I’m sitting in the gym café while the girls hip and hop their funky little hearts out upstairs. Behind me, espresso cups clatter their way to the dishwasher, which swishes steadily behind the occasional train-blast of the milk steamer. All around me, voices upon voices—soccer buddies jostling for sandwiches to fill the bottomless void of their teenage stomachs, trainers discussing workout plans with seat-shifting clients, children playing Rabid Banshee Tag while their mothers chat and pretend not to notice the other patrons huffing in their direction, P!nk expressing her punchy brand of heartache over the speakers. One hour ago, I was teaching English to a room full of first- and second-graders whose speaking voices, as any elementary teacher knows, are approximately the same volume and pitch as rioting cats, and before that, there was the unsuccessful attempt to nap to the groove of our friendly neighborhood jackhammer.
Folks, I’m all noised out.
I think that this, more than anything, explains why I was so supportive of Daniel’s plan to give up television shows for the month. Here’s the truth of things—we’re work-from-homers and small-child-wranglers, and there is nothing as mind-numbingly delicious at the end of a day as sinking into the sofa cushions and zoning out to a good murder mystery, or two… or three… But that was where the problem was, because no number of charmingly predictable plot-lines was sufficient to empty our minds of the day’s noise. The television just piled on top of it, muffling rather than quieting, and reasonable bedtimes would come and go without us ever quite managing to zone our way into tranquility.
So we gave up the numbing agent that never actually numbed, and that first evening, after corralling the kids into bed, Daniel and I stood looking at each other like strangers on Mars. What was he doing there? What was I doing there? What is proper etiquette on Mars anyway? Does this other life-form even speak English? In the end, the only thing we knew to do with our tired selves was to put them to bed.
Let me tell you, it doesn’t take many evenings of awkward alien stare-downs with one’s own spouse to realize how desperately your habits need a facelift. There has been so much noise in our life, so much self-inflicted distraction, that we haven’t noticed the other’s voice was missing. And now, with the silence stretching between us like a foreign sandscape, we have to relearn what to do with it. How to shape our brainwaves and heartbeats into words. How to hear, really hear, the other’s meaning. How to be companionably silent together again.
In fact, I’m having to relearn how to be companionably silent with myself as well. My mind has been startling into retreat, doe-like, from the auditory clutter around me, and there has been no space for the gentle osmosis of grace. God and I have been communicating like we’re on opposite sides of a train yard. My heart’s ears are ringing as if this clattering, steaming, banshee-ing café were my whole wide world, and as much as I’d like to drown out the ringing, to muffle it with noise of my own choosing and numb every tired molecule of my being into oblivion, I know I need something different.
I need deliberate quiet, at least for now, at least until the ringing stops. I need to arrest my finger on its way to the play button and let running dishwater be the only soundtrack to my thoughts. I need to stand under the sky at least once a day and breathe it in, like I did as a child, until I’m spinning from my own smallness. I need to resurrect the art of question-asking and practice listening to hear. I need to combat tiredness with sleep (novel concept, I know) and loneliness with intention and all the many, many inescapable noises of everyday life with moments held sacred to silence.
Honestly, I don’t know that a month without television shows is going to be enough.
We lean against the kitchen counter with our espresso cups, the delicate painted porcelain ones he brought back from Sweden with an apologetic smile. He knew only too well that I would have rather had the trip than its souvenir. Travel was one of the first topics to draw us into each other’s orbits a decade ago, and now the scrapbook of our shared memory is fat with airport sprints and linguistic rodeos, not to mention the foreign hospital trips that are as good as guaranteed when globetrotting with young children. Still, my heart makes a habit of packing light, always reconnoitering our next big adventure.
I know his does too. Right now, he is dreaming aloud about next summer, and I thrill at the way his ideas leap like salmon up the rush of our present reality. My husband’s mind is never intimidated by the pushback of probability, and I’ve learned not to underestimate the survival skills of these rainbow-finned dreams (just as he’s learned not to bring them up without first offering caffeine).
Scotland, Slovenia, China, Brazil… the words dissolve like pillow mints on my imagination, leaving behind traces of pastel sugar and reckless hope. I wonder if one of these flights of fancy will solidify next summer or if we will just continue to catch glints of them in the moments before they re-submerge. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Dreaming and scheming and scribbling carefree lines across the map is as much part of what makes us us as packing the car to the gills and turning the key is, and I know that our leaning against the kitchen counter right now, coffee cups and possibilities in hand, is all part of the adventure.
What do you daydream about with your significant other?
One one hand, the ER was not where I’d imagined spending the evening of our 9th anniversary. Sure, the colored reflectors on the operating room lights scattered a certain romantic sparkle through the air, and we had some special moments answering the doctors in two-part harmony. “Which one of you is Bassett?” “We both are.” “Yes, but which one is here for treatment?” “We both are.” Still, we probably wouldn’t have handpicked the emergency room for our anniversary getaway.
On the other hand, how better to commemorate this perpetual adventure of a marriage than to get matching stitches for our matching arm wounds which will be matching badass scars by this time next year?
Yeah, I’ve got nothing either.
It started at midnight, the first moon-slivered seconds of our anniversary, with a tremendous crash just beyond our bedroom door. We (I) were still skittish from the night before when our television had started blaring in the opposite end of the house leading us (me) to imagine burglars hiding in every sock drawer, so I felt totally justified in jumping up and brandishing the first weapon available. Which was… our sheet. I must have looked very fierce indeed, terror-frozen at the foot of our bed with a fistful of linens.
When Daniel and I met my junior year of university, we immediately decided against falling for each other. I had long ago determined that I could never marry an engineer, so the nerdalicious man leaving my apartment for an all-nighter in the biomechanics lab was automatically out. He had made a similar determination about psychologists, so the stack of behavior theory textbooks on my table did not exactly work in my favor. Did you know that? That I once majored in psychology? Not many people today would guess it, and I can understand why; the subjective science behind analyzing and treating minds suited me about as well as a Pancho Villa mustache (which, to be clear, suits no one). Here’s my motive for studying psychology in my own journal-scribbled words from 2002: “I want to travel the world and pen my thoughts and make as many relationships as this life allows.” And somehow I thought memorizing Jungian archetypes would be the way…? The week before Daniel and I admitted we actually did rather like each other, I got my ass into the English program where it belonged.
Some of what I learned in the psychology program stuck with me though, and I remain especially fascinated by personality profiles. My own analytical mind revels in lists and organizational strategies, so cordoning the vast spectrum of humanity into categories helps me take our individual quirks in stride. For example, my Myers-Briggs personality type is ISTJ—introversion (I recharge by withdrawing), sensing (I’m detail-oriented), thinking (I tend to make logical rather than emotional decisions), and judgment (which sounds horrible and arrogant but basically means I just analyze the heck out of everything)—and while I get defensive over a few of its points (judgment!!), it really does explain a lot of how I tick. Even better, it means I’m not alone in the funny little mechanism of my brain… so this is for you other ISTJs out there, or for those with an ISTJ in your lives, or for those who would simply like to walk a mile in our over-thinking but psychologically validated shoes:
How to Grocery Shop Like an ISTJ
Step Pre-1: Plan a time to sit down and work on your grocery list. This shouldn’t be hard; just pick a time when you’ll be at 62-65% mental capacity with few people around and no other pressing responsibilities for the day. You may need to schedule an out-of-town trip to make this possible.
Step 1a: Jot down all the food you currently have in the house. Try to give exact amounts whenever applicable. (Don’t forget spices!)
Step 1b: Thumb through your grocery store’s current offers and write down any sale items that interest you. Calculate price per weight.
Step 1c: Open your budget spreadsheet and determine how much you will be spending on groceries this trip. It may help at this point to write down the names of everyone who will be attending each meal so that you can determine a price per capita.
Step 1d: Figure out your nutritional goals for the upcoming days. Do you need more protein? Has your diet been lacking the full color spectrum? Is it Vegan Week?
Step 2: With your lists, goals, and spreadsheets open in front of you, start researching recipes that make the best use of all the variables. Be prepared for this step to take a while, though it shouldn’t go much over 48 hours (unless, of course, you’re having company).
Step 3: Assign recipes to specific meals on specific days. Take probable expiration dates and refrigerator size into account. It wouldn’t hurt to check the weather report while you’re at it.
Step 4: You’re finally ready to write your grocery list! Don’t forget to note the desired quantity of each item and order the list according to your grocery store’s layout. Really have fun with this part!
Step 5: Schedule your grocery trip. You’ll want to make sure it’s soon after the store has restocked but not when it’s likely to be crowded. (If you’ve been diligently updating your chart of the delivery truck’s route, this will be a breeze.)
Step 6a: Estimate the number of reusable shopping bags to bring. This should only take some medium-level algebra.
Step 6b: Adjust wardrobe according to the climate and terrain of the store. Settle the sunglasses debate before you head out.
Step 6c: Shop! If you’ve done all previous steps correctly, it shouldn’t be too harrowing an experience, though you’ll want to maintain a certain amount of flexibility just in case, say, they’re out of your preferred brand of laxatives.
Step 7: You’ve just successfully bought groceries; give yourself permission to kick back and celebrate! (After putting everything away, obviously. Also allow time for pantry reorganization, power naps, and crossing the trip off of multiple to-do lists.) Just don’t party too long. After all, somebody’s got to start pre-making the dinner.
To you, dear one, with the new ring catching light and the Pinterest folder of DIY centerpieces and the momentum of happily-ever-after already spinning you off your feet:
This July, I will have been married for nine years, and my mind is already clicking over, imagining our tenth anniversary with the same bewildered wonderment I always attribute to our future together. Marriage holds its own kind of time warp for me, I guess; our years together have flown by, but I can hardly remember a time when we weren’t each other’s flesh and blood. Even before I met my husband, all the way back to those starving junior high nights, I was fingering the edges of the soul connection that would one day be ours. His and mine, ‘til death do us part.
Only, engagement was the thing that almost did us part. We loved each other, no doubt. Shortly before getting engaged, we had to be in different parts of the country for three weeks, and I discovered just how unwilling I was to live without him. He had my “yes” long before he asked. But then doubt kicked in as if set to activate at the pinnacle of my happiness, and this is why I wanted to write to you today.
Nobody told me how to handle doubts about getting married. Premarital counseling seemed designed to scrutinize us for incompatibilities and then issue us a pass or a fail stamp for our upcoming nuptials, but compatibility wasn’t the problem in our case. My idea of marriage was. I’d always been taught that marriage was a permanent, divinely-sanctioned contract, and in my mind, the divine sanction aspect implied that God had tailor-made one person specifically for me. This idea had been reinforced by everything from church programs to fairy tales, and I didn’t realize until the diamond ring slid onto my finger just how terrified I was of accidentally marrying the wrong man.
Joining up with Seth and Amber for this week’s Marriage Letters: Enduring Loss Together. I always feel self-conscious writing about my marriage in such a public space, but reading others’ heartfelt efforts to prioritize their marriages reminds me that we were never meant to live out our most important relationships in seclusion. Honesty leading to encouragement—this is community, yes? Here’s my contribution to it:
Today is a wild, wooly kind of day—rain flung sideways by the handful and winds to rival those which flattened our tent in the Highlands two summers ago. I remember the girls chasing sheep on Glenbrittle Beach that same evening and the absurdity of lumpy farm animals dashing along the waves like William Wallace’s ghost was after them. Of course, come to think of it, he might have been. The storm which roared up that night seemed to have intention in its fury, and we only lasted until first light—dim and rain-lashed as it may have been—before abandoning our plans for the week and fleeing toward the nearest source of hot breakfast.
We’ve had to be flexible in our life together, you and I. Every version of normality we’ve tried constructing for ourselves over the years has ended up as an unfinished roadside attraction, and rained-out camping trips are the least of the sudden losses we’ve had to navigate. We’ve lost jobs, friendships, relatives, and pay-outs. We’ve watched the sure path of our future disappear in an afternoon. Even this morning, unforeseen circumstances came down swift and heavy, and we’re left with a blueprint of rubble, rehearsing again how to let our plans go and move past them together.
I hold that last phrase dear though because of all that’s implied in doing this again, together. We have our own history of upheaval and, though it all, each other’s hand held tightly. Simply knowing that we’re on the same team when the sky falls down turns my anxiety outward, away from me, away from us, and eventually just away. Having you as my teammate, especially when everything else seems to be slipping through my grasp, is one of the greatest gifts of my life. And when the ghosts are placated and the storms settled and the uncompleted plans put to rest, I love you all the more for what we have weathered together.
I spent last weekend helping my husband transform his home office from this…
I have always loved working on home improvement projects with Daniel, and probably nothing speaks more highly to our do-it-yourself compatibility than the fact that our marriage has survived onetwothreefourfivesixseven low-budget moves in good spirits. We both love the atmosphere of change and the symbolism of building our life together one screw at a time (::does the pun victory dance::), so last weekend’s project was right up our alley.
It’s also why I’ve spent this weekend doing this:
Do you have grand weekend plans? If it’s any assurance, my definition of “grand” includes desperate day-long naps.
When he’s away, I clean the kitchen at 10 p.m. The house sleeps around me while I sop up crumbs and shuttle coffee cups into the dishwasher, but my martyr act falters when I remember that shining counter tops have only ever been for myself. He would tell me to go to bed, so I do… once every accessible surface smells like lemon.
When he’s away, I make a nest of our bed, my bare toes wriggling puppy-joy under the covers, and settle in with late night guitars and peppermint tea. (More than one longing glance goes to the Chimay stash, but that’s ours, and some unwritten pacts are not to be broken.) I can never decide whether I relax best by reading or by writing, so I waltz between the two as minutes slip by in the lamplight.
When he’s away, I tell myself that this will be the time I take advantage of his absence—transform overnight into a monk and spin productivity out of the silent pre-dawn—but it never feels like an advantage at midnight when his side of the bed is still cold and I can’t remember how to sleep alone. I wait until the lowness of the hours makes my head spin. It’s the feeling of oxygen deprival, of dormitory nights.
When he’s away, I tuck a pillow under the covers where his chest would be and keep this contour of us, together warm until he’s home.
Those of you whose significant other travels frequently, how do you adjust in his or her absence?
You’re probably not expecting another marriage post this week given our stalemate conversations over the past few days, and honestly, I wasn’t planning to write this either. Our decade together has been one long series of transitions, yes, but this, learning how to share an office as two dream-chasing freelancers, is a big one. It remaps our individual orbits, and the gravity of being so near each other so much of the time pulls issues out from under the tide-pools. We knew it would be like this, but we’re still taken by surprise when conversations take a nosedive into territory neither of us particularly wants to visit. When we’re down there, neck-deep in brambles, it’s hard to see what we’re doing as progress.
But do you remember all those hours we used to talk perched on the dryers at our university laundromat, and how one evening, you looked at me across the low rumble and I knew? You caught it in my eyes too, weeks later across a tiny restaurant booth, and I didn’t need to say anything. We loved each other, and we knew it.
Yesterday, when you walked in with bits of sky still reflected in your eyes, and I was head to toe in flour rolling gnocchi as a peace offering, we knew it again. Everything shifts when love is the perspective, doesn’t it? With one look, we remember that we’re teammates on the bramble-clearing squad and that this hard work is all part of landscaping our future. We love each other still, and knowing it helps us sweep the stalemate off the board and plop down on it to continue our conversation.
The dryers might have been comfier, but I’d rather be here, now.
I couldn’t help joining up with Seth and Amber Haines another week for Marriage Letters: My Job–Your Job. It’s a beautiful way to prioritize my marriage, even if I did growl at Daniel when I thought he was trying to read the letter over my shoulder. At least I growled with renewed admiration and lovingkindness, right dear?
Eight years after tossing my graduation cap in the air, and I still want to protest that I did not attend university to earn an MRS degree. I was already weaving my plans for world travel when we met my junior year, but I’m not sure anyone was buying that. Possibly because I couldn’t wait a full eight months before marrying you, and possibly because… well, nobody studies English for the lucrative career opportunities.
All the same, I loved the interplay of words enough to hang my résumé on it, and this year, I’ve traded in a paycheck for one-time contracts with page counts. It’s slow work, but it stirs up sparks, warms me from the inside out.
Your work warms you too. I roam our bedroom-office throughout the day, tracking inspiration from my desk to the rocking chair to our bed, while you remain solid and engaged at your own workspace. It’s hard to drag you to meals sometimes, but I know you remember plenty of nights when I’ve foregone dinner for dialogues. We understand each other in this. You research the latest in biomechanical technology and set up training sessions with clients, and I stare out the window looking for sentences among the olive leaves, and our smiles meet halfway across the room.
Pay scales haven’t changed too much though, and unless I dream up the next Harry Potter, it’s unlikely that my writing will ever pull the same financial weight as your engineering. I confess, I often let the thought that your job is more important than my job (which it is, in a putting food on the table sense) morph into dissatisfaction with myself. How many times now have I wailed to you that I am going to stop writing forevermore and devote the rest of my life to scrubbing the ground you walk on with a toothbrush because at least then I’d be accomplishing something useful? (Yes, our girls come by their dramatic streaks honestly.)
Every one of those times in which I despair at the inferiority of my work, I expect you to sigh in relief that finally I’m going to stop wasting all of our time and then request that I just go ahead and tie your shoes while I’m down there. Every time, though, you exceed my expectations by pulling me up, prying the toothbrush out of my fingers, and offering some way you can help me more than you already do. It kills, in a gorgeous, humbling way.
I guess what I have to say about it all is thank you—for giving equal importance to our jobs despite the income disparity, for making my fulfillment in life your own priority, and especially for letting me display my MRS diploma proudly above my B.A.
It was the best career choice I could have made.
You can read last week’s letter here.