This arctic chill is getting on my nerves. I want to take a long walk with my dogs more than ever, and we can barely stand 10 minutes outdoors in the sub-zero weather despite all of our bundling, just long enough to take care of “business” if we’re lucky. But being trapped inside has cultivated something else lately — a creative productivity — for my husband and me (the dogs are officially bored out of their minds), and I am grateful.
In college, I wrote poetry while he played music. His band got a record deal when they were all of 20 (21?), and I was dedicated to cranking out free verse. Soon after graduation, we played in a band together, I submitted a few poems to journals, and he went off on tour with various people. Then things like work and mortgages started to monopolize our time and energy, mine especially. I leaned hard into what I thought being an adult meant.
Even when my husband would spend long nights upstairs writing songs, I didn’t pick up a pen much. I loved that he was so dedicated to generating art, and because my marketing jobs were sort of creative, it seemed OK that I wasn’t really writing any of my own stuff anymore. I loved being able to support a space where he could play guitar and go on the road. And I still do. But I got itchy myself.
I joined a few writing groups, none of which gelled for long. I tried a writing a handful pieces on my own, but I was hungry for community, and for structure. So finally, at 41, I decided to go to grad school — something I never thought I’d want to do — to study creative nonfiction. Despite the switch in genre, the experience was like reintroducing myself to myself. I recognized parts of me that were starving and began to feed them again. I became a full-time student while I was also a full-time employee, and life was, well, really full. Before and after dinner each night, which were the only guaranteed times I would see him each day, I left my husband and went upstairs to do homework the way he had previously left me to go up to his home studio to record.
Those two years happened to be a time when he wasn’t as productive as he had been. There were nights he was a little needy, just as I had been in the days of his obsessive songwriting. So our household felt off-balance.
Everyone who has pursued an artistic endeavor of any kind knows how fleeting inspiration is, how elusive that muse. We grow full of doubt, insecure about our process and product, a sense of fraudulence washing over us and muting our tongues. Inner critics are mean, unconstructive.
“Are you rocking out?” I ask optimistically when my husband takes a break from the studio.
“Well, it sounds terrible and I basically suck, but I got a few tracks down,” he’ll respond.
And I’ll repeat the mantra I give myself nearly daily, “Think about it just like working out. Work those muscles. They’ll be stronger when you need them.”
There is rarely much financial payout for creative work, and it is simply downright hard most of the time. The occasional publishing credit for me and record release for him are super-satisfying for a while, and then the same angst creeps back in like the frozen air outside that is trickling through the mail slot. (Though he’s written 10 songs in less than a month, which I find incredible, he is completely certain they are all terrible. I’ve heard three that were fantastic – so there.)
It’s a wonder anyone keeps it up. But right now, as the sounds of acoustic guitar are floating down the stairs from my husband’s attic studio and I have had the laptop on my lap for hours (with the dogs napping against me like bookends), whether anyone hears or reads anything we’re doing and whether it is any good at all seems incidental. We are simultaneously making stuff.
It’s what the two of us were meant to do, I genuinely believe. As adults, even.
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor