Paul, the partner of an author recently blogged, “When my wife gets into a new book idea she’s profoundly excited, burns the midnight oil and comes jumping out every hour or so with glee… but don’t you dare say anything to dampen, or respond with anything but full enthusiasm, lest you turn their positive energy and watch the happiness turn into a scouring menace of depression that’s all your fault.”
The alternative may be living with someone who is unwilling to share their thoughts until they take concrete form. Ian Rankin recently admitted on his video diary made for BBC’s The Culture Show that, when attending a social engagement, only 20% of his brain was focused on being there. The remainder was still firmly in writing mode.
Here lies the dilemma. Your partner, probably someone who lives the greater part of his or her life inside her own head, has created a world that may or may not bear a resemblance to the real world, populated with people who may or may not bear a resemblance to real people, and both it and they become more important than….well, pretty much anything else. Ian Rankin is lucky. He appears to have a remarkably understanding wife who accepts that her job during the Easter Holidays is to keep the kids out of his way.
Roller-coaster mood swings become par for the course. Charles Dickens, father to a large brood, most of whom he appears to have neglected, became unable to function after killing off favourite character, Little Nell: “I am the wretchedest of the wretched. It [Nell’s death] casts the most horrible shadow upon me, and it is as much as I can do to keep moving at all. Nobody will miss her like I shall.”
But whether your partner’s superstitions permit him or her to share the journey with you, even when your partner appears to be interacting with you….I’ll let Natalie Goldberg explain: “I am making love with someone but at the same time I’m noticing how this graceful hand across my belly might just fit in with the memory of lilacs in Albuquerque in 1974.”
And, whether you feel equipped or not, there may be an expectation that you will be your partner’s first reader and critic. I suggest that, when faced with impossible questions, you adopt Douglas Adams’s disclaimer: “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.”