I knew that Mark had to be there. But you hadn’t said he was and so I didn’t ask. Now, reading this piece, I see that the two of you have really found each other. This arrangement for however long it lasts in this form sounds exactly right – finally! And for those who might question it at Thanksgiving – maybe a reading assignment comes with the invite: “Here. Before you set down the yams, would you read this piece?” Or “We are going to have a little reading before our gratitude circle.” I think anyone who comes to share gratitude with you ought to know what real and gratitude are. The blog tells it perfectly. Love you, bot, and so so glad. Deena
I agree with your friend Peggy that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your arrangement, but it’s awfully generous of you to share it with your readers and to want to find an answer that will make everyone at the table comfortable.
I loved these delicious lines that put me in mind of a messy Thanksgiving dinner: “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.”
Life is a feast if we’re fortunate (enough to live in safety and plenty), with so much to feel grateful for if we can open our hearts to the pain of living and find it.
“One of the ways that matters most, is how gracefully we let go of the things that do not belong to us.” Buddha
In some relationships we trick ourselves into believing that we “belong” to each other. Marriage falls prey to this very often. Then we get angry and resentful when we feel owned, or we get jealous when things seem to be taken that feel like ours, or we struggle to redefine ourselves when we separate because we haven’t known ourselves outside of belonging. But in the end, we all learn one way or the other that no one really “belongs” to any one else and as hard as letting go can be … it really is the only chance we have of truly seeing one another outside of ourselves. Letting go takes time and the exertion required can feel like ripping sinew until we are sweating and vomiting and crying out in pain. But sometimes … sometimes … we’re able to do it. And by doing so we shine a light on the pathway for others … so maybe they can try. Thank you Laurie (and Mark), for working so hard to shine a light.
Maybe if Nosy Nellies at Thanksgiving ask … you could just stir things up? “Oh Mark? Well, he’s hiding from the FBI and we figured the last place they ever would look for him was at his ex’s house! I’m really not at liberty to discuss it. It’s weird enough as it is what with the Russians coming over all the time to chop wood with him. Could you please be a dear and pass the potatoes?”
Language is limiting, you bet. And if ever there was someone to find the through line in all this complexity it seems to be you. When you got to that place of what you might say to your relatives it doesn’t sound coy at all. Sounds perfect, in fact.
i have an impulse to write; then a counter-impulse, a resistance that becomes like brambles, keeping me away from the blackberries. Your writing is so honest, revealing the heart-muscle that is honed and moved by choices. So much can be hidden behind the screen and in the words we select; i am inspired by the way you explore the rough edges.
Always love your sweet honesty, Laurie!
Hi my name is Jacqueline and I just wanted to drop you a quick note here instead of calling you. I came to your 27powers | Burrs, rough edges & tangled mats of hair page and noticed you could have a lot more hits. I have found that the key to running a successful website is making sure the visitors you are getting are interested in your niche. There is a company that you can get targeted traffic from and they let you try the service for free for 7 days. I managed to get over 300 targeted visitors to day to my site. Check it out here: http://t8k.me/wl
Hi blogger i see you don’t monetize your page.
You can earn extra $$$ easily, search on youtube for:
how to earn selling articles