Category Archives: Relationships

Don’t Let Housework Ruin Your Marriage. Leave That to Booze and Gambling.

My wife never came right out and said she was distressed by our house and the fact that I live in it. I only became aware of her distress after years of examining various signs and back-trails. It was like tracking a bear that occasionally walks into your kitchen muttering and flashing grumpy looks.

I couldn’t decide which of my manifold foolish actions she was upset about, so I asked her. She answered. I didn’t understand. Perhaps I didn’t speak bear.

You should know that my wife lives and suffers and prevails according to her list. She has the words “Most Organized Person On The Planet” embroidered on her underwear. One day I noticed that she relaxed a bit every time she crossed something off her list, as if she’d just murdered a family enemy. Maybe that was the key.

I volunteered to help her clear her list, which made her grin. She began to send me on missions. “Strangle the dirty dishes.” “Stab the litter box in the eye.” “Shoot the grocery store in the back of the head and dump it in the lake.” I did these things, and she thanked me. Yet she remained disgruntled. I even began rubbing out some targets on my own, but that didn’t solve the problem.

I gave up. I decided I’d have to spend the rest of my life buying lots of flowers and watching Notting Hill with her an improbable number of times.

Some time ago I began working from home, and then later I began not working, still from home. Every day I was confronted by the items from my wife’s list, or as I now thought of them, “The Enemies of My People.” Whenever I became frustrated or bored I began attacking our enemies. After a while I made it my mission to eradicate them.

That was when my wife smiled. By accident I’d made myself just as accountable for slaying our enemies as she was.

My wife still performs her share of assassinations. We could never deny her the pleasure of the kill. But now she has an ally instead of a flunky. I had never understood why it wasn’t enough for me to just help out. As long as we shared the work and it got done, who cared? Well, somebody has to take responsibility for seeing that things get properly killed around here, and my wife doesn’t want to be stuck with the job by herself.

I know this is confusing, because it confused the heck out of me. Let me translate it into a form more understandable than bear language:

Say you and I go in 50/50 on an Chevy 429 V8 engine so we can rebuild it. We plan to put it on blocks and start it up once a day to hear how badass it sounds. As we work, every time I’m done with a tool I just leave it laying on the garage floor. Soon you’re tripping over wrenches and pullers. You justifiably chew my ass out, but after that I only pick up a tool when you specifically tell me to. You yell at me some more, and I finally begin picking up a tool on my own once in a while. But mainly you still have to tell me.

What am I?

I’m a lazy pain in the ass, that’s what I am. And I will be until I take some responsibility for the damn tools getting picked up. It’s not about how many tools I pick up. My job isn’t to pick up tools. My job is to make sure tools aren’t laying around on the floor, and that’s your job too. Then nobody has to get their ass chewed.

So, I stumbled onto that whole realization entirely by accident. It makes me happy, because I now have a happier wife, and because I expect to be watching Kelly’s Heroes on many future occasions instead of watching Notting Hill.

Nothing’s wrong. What could be wrong? What do you think's wrong, huh?
Nothing’s wrong. What could be wrong? What do you think’s wrong, huh?

“Bear Square” by I Seek To Help & Repair!
It is a derivative of the file file:Male kodiak bear face.JPG.
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bear_Square.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Bear_Square.JPG

Cornuminima – The Horn of Not So Much

My wife and I have been scrimping for a while. We’ve always measured abundance in terms of shopping. In a stable financial situation, my wife can, on a whim, buy a shirt at Target. When things are going well, she can buy two shirts at Target. Right now the unrestricted purchase of Target shirts is prohibited.

Our penny-pinching leads to odd conversations, like the one we had recently when I decided to make a sandwich. I don’t make many sandwiches now because sliced turkey is $8.00 a pound. When I want a sandwich, I have to cook a cheap chicken and slice it into sandwich-sized slabs. I find it a lot easier to just eat a banana, which is cheaper than gravel.

Anticipating my sandwich, I opened an elderly loaf of cut-rate bread, looked at it, and called out to my wife, “Sweetie, I think we’ve had this bread for six or seven weeks.”

My wife was moving threadbare shirts from the washer to the dryer, and she answered from the utility room, “Why? Is it scary?”

“No, not at all. It looks fine. That’s kind of scary by itself.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think it may not be real food. I mean, we only paid eighty cents for the loaf. Maybe it’s like one of those Big Macs that they left on a seat in the bus station, and when they came back a year later it looked exactly the same.”

“You’re just making that up.”

“How do you know?” I walked into the utility room carrying two terrifying slices of bread.

“Somebody would have eaten it.”

I wanted to say that nobody would eat an abandoned Big Mac off a seat in the bus station, but I realized she was right. Maybe I think we’re scrimping, but plenty of people’s yardstick for impoverishment includes “eating stray food from places where strangers’ asses have been.” Buying shirts isn’t even carved on their stick.

So I said, “You’re right.”

My wife smiled, victorious.

“Can I make you an object that looks like a chicken sandwich?”

She made a face. “Nobody even likes you.”

Someday soon my wife will again be able to come home with shirts like this.
Someday soon my wife will again be able to come home with shirts like this.

The Oncoming Husband Expiration Date

Whoever said, “If you have lemons, make lemonade,” never met my wife. When you make lemonade, you can drink it, sell it, give it to friends who don’t really want it but take it just to be nice, or leave it in the fridge to become a chemical weapon. In any of those scenarios, by next week your lemons will rest in the mists of history.

My wife believes everything has an appropriate shelf-life. She watches expiration dates. If canned soup hits the “best if used by” mark, she tosses it. Aspirin that expires in November is in the trash by Thanksgiving. Consequently, she goes for things that will last a long time. When we buy regular milk it becomes clabber by the next morning. Organic milk stays good for weeks. Guess which one she buys.

My in-laws possess a lemon tree, and this year it bore enough fruit to fulfill any fertility commandment from the Old Testament. We ended up with lots of lemons. My wife didn’t squander them on something as ephemeral as lemonade. She went for shelf-life. We squeezed lemons, poured the juice into an ice cube tray, and made frozen juice cubes. We had one tray. It took about a week. But now we have zip-lock bags packed with lemon goodness that will fulfill our lemon juicing needs for years. Probably until I retire.

Knowing this makes me feel good. My wife has chosen me to fulfill her marriage requirements, despite the fact that we’re different in almost every way partners can be different and neither of them be a chimp. (If it comes to that, I will be nominated for chimp on the basis of my poor impulse control.) This is not a random happenstance. My wife thinks about these things.

Therefore, it’s my job to think of things she wouldn’t think of by herself. That’s a long shelf-life contribution, and it’s how I pull my relationship weight. For example, she’s been sick for a couple of weeks. She’s been coughing like a French Quarter junkie, and she had to work Saturday. Then one of her crowns popped off before she went to work.

In this situation, at the end of the day her thought process would go something like this:
Illness + fatigue + pain + emergency weekend dental work = soup, aspirin and early bedtime

My thought process goes more like this:
Illness + fatigue + pain + emergency weekend dental work = homemade brownies, scotch whiskey and dumb TV

This is why I don’t get tossed out like bad soup.

Homemade Lemon/Scotch brownies with a Scotch/Lemon chaser
Homemade Lemon/Scotch brownies with a Scotch/Lemon chaser

I Love That You Don’t Care

Speaking as one of the slothful, unemployed wretches draining our nation of its vitality and self-respect, I enjoyed the movie Frozen. My wife and I saw the early showing, because the early tickets cost less, and what else do I have to do in the daytime, really? I’ve applied for enough jobs to form a new NBA comprised of tubby, nearsighted white guys. But thus far no one has needed my particular set of skills, which do not include stabbing terrorists in the eye with a screwdriver.

Lately I’ve been networking like Truman Capote at one of Andy Warhol’s parties, without the LSD, and it’s brought promising results in the way of people calling me about jobs. My wife listens with great patience when I describe the virtues of networking. I know she really cares because she loves me and she hates choking down store-brand peanut butter.

My sweetie has embraced the idea of networking and has begun networking on my behalf, something I appreciate quite a lot. The other day she mentioned my employment deprivation to a friend, and he asked what kind of jobs I’d had.

Rather than use my actual titles in the rest of this post, I shall henceforth use alternate titles evocative of my level of responsibility. In answer to our friend’s question, my wife said I was some kind of Sea Otter Wrangler.

As my wife and I walked across the theater parking lot, digging dollar bills and quarters out of our pockets, I felt perplexed. I told her that I had once been a Sea Otter Wrangler, but that was years ago. After that I became the Manager of Sea Otter Logistics, and I was subsequently promoted to Director of Whale and Dolphin Operations. Most recently I was Chief of Aquatic Creatures That Suckle Their Young. I paused to let that sink in.

My wife responded, “I know it seems like I don’t care about your titles and what your jobs are, but that’s just because I don’t.”

Now some fellows might have been surprised by that, and some might have gotten their feelings hurt. I laughed and clapped my hands so hard that I almost scattered quarters across the sidewalk.

She added, “It doesn’t affect my life.”

I told her that’s what I should have expected, and that’s one of the things I like about her. Her opinion of me has nothing at all to do with my job. In today’s world, that is a gift beyond price. It’s made this job search easier by an order of magnitude.

A lot of things aren’t too important to my wife. When we got engaged, she didn’t want a diamond ring. You can see that I won the fiancé lottery. She doesn’t care whether I remember her birthday, or if I watch TV shows about vampires with her. I bet she’s not even antsy about being unable to buy a shirt at Target.

She cares how we treat each other as people. How we talk to each other, do things for each other, touch each other. That’s what counts. It took me a while to grasp that, and maybe it doesn’t make sense to other people. It makes sense to us, so there it is.

All right, I’m lying just a little. She does care about whether I scoop the cat litter before she gets home. That’s true love, right there.

This sea otter needs to be wrangled in a professional and authoritative manner. As soon as I get off my break.
This sea otter needs to be wrangled in a professional and authoritative manner. As soon as I get off my break.

 

Save Your Marriage From the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe

My wife and I subscribe to the “Oncoming Train” theory of relationship management. It’s based on the idea that every so often a gargantuan freight train of a problem will come along and try to obliterate your marriage. I mean a problem like losing your job, or a death in the family, or bouncing around the house for a year rearranging all the furniture by weight because you think the foundation’s moving.

We’re too puny to stop an oncoming train. We’re too sedentary to outrun it, and we’re too clumsy to dodge it. Our only hope is to keep our heads down and trust that the track won’t come apart.

Within our theoretical framework, my wife and I are each a separate rail on the track. I like to think I’m the right-hand rail, because that’s the side I sleep on and that’s where I sit in the car when my wife’s driving and I’m praying to Jesus. I’m not even religious, so that says something. Our theory states that rails must stay some distance from each other in order to be structurally sound. Really, if two rails are leaning all over each other, then you have mushy rails. What kind of weenie rails are those? A train will squash the snot out of them.

As an example of this, my wife invited me to see an exhibit of steampunk-inspired art. Since that sounded like as much fun as doing something nasty with a dirigible, I declined. But never in the grimiest depths of our psyches did we think that meant she shouldn’t go without me. She’ll go see the brass gears and crap while I stay home and sharpen knives. We’re both happy in our own little worlds.

(This also lets us believe different things without going to war with each other. Recently we’ve argued about issues like teaching intelligent design, and why we don’t just assassinate people we don’t like. We’re both still ambulatory and sleeping in the same bed.)

You may see the flaw here. Independent of one another, rails can sort of drift apart, and they won’t stand up to a Monster Train Assault when one is heading east and the other is heading to Vegas. So our theory contains railroad ties that keep the rails linked.

As an example, here’s how we behave when the other is sick. When my wife feels bad I bring her tea and snacks and the TV remote. I put her in the recliner, cover her with a blanket, and throw two or three cats on top. She seems to like this. When I feel bad, the first thing she does is ask whether I’ve taken aspirin/benadryl/pepto bismol. This is great, because I can say no and she can feel helpful, then I can go off and wait undisturbed for nature to either heal me or kill me. We each provide the nurturing that the other needs. It’s something we share.

Over the years my wife has created, refined, and frequently explained the “Oncoming Train” theory. I came up with the name, which by the standards of our society means I am the theory’s inventor. She says we’re two parallel, independent rails, but all along the way we’re tied by certain things we share. Whenever Hell’s Own Locomotive arrives, we plan to hang on and ride it out.

Or, my wife can just assassinate the engineer.

Looks like the "Bought a vacuum cleaner and a box of toner cartridges for her birthday" train is coming.
Looks like the “Bought a vacuum cleaner and a box of toner cartridges for her birthday” train is coming.

In Which Cookies Attempt to Emasculate Me

My wife has been invited to tea with a bunch of her friends tomorrow. I understand that this event involves drinking tea, eating snacks, and wearing big hats. If you leave out the tea, it sounds a lot like the rodeo to me.

Anyway, my wife has been planning to bake cookies for the tea party, but life interfered today and gobbled up all her potential cookie-baking time. Being a nice husband with some time on his hands and an interest in having sex again at some point, I undertook the baking of her chosen cookies.

My wife wanted Basil-Lime Shortbread Cookies, which are the girliest of all cookies in existence. Just reading the recipe made me want to put mousse in my hair. To defend my masculinity, I cranked up Netflix in the kitchen and blared an action-heavy TV series while I grated lime zest and whipped stuff until it was light and fluffy.

It must have worked. Three dozen ultra-feminine cookies are cooling on wire racks in my kitchen, and I can still tell the difference between a Remington 870 shotgun and a Winchester M97 shotgun.

Some cookies are made with love. These cookies are made with explosions, fire fights, car chases, torture, and bioterrorism.

I dodged a bullet on this one.
I dodged a bullet on this one.

 

Give the Newlyweds Some Napalm and a Bazooka

I’m drinking to celebrate the fact that, as of today, I’ve been to more weddings than funerals this year. I’ve grieved that several of my loved ones passed beyond the reach of man, although at least I hadn’t loaned any of them books. On the other hand, more than twice as many friends promised to love and honor each other forever, and they celebrated by accepting ugly wall clocks and pretentious 1-cup coffee makers.

It’s a happy situation. I’m therefore drinking vodka, which is nasty, rather than tequila, which is loathsome.

As I listened to the vows in today’s ceremony, I thought about my own wedding vows. If I wrote my marriage vows today, they’d be vastly different from the ones I wrote for my actual wedding. In addition to love, honor, and cherish, I might include vows like:

  • I promise to do whatever it takes to keep you warm, even if it means adopting more cats to pile on the bed.
  • I promise to pay attention to things you like so I can buy them for you later.
  • I promise to pay attention when you tell me I’m acting crazy.
  • I promise never to cook Garlic Orange Chicken Stir Fry again.
  • I promise not to make fun of your addiction to making lists.

Then I realized most of that was pretty dumb and not at all what I want to say. Then I thought about what I want to say instead of that. Then I drank vodka, which kind of helped. Then I decided that I really wanted to talk about how marriage changes things. I mean, one moment you’re in love, and the next moment you’re in love and married. What the heck does that mean?

Here’s the short version. Love is a gift you give your lover. Marriage is a war you fight against yourself.

Here’s the long version. I think the “love is a gift” part is pretty understandable. It includes basic things like giving flowers and back rubs, physical intimacy, and treating your lover no less courteously than you would treat a librarian or a beloved English actor.

On another “love is a gift” level, whenever I’m out later than expected, I call my wife. She does the same for me. As I call her, my buddies may harass me by saying she “really has me on a short leash.” I explain that I’m glad she at least cares where I’m at instead of using my absence to frolic with a grunge-punk band and shoot dope under her toenails. Besides which, being so paranoid about really short leashes makes them sound like they have tiny penises.

The “marriage is a war” part is less obvious. Whenever my wife and I behave like loving, caring individuals, no war is necessary. But sometimes we act like regular people, which is to say irrational and thoughtless. When I feel my wife is acting that way, I have decisions to make and possibly a war to fight.

Here’s an example. I indicate to my wife, I think successfully, that I’m interested in a little hanky-panky later in the evening. I receive promising indications, but not a positive confirmation. We go to dinner with a friend, and my wife orders a barbeque plate of heroic proportions. I anticipate her request for a doggie bag, but it never comes. She enjoys the entire meal. Now any attempt at hanky-panky that evening would result in nothing but her shrieking like a rabbit caught in a gate.

My war against myself begins inside my head.

“Was I clear? I know I was clear. Does this mean something? Maybe she’s not too interested in me anymore. Or maybe I wasn’t clear. Did she have to order the big plate? It’s not like we were going to a French restaurant or something. We can go to this place anytime. Am I less desirable than a barbeque sandwich? I don’t know what to say to that. That can’t be right. But hell, she didn’t have to eat the whole dinner—she could have taken part of it home for tomorrow. Am I less sexy than half a barbeque sandwich? I can’t ask that! What if she says yes?”

At this point I am losing the war. I have taken something she did that annoyed me, and I’ve transformed it into a marriage-threatening cataclysm that I can’t talk to her about because I’m terrified of what we might say. Even better, as long as I don’t say anything, this will now creep around unseen in our marriage like a French Resistance fighter causing more creative and disruptive sabotage forever after.

How do I win the war? I risk everything. I open my mouth and say the stupid things I was worrying about. Even if it hurts my wife, hurts me, and hurts the guy who made the sandwich. I listen to her possibly-horrifying responses, because if our marriage survives this then at least we won’t have it under the surface tearing our marriage apart.

That’s what I mean by marriage being a war you fight against yourself. I’m not sure what that would look like in a wedding vow. Maybe something like:

  • I promise to fight for us. We’re worth risking everything for.

Now I’m going to cook dinner. We’re having soup. And vodka.

It was a beautiful water-side wedding. An hour later the groom’s father whispered to him, “Son, you’ll be fine if you just have some guts and don’t act like one of those guys with a tiny penis.”
It was a beautiful water-side wedding. An hour later the groom’s father whispered to him, “Son, you’ll be fine if you just have some guts and don’t act like one of those guys with a tiny penis.”

Photo by Brocken Inaglory.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Carrot and the Stick and the Lithium

My wife gave me that look again yesterday. It’s not really a bad look, but it is specific to certain situations. I like to imagine that at some point General Custer was talking about whether to ride down to Little Big Horn or to just go home and drink beer. And I like to imagine that during that discussion Custer’s aide looked at him the way my wife looked at me last night. It’s the look that says, “I don’t know why you’re saying these things, but I hope we end up having a party instead of pulling arrows out of each other.”

I started off by telling her I had an unimportant question, and then I asked what the idiom “the carrot and the stick” means to her.

“It means you reward someone to get them to do something, and you punish them if they don’t do it,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s the common definition,” I said, “but that’s not the way I learned it. The carrot is a reward, and the stick holds the carrot in front of the donkey where he can’t get to it. He just keeps pulling towards it.”

I paused to let my wife say something in response. Instead, she gave me that look.

“Nobody gets punished,” I said.

She kept that look trained on me, even though the cat chose that moment to dig his claws into her leg and launch himself across the den like a cruise missile.

“You don’t hit the donkey with the stick,” I went on. “The stick just hangs there.”

My wife rubbed her perforated trousers leg and said, “Is this for something you’re writing?”

“No, I’m just thinking about it.”

She leaned away from me a fraction, the way you’d stand back to get perspective on a magnificent tree, or to get perspective on a manic person who’s talking about pudding enriched with brain-strengthening vitamins.

“Really! Think about it!” I said. “If you hit a donkey with a stick, you may get bit. Even the stupidest donkey in the world isn’t going to think the stick hit him by itself.”

I paused again for my wife to speak, but she just gave me a glacial nod to continue.

“But if you just use the stick to dangle the carrot, the donkey won’t get pissed off and bite you. Even if he gets aggravated, he’ll probably just bite the stick. It’s better all the way around.”

My wife crossed her legs and said, “Okay. And why did this come up?” Followed by the unspoken, And were you stockpiling food and Geiger counters at the time?

“No particular reason. It’s just, you know, the donkey never sees the stick that’s holding the carrot. So, when I look around here I can see the carrots. Where are all the sticks?”

“Are you complaining because you can’t see invisible sticks?”

“No! But if I’m working for carrots that I can never get because some hidden something is keeping them out of reach, I want to know what that something is and do something about it!”

My wife leaned back another fraction. “Are you complaining because you can’t see invisible sticks and then bite them?”

“Well… yeah. Kind of. Not literal sticks. The sticks are metaphors.”

She waited for a bit. When I didn’t continue, she said, “Metaphors for what?”

“I don’t know! That’s what I want to find out!”

“Should I clean out another closet so you can fill it with bottled water?”

“No, you’re missing the point!”

“Which is?”

“It’s hard to explain,” I said.

“Does it have something to do with the donkey? You have to give the donkey a carrot before all this, or he won’t know he likes carrots.”

“Yeah, it goes without saying that the donkey likes carrots!”

“And if you don’t feed the donkey sometime he’ll die.”

“Just forget about the damned donkey!”

“You’re the one who wanted to talk about the donkey. I was watching TV,” she said.

The truth of that statement kicked me in the larynx, and I stopped talking for a moment. Then I said, “You were right, this is for something I’m writing.”

I saw her shoulders relax. That look disappeared from her face like a pricked soap bubble. “Oh, okay. Anything else?”

I shook my head, kissed her, and went back to my office, where I further contemplated the question of donkeys and invisible sticks. That question had become secondary, though. My primary interest had become appreciating the complexity of my wife’s job.

My wife contributes to our partnership in a lot of ways, and one of them is observing my behavior. She doesn’t so much observe it as she scans it with the diligence of a forest ranger. But she’s not scanning trees for signs of fire, she’s scanning what I do and say for signs of an irrational brain that needs tweaking. You could say that she’s a Brain Ranger.

It’s a hard job. People pay me to say things that no one would expect a normal person to say. Even when my brain is working fine, I sometimes say things that make everyone stop for a moment and then look away. How can a Brain Ranger tell when I’m malfunctioning and when I’m just being my normal, strange self?

I can’t explain how she does it. But I will say that for a person like me with an unruly brain, a vigilant, no-bullshit Brain Ranger is invaluable. There’s nothing like having someone who can listen to you talk about your metaphorical donkeys and invisible sticks in the context of your metaphorical forest and figurative fire, and assess whether your behavior is abnormally weird or just regular weird.

Someone's Brain Ranger has some exciting times ahead.
Someone’s Brain Ranger has some exciting times ahead.

Public domain photo by Karen Murphy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

via Wikimedia Commons

We Have a Profound Spiritual Connection Through Peg-board

It’s well-known that my wife and I could not be more different, unless one of us carried chimp DNA. That would probably be me, by the way. Therefore, this morning my understanding of the world shifted when I noticed that on some obscure, metaphysical level she and I are the same person.

I will present my evidence. Here’s a photo of my tools:

Tools

And here’s is a photo of my wife’s makeup:

makeup

I believe nothing more need be said.

I Will Take My Beating in Cowed Embarrassment

Writing brings out the mental illness in me. My wife can testify to this.

I’m in control of my behavior almost all the time. As Mark Twain said, “For business reasons, I must preserve the outward signs of sanity.” If I wake up to find my brain mired like a mammoth in tar, I can trick my brain into sucking itself free and stomping onwards across the plains. I rarely buy extravagant, useless things, because I have a rule. If I want to buy something that costs more than a couple of hundred dollars, I can’t buy it until I think about it for at least six months. I almost always follow that rule. Almost.

Judiciously applied chemicals are my friends. Free range chemicals and alcohol are not welcome in the home of my brain, apart from the occasional tequila shot or pomegranate martini. Come on, I’m not a nun or anything. But my best friend is me acting the way I want to feel, no matter how my brain tells me I feel, or at least doing my best to create the outward signs of sanity.

It works pretty well at this point in my life.

My wife refrains from trying to convince, trick, or bribe me into not behaving like a crazy person. It’s my job to take care of all this. She’s happy to help if I ask, and she demonstrates philosophical acceptance when I suddenly fill up the office closet with 30 gallons of bottled water, or when without warning I decide we need some more cats. Not only is she tolerant, she’s smart. If she tried to manage all this for me, I’d probably explode like a hand grenade.

Writing screws all this up. Well, not all writing causes problems. I can write a thousand words, declare success, and smile as I move on to something else. It’s the big projects that make me crazy. I’ve written three novels in the past three years, and the insanity they create goes like this.

I get an idea for something I want to write. It’s the best idea for a book that anyone’s had in the past 100 years, or maybe ever. I’m so excited that I talk to my wife about it almost every minute we’re together. I lay awake thinking about it and even consider waking my wife up in the middle of the night to talk about the greatness that is my idea. This goes on for about three days.

I begin the planning and research required to bridge the chasm between having an idea and writing words. I realize that my idea is rubbish. It’s less creative than a bucket of vanilla pudding. If brought to reality, it would be less popular than asphalt-flavored baby food. I feel shame. The only reason I keep working is that I talked it up so much to my wife I’d be embarrassed to never write a word of the thing. This goes on for about a month.

I start writing the first draft, expecting that after one chapter I can honorably surrender to the fact that my idea was horrible. After the first thousand words I find that I’m amusing myself, and I start to feel better about the project. I read the first chapter to my wife. She doesn’t say anything bad about it, which confirms my growing suspicion that it’s a work of magnificence. I begin laughing and hooting like a fool as I write, and I find I’d rather write than eat or sleep. This goes on until I finish the first draft, or about two to three months.

I put the manuscript aside to cool, planning to begin editing in about six weeks. Within 24 hours I realize that I was engulfed by irrational euphoria this whole time, and in fact my manuscript isn’t fit to wipe the ass of a sweaty heroin addict living in a ditch in Bangkok. I try to put this debacle behind me and concentrate on ideas for my next project, but I can only generate enough motivation to watch Saving Private Ryan and eat pie. This goes on for about two months.

Some grisly sense of obligation forces me to open the manuscript and pretend I’ll edit it before I trash it and funnel my creative urge into learning the ukulele. After reading three pages I can’t believe I’ve forgotten how brilliant it is. I perform several rounds of edits like one of those yipping dogs that never stop to sleep. I’m afraid that if I take a day off then the magical spell will be broken and I’ll once again see that the manuscript is just a snap-toothed yokel with mismatched shoes. This goes on for about six weeks.

The manuscript is finally as good as it’s going to get without an editor. I begin writing query letters, synopses, overviews, biographies, and the other artifacts that agents and publishers want to see. I become profoundly convinced that any agent would be more impressed if I just sent her an envelope full of fish guts. I grit my teeth and push on. I’ve come too far now. I’ll just send out the queries and then take my beating in cowed embarrassment.

Then it’s time to start a new project. And even though it means starting the cycle of crazy all over again, I don’t mind all that much. Not everybody get to experience three days of knowing that their book idea is absolutely the most perfect and radiant idea of the last century. It feels great. It’s entirely worth the subsequent months of the despair when you understand just how appalling your idea in fact was.

Really. I’m not joking.

Outward signs of sanity, dude.

Little yipping dogs - my spirit animal when editing.
Little yipping dogs – my spirit animal when editing.

Photo courtesy of cutedogs.com via wakpaper.com.