Friday, 18 July 2014
In praise of the partners of creatives (or, what we have to suffer)
Dig is home. (Until he returns to Hong Kong, that is.) But don't I know about it? Because he's here writing, which means yes, I suffer. Like Dante in his circles, I will experience all 128 pages of book-creating pain.
I think it has reached page 16. But the experience is already so bad that I have half a mind to post the architect of this distress back early to Asia with a letter that reads, Here, you have him, and welcome. P.S. I drained the bank account.
But my sympathies are not with the mangled creative spirits of him and his ilk, not at all. Quite frankly, I have heard it up-to-here with their afflicted geniuses battling tortured souls to wring out distilled wisdoms and wondrous thinkings. And don't they go on about it?
No, my sympathies - my quiet expressions of empathy, my supportive glances, and fond hand-holdings - are with the person who has to live with it all. I sympathise, totally and utterly, with you partners/wives/husbands to these work-at-home-at-the-computer-screen types.
Just for the record then, here's what we partners to the tortured creatives have to put up with.
1. The hair pulling, groaning and sighing.
Starts before page 1 is even attempted. One week in to a 6-week process and we have to watch how the tortured soul is on the verge of breast-beating and clothes-rending. If, one morning, I discover it writhing on the floor chewing the carpet, well, I recommend stepping over the soul wracked with pain to get breakfast because a bowl of Frosties is preferable to wasting effort on your vocal chords saying Are you alright down there?
2. The distracted demeanour.
Specifically, the tortured soul spends weeks staring blankly at walls; gazing to a remote point by the left ear of anyone making sounds (commonly known as talking); ignoring any person, event, or situation (including minor house-fires and collapsed ceilings); and forgetting how to breathe. This last near-fatal forgetfulness is combined round here with dramatic hand-raising over the keyboard in a prolonged moment of word-based genesis.
The tortured soul cannot do any practical tasks, none at all. No putting out the rubbish / helping mend the gate / hanging out the washing. Nor can they answer any practical questions like What do you want for dinner? or Did you put the iguana in the fridge like I asked you to? (This is the only fun we get, just forgive us. The tortured soul can't hear us anyway.)
4. No sense of time.
The rest of the household has a sort of pattern (even if, in Shark's case, the day starts by crawling out of bed at 11am). But the tortured soul has trouble keeping up with simple, basic clockery, confusing night and day with morning and supper-time. It is like you are permanently jet-lagged. Personally, I could cope with this temporal dislocation, because I have troubles myself with the hour hand, but this lack of time-sense is a killer when combined with Creative Issue Number 5.
Oh yes, we all suffer from this. Have a difficult form to fill in? How about the ironing! The stairs need cleaning! (No matter if you live in a bungalow.) The dusting is urgent! Well, it is ten thousand times worse if you have a 128-page book to write. By page 2 the entire study needs a re-build and the kitchen needs dismantling because the kettle is in the wrong place. If only I were joking! One morning at 5am I came down to find Dig sawing up my cupboard.
I apologise for this, but truth will out. Personal care routines are the last thing on your mind, admit it. The tortured soul may forget to, um, wash behind the ears, shall we say? Partners, wives, husbands, we have to put up with this lack of grooming until by page 7 you have turned into some hairy sprouting alien creature we can only approach if we are holding a lavender pomander and a broom handle. I have considered just spraying the soul with the garden hose. (If anyone has tried this, I would like to know whether it worked.)
Of course we partners of the tortured soul are not all indifferent to the suffering! We love you; we want to help. Sometimes, you may even ask us to help! Perhaps with a bit of reading, light editing, or a safe person to whom you can explain an idea in infinitesimal detail while we grunt yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, and meanwhile plan the daily meals for the coming year. But then what happens? After we helped? You rouse yourself to irrational anger, stare in disbelief at the monstrous wrong we have done to the integrity of your life's work! Your vision! (Moved the comma.)
8. The need for The Other.
This, I observe, is an essential ingredient of the creative soul. It must find an oppositional thing/object/dog to explore and test the boundaries of the tortured ideas in progress. Sadly, the partner/husband/wife must take this role when all else has been broken and the dog run off to lick its wounds (or in that fine example of Eric Gill, sit down for a while). This is a truly miserable haunting to inhabit. We, the partner/husband/wife, must be The Other. Someone to kick against. Yet we must be both sympathetic to the genius (you are doing great, your book is wonderful, etc. etc.) and simultaneously be made the scapegoat for all disasters, wrongs, and why, why, why, after 12 months, you're still on page 9.
9. The way life needs to be lived now, before it can be further writ.
Such pleasure is not only reserved for fiction writers! Non-fiction writers, biographers, composers of reports, policy documents, training manuals and workshop materials. You are all the same. Serious, in-depth research is needed, possibly for years, before a single sentence on the political implications of the comma can be committed to page 3. The history of Argentina may be related, so worth stopping everything for a month's further study, and maybe a 2-week visit. The implications of the 1925 trade agreement between Burkino Faso and a grocer's in Hexham could be crucial. Better delay page 12 than get the facts wrong!
10. The awful, awful, deadline.
If it were a play we would now reach Act 5. The dreadful pit of fiery Hell with the Master of Despair, Lucifer himself, swinging open the fearful door, yawning to embrace your tortured soul. But wait, Satan, wait! He is only on page 13! Truly, the tortured soul now embarks on a tremendous gnashing of teeth. Everything would be alright if it wasn't for the bloody awful audience expecting so much! And the publishers who are always on your back! And the printers who mess it up every bleeding time! The warehouse staff who sent the last box to the wrong place! They're in on it too! The dog has run off with the cat, the comma was moved to fatal effect, the Other isn't speaking to you and there's no-one left to blame but yourself. (Better start redrafting that email to explain why you just missed Deadline Number 3, Extension 4.)
But every cloud has a silver lining, does it not? We partners of the creative souls are strong, and constant. Loyalty, steadfastness, blinkered stupidity, call it what you will, we know it will come right. We can see the touching and affecting vulnerability you can show, in all the horrible 128 pages; the boy in the man or the girl in the woman, we know how you struggle for the ideas that must, somehow, be true to the vision.
Let us keep hold of this, that is my way, because round here it may be the only thing now keeping the creative soul from the door with a suitcase launched at his head. The hopefulness that when it is all done, we partners, wives and husbands can look back and hear, I'm proud of that. And you were right about the comma.