Monday, May 20, 2013


Woman Reading, by Aubrey Beardsley
Is it OK to be finding wisdom in a divorce self-help book, if the person you’re “divorcing,” is the one who told you to buy the book?

I broke up with The Poet just as I was finishing the last draft of my memoir. I was in fact editing the section where I meet The Poet and am so happy to be with him and have his support during my Lyme diagnosis and the first years of my treatment.

It was really painful to be polishing up those pages, and many times I longed to throw the manuscript out the window. I just wanted to be done with it and move on to other writing. All that other writing, which had nothing to do with my relationship—I was sure those projects would be fun.

Then I finished. I was free to start up all those happy projects.

Only it felt impossible to start. It wondered why I was writing all these short stories, and how I’d been so enthusiastic about them before. I wondered how I’d had the grit to keep sending them out to lit magazines only to have the kindest rejections come back. Pre-break-up, rejections had only inspired me to send my story out to more places. Post-break-up, those rejections deflated me.

More than ever, breaking up with The Poet felt like stepping into an emptiness. And that emptiness surrounded my writing in particular.

For all our other troubles, when it came to writing, The Poet had been my cheerleader. He had always believed I was really good. I’ll admit, it was kind of in the way your mom believes you’re a good writer. Our styles and approaches to writing were as divergent as possible. The Poet has a short attention span, I have a long one. (Maybe part of our ultimate incompatibility?) He kept index cards in his back pocket and wrote the wry, disjointed, cryptic lines of his poetry as they came to him, one by one, at random times in the week. He would write things and post them on facebook the same day. When he edited, it was always with the help of other people.

I, on the other hand, sit down for hours, writing out paragraph after paragraph, and spend just as many hours editing alone before I show anything to anyone.

The Poet didn’t read my twenty-five or forty page stories. He’d read the first half and say he loved them. He also read all of the ones that were three or six pages, and pronounced them brilliant.

Strangely, it didn’t matter to me that he never saw every sentence I wrote. That he’d read my short pieces and listened with all his attention and enthusiasm when I talked about writing was enough. He believed in me enough to cheer on the longer stories, to assure me publishing is a numbers game, and therefore I should keep submitting my work. He gave me an invaluable writing guide, on how to crank out the first draft of a novel (in my case memoir), which got me to pound out the first draft of my book. He encouraged me every day while I wrote that first draft.

Even as other parts of our relationship deteriorated, the connection we had as writers stayed strong. Then suddenly I was without it. I was the one who decided to leave him, but that emptiness—wow. I walked straight into it, voluntarily, and I’d had no idea what I was doing.

I don’t regret the break up, but I regret I’m not with him to celebrate how well his new book is doing. It doesn’t help that I am staying in DC with my parents. This gives me logistical and moral support while I’m getting through this last phase of my health issues, but it means I’ve left all my Seattle writing connections behind.

 So I have this book, called Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends. The Poet sent me an email recommending it to me. (Yes, I know—the self-help book that comes from my ex. Well, breaking up with someone you’ve lived with for seven years isn’t a straight shot.) From it I am learning how you have to find strength in yourself instead of relying on that cheering your partner used to do for you. You have to reach out to other people for support, build other intimacies. That might sound obvious, but I am an introvert, so this doesn’t come naturally to me. According to the book, this process will make me whole again.

I don’t know how whole I’ll end up, but I’ve found a Meet-Up group for writers here in DC. It was a good first step. And I’ve gotten back in touch with Seattle writers through email. I still miss The Poet’s particular enthusiasm, his funny, shazam-like intelligence. The emptiness is still there, but when I sit down to write, it feels a smidge less hopeless. Once I get myself typing out sentences and paragraphs again, the emptiness steps back, and sometimes I stop to notice that I’m happy! The trick, as in so many other things, is getting going.

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