This is why I threw a book at my husband, Roger, while he was reading Journal for Preachers.
I was sitting on the ocean front balcony of the hotel room where we had come to celebrate our anniversary, reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. The problem with reading books by writers about how to write is that they already write and there you are-reading and absorbing and feeling worse than when you opened the book. Why? Because you’re reading about what you want to do by someone who is doing it and you see why they have been successful at doing what you want and you have been a loser.
Okay maybe not a complete a loser but pretty close. Thinking about being a loser, reminded me of a radio story about a woman who got published in Real Simple Magazine for answering a question that plagues everyone who is married or single-What is the secret of a good marriage? Hey, I could write an interesting paragraph or two on that topic. Did a reader just write a wonderful answer to that question and bingo! Published? Is this what I’m up against in the competition for ink space? Doomed, I’m doomed.
After allowing these whiney thoughts to gallop around in my brain for a few minutes, I continued reading. Annie’s so skilled and funny (I wonder if she minds that I call her Annie instead of Anne?). With envy creeping over me like a poisonous rash, my mind skittered off again on a snarl of tangential paths. Oh! I want to be Annie. I long to trade places with Annie.
I wonder if Roger would like being married to Annie. I bet he thinks it would be way cool to be involved with a real writer. Roger probably thinks she would be oh-so interesting, oh-so smart, oh-so witty. Annie I hope you’re prepared for his snoring because that sound is a real humdinger. I once wrote a poem about the snoring. Maybe I’ll share it with you, Annie, right after Roger divorces me and marries you.
Sure, that’s it, all so sordid and predictable. Roger goes to an Anne Lamott book event. He invites her out for coffee so they can discuss her latest work and religion and spiritual issues and relationships and famous authors. They’ll fall for each other over lattes and brioche with hummus. He’ll come home a changed man. I’ll be brave and cheerful even though I suspect an affair. He’ll start going on longer and longer “spiritual retreats” in places like San Francisco and Omaha and New York City, neglecting his duties as a pastor. I’ll start getting strange, funny postcards from different motels that he’s at while “strengthening his prayer life”.
Then, one day in the grocery line my worst fear stares at me--Annie and Roger on the cover of People Magazine announcing their love like Madonna and A-Rod. On the other hand, if I’m divorced I might be a much better writer than I am now because I’ll have something totally personal and tragic and interesting to write about.
Oooooooh yes, this could be BIG. Divorce could be a great career move.
Wait a minute, Miss Loser No-Writer, Anne Lamott will have your husband, she’ll still be a famous author and you could end up laboring for months on a book about the whole squalid affair that even if it gets published no one will buy because everyone knows and loves Anne Lamott but no one knows you.
Of course, that’s what will happen—I’ll be alone, broke and shuffling toward my golden years depressed and still unpublished. My children will forget me because they’ll love being around Annie since she’s so creative, funny and cool. How could a pastor be so deceptive? Men can’t be trusted…ever…period…especially men that make their living using words!”
I left the balcony taking Bird by Bird with me. Roger was in the sitting room quietly reading his journal, enjoying a late afternoon cocktail. That did it. I looked at his serene face, hurled the book and growled, “Don’t think for one minute I’m going to divorce you so you can marry a famous author.”
Missing his head and drink, the book landed harmlessly with a paperback thud, further evidence of my ineptness. Roger got up from his chair, calmly I thought for someone who just seconds before escaped head trauma. He went to the small, room refrigerator, got out the Pinot Grigio, poured a glass, handed it to me and calmly asked, “Have you been reading Anne Lamott again?”
Now, that’s the secret of a happy marriage. A partner who can read your mind and--though you have just mentally divorced him, blamed him for the break-up and tried to inflict bodily harm on him for his virtual transgressions--loves you anyway. Thanks, Annie, for not breaking-up my marriage even if you haven’t improved my writing.