My husband and I have a running joke that I don’t listen to anything he says. To some extent, it’s true. But it’s not because I don’t listen. At least, not on purpose. I don’t blatantly ignore him in favor of watching television or some other guilty pleasure. The problem is, I’m working. However, it’s very hard for him to tell when I’m working because it doesn’t necessarily look like work.
Since I’ve started writing, I’ve felt that the gig is a lot like motherhood. Great work, but very hard to get paid for. Plus, your physical actions don’t necessarily translate into other people’s vision of what work should look like. For example, if a mom takes her kid to the park, it’s viewed as one of the perks of motherhood. Yeah! You get to be outside on a beautiful day. What no one is watching is how fast that mother has to be to follow her kid around the park to keep him from falling off the slide, or putting wood chips in his mouth, or stealing another kid’s toy. It’s just another day at the office for mom.
Writing is similar for me. However, the work aspect is even more invisible to the people around me, because a lot of it goes on in my head. I’ve usually written at least part of whatever I’m going to put on paper in my head before I even sit down to the computer. That’s why when my husband comes in to talk to me while I’m folding laundry or doing the dishes, it’s not that I’m not listening. It’s just that I’m busy working. Outlining stories, or revising dialogue, or writing complete blogs. While I’m standing there folding his underwear.
Don’t get the wrong idea. My husband is and has been incredibly supportive of my desire to start writing. But, it’s been an adjustment for him. He’s had the good fortune of working from a home office much of the time for the past few years. Early on, when we realized this was going to be the pattern, we set some ground rules. Or, really one rule: that I leave him alone. Which, I totally respect because he is working. When the kids were little, and my husband wanted to take a break, he’d come out of his office to say hello, stretch his legs…the usual water cooler stuff. He was used to having them, and me, basically at his disposal. Then I started writing.
Now when he comes upstairs to shoot the breeze during those water cooler moments, and he finds me making the bed or cleaning up after the kids, what he can’t see is that I’m doing the internal work of a writer. Thinking. It’s not that I’m not listening, it’s just that I just have trouble hearing him with the very loud voice that is talking over him in my head, trying not to forget the new idea I just got or the first few lines of the blog I wanted to write.
The same often happens when he sees me at the computer.
Him: “Hey, what’s up?”
Me: (Largely ignoring him while I type.) “Nothing.”
Him: (I don’t know what he’s saying, but it sounds a lot like the grown ups in a Charlie Brown animated special.)
I used to let the exchange going on for a while, hoping he’d get the hint by my irritated glances, impatient sighs and basic refusal to make eye contact. But, he’s nothing if not persistent. (It’s how we ended up married.) So I’ve finally had to simply tell him, “Can you leave me alone? I’m working.”
The first time I said it, I think he was kind of surprised at the role reversal taking place, but since then, he’s gotten used to walking in on me staring off into space or clacking away on the keyboard, and while he doesn’t always remember to leave me alone, he’s now less surprised by my blatant rudeness.
One time, we were driving in the car, and I was silent, but gesturing with my hand.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“You were moving your hand. You looked like you were going to say something.”
“Oh, that! No, I was just thinking about cover art for the book. I’m thinking about using an image of a hand and I was moving my hand around to see what position would work best.”
My husband gets a kick out of telling people that story because “you know you’re married to an Italian woman when she uses her hand to talk even when she’s not talking out loud.”
True, I wasn’t talking. And I probably wasn’t listening. But I was working.