Writing and Marriage, Both Hard Work

From an interview with author Madeleine L’Engle;

The most asked question that I generally receive is, “Where do you get your ideas?” That’s very easily answered. I tell a story about Johann Sebastian Bach when he was an old man. A student asked him, “Papa Bach, where do you get the ideas for all of these melodies?” And the old man said, “Why, when I get up in the morning, it’s all I can do not to trip over them.” And that’s how ideas are; they’re just everywhere.

L’Engle is one of my favorite authors, but not for her widely known “Wrinkle in Time” series. I’m not sure I read any of her books as a young girl. Had I done so, maybe I would be more of a science fiction fan. No, she is one of my favorite authors because of her Crosswicks Journal series and her “Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage.”   The Crosswicks Journals are from her actual journals and are written in the short bursts of creativity she had as a mother of young children. I identify strongly with two particular incidents in her Crosswick Journals. She confesses to volunteering to burn the garbage out back of their home just to get away from the noise of children and I often did the same thing when we lived out in the country. And, in “A Circle of Quiet” Madeleine confesses her anguish on her 40th birthday. It seems the decade of her 30’s had been a dry spell for selling her writing so she was actually looking forward to her 40th birthday, because surely a new decade would bring about some writing success.  Then on her 40th birthday she received a rejection in her mailbox. She took that as a sign that she should stop writing. Like me, she’d spent so many hours writing and was still not pulling her own weight financially. So that morning Madeleine L’Engle decided to stop the foolishness of writing and learn to make cherry pie and become a good New England housewife and writer.

She covered the typewriter in a grand gesture of renunciation.

Then she walked around and around the room, bawling her head off. She was totally and utterly miserable.

Suddenly she stopped her wailing long enough to realize that all the while she was crying her subconscious mind was busy working on a novel about failure.

She uncovered the typewriter and recorded that moment of decision in her journal. She realized she had to write. Even if she never had another book published she realized she had to go on writing.

So it is with me. Every morning I find myself tripping over ideas that just beg to be written into an article or essay.  I get up early and sort through the previous day’s work. Sometimes it is a query letter that needs to be rewritten. Other days it something for my blog. On very good days, it is a completion of an article or essay that I plan to submit for publication.  But always it is something. I realized a long time ago that I must write. Most of what happens in my life and much of what happens in my friends and family’s lives is fodder for a future article.

In that same interview I quoted at the beginning, L’Engle advises future writers to do one thing, and that is to write. “Just write something every day.”

I cannot believe that I read her other book, “Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage” during my husband David’s cancer treatment, at a time when I refused to read any book about cancer in which the cancer patient dies by book’s end. Because, you see, “Two-Part Invention” is a wrenching story of L’Engle’s husband’s death. She watched and cared for her husband as he died. There were plenty of tears shed as I read this book but there was also a growing determination.  As I wrote my own book, the story of a couple’s journey through cancer, I was going to be brutally honest, just as L’Engle was.  Marriage is not all flowers and romance. It is hard work. If I had simply written about cancer and not about the complicated relationship I’d shared with my spouse pre-cancer, then I would be doing the readers a disservice. So, I had to delve into the uncomfortable realities of a faltering marriage relationship in order to tell the story of a marriage that was revitalized.  This was uncomfortable because we all like to paint a picture of perfection in both our marriages and our parenting relationships. But that isn’t reality.  My heart aches when I see young people let their marriage relationship deteriorate to the point that they are divorcing before they even reach their third anniversary.  (and this weighs heavily on me in recent days as I have seen two young marriages falter and fail) I want to shake them and tell them that they haven’t even given marriage a chance, that whatever their relationship is like right at that moment, it doesn’t have to be that way.  It can change. David and I are proof of that. I can honestly say I have never been happier, nor have I ever felt closer to David than I have these past three years. I am horrified to realize I am glad for the fire we went through to get here, but also convinced we could have gotten to this point with counseling, a weekend retreat, or some other way. If I could give one piece of advice to others going through their own struggles in marriage, it would be “Don’t give up. Work at it. Give it one more chance.  It doesn’t have to be the way it is right now.  It can be better.” 

I know. Because I have been there, where you are. And now, I live with my best friend.

3 thoughts on “Writing and Marriage, Both Hard Work”

  1. Amen! Marriage is worth working for…the rewards are well worth any “sacrifice”. Thank you for shedding light on marriage. We have watched four couples divorce just in this year alone. It’s so sad…

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