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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Like It Was Written in My Soul From Me to You

This post is about living with writers. Can’t live with them, can’t get them to pay attention to you. Sometimes, my husband and I will hear someone say something and recognize that it’s a perfect line of dialogue, and  one  of us will say, “I call it,” like children fighting over the last piece of french toast.

Sometimes it’s really difficult to create the mental solitude in a house where another bear sleeps. Sure, you can tap at dawn, tap at midnight, but the books are creaking in their shelves. Teeth are aching as if from cold. The old man is pouring. Where do you hide?

Are writers the neediest sheep in the pasture, or are they self-sufficient? Where do you hide your notebooks. I only read them that one time, before we married, when I needed to know. Okay, maybe I read them again, but you never said anything about me. It was galling.

Why do writers fall for each other when they both know it’s an act?

Did I ever tell you about the time I was in Mississippi in a bar and Barry Hannah was there, quite intoxicated, waving a hunny around, asking if anyone wanted to fuck a real writer.

Dearest Darling Anyone who is reading, tell me, have you ever fucked a real writer, dated one, lived with one, god help you, married one?  Or, to put it another way, what’s it like living with you?

45 Responses

  1. A writer? I honestly can’t remember. Two filmakers, a sculptor, countless wannabe rock stars, a philosopher, and almost Wilt Chamberlain. But a writer, no. May I should have.

    • almost wilt chamberlain?

      i thought he was a sure thing.

      • He bought me a drink, which I figured was the open door, but I skittered away when he started getting friendlier. Somehow, I just couldn’t allow myself to be that thoroughly a number.

  2. Nope. I was with a musician ( no, no, no ) and a poet ( even worse ) but I’m the only writer I’ve been with. My husband reads the same endless Robert Parkers and Harry Potters etc. over and over an over so isn’t even a broad reader. But he thinks I”m incredibly talented ( what a smart, smart man ) and is very supportive of my writing.

  3. Sadly, the one truly brilliant writer I ever dated OD’d about four years after we ended the relationship. He was a mess, a liar, a cheater, and an inspiration. Since then, I dated one other sort of writer, but have pretty much stuck to professional corporate types.

    I’ve tried keeping my writer-self a dirty secret, but it has a way of coming out with a vengeance. I can’t control the drive to honest self-expression. I try to be honest in my life, but nothing is more honest than me at a computer.

  4. I married one. We write in different genres but he is a deadly accurate poetry reader for me. And he’s way more interesting than the buttoned-up corporate types and less of a pain in the ass than musicians.

  5. I tried to date a writer. We were “just friends,” but I wanted more. R. was handsome and serious. He’d shout at movie screens, criticizing bad dialog. He always wanted to know what I thought, and then told me what he thought about what I thought. I loved his depth and attention to (my) details

    One day, R. showed me a copy of his manuscript. It was a children’s book. He told me I was the only one who could read it. It was painful, silly and indulgent. After profuse flattering, I tried to tell him what parts had tripped me up. He shut me out. Since I wasn’t a writer, he dismissed my comments.

    I realized “just friends” was just fine. I married a guy who sells flooring.

  6. It seems almost everyone wants to be a writer, and almost everyone wants to fuck, but fuck a real writer? Only when I fuck myself, I guess. (“You can go fuck yourself!” “I can?”)

    Closest I got was a stormy ten-year relationship with a woman who was easily as neurotic as I am. She was the most intelligent person I’ve ever known, by which I mean she could see through all my crap and call me on it. She passed through a creative writing MFA program during the time she and I were visiting our dysfunctions on one another, actually earning her MuthaFuckinArtist* degree, which included the cobbling together of a collection of short stories which one only could wish had been worth reading.

    But was she a real writer; that is to say, one of those persons so compelled to write that they might scrawl poems in their own blood on scraps of toilet paper? Well, that’s a little extreme, even I wouldn’t do that, I don’t think, so let me try that again. Was she a real writer, one of those persons compelled to write? I do not know that she was. When she and I split up, she had spent 33 of her 38 years in school, was enrolled in a Ph.D. (“Piled Higher and Deeper,” one of my late former fathers-in-law put it) program, and said she never wanted to have to get what some refer to as a “real job.”

    She and I were going to get married but we didn’t. Turned out we weren’t such over-educated idiots after all. From being me my whole life, I can safely conclude that I am not easy to live with (at times, even I don’t want to be there). My first wife, a superhero (secretary by day, stage actress by night), was subjected to my quarter-pound-a-month marijuana habit and my appetite for stray pussy. This was a long time ago. My second wife, an accountant who had written poetry when she was younger but burned it all when we were together, was subjected to the compulsive self-pickling I had developed over my seven years as a bartender. Parts of our marriage were a nightmare I would prefer not to revisit until I’m ready to fashion them into fiction. My third and current wife I will say little about, as there is little I could say that would not be either saccharine or damaging, or both, but she does seem to understand that there are times when I just need to be alone to wrestle with the words. In turn, I understand that there are times when she needs me to push back from my work and treat her like she’s also important. I feel a taste of the saccharine coming on, so I will leave this at that.

    *(Someone has issues.)

  7. As a hick from Nevada I learned the hard way, after ten years of dating Manhattan guys, to avoid actors, art critics, actors, musicians, actors, married baseball players, cross-dressing architects, Kennedy cousins, and actors. But even I knew better than to date a novelist. Ew.

    • Actors top the list of ew for me.

    • Ha! Vivian, are you familiar with Dorothy Parker’s poem, “Bohemia”?

      Authors and actors and artists and such
      Never know nothing, and never know much.
      Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
      Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
      Playwrights and poets and such horses’ necks
      Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.
      Diarists, critics, and similar roe
      Never say nothing, and never say no.
      People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;
      God, for a man that solicits insurance!

  8. Well he IS a writer, but only non-fiction. He’s never written fiction, except when he used to send me love letters but…never mind.

    I think the best thing to do is avoid looking at your husband when you both hear a line that could fall under “dialogue”, excuse yourself, and RUN to your desk to write it down quickly.

  9. Yes, first love a writer. Married a writer. And now, my son (who has dyslexia):

    “I love my peaches. Peach is great. It is big and furry, like a puppet. It sounds of nothing, like a dead lamppost. It smells sweet like freshly opened lollipops. It tastes divine like a hot bath on a cold day.”


  10. My wife writes. She’s published twice as many novels, but I still lead in money earned. Not that I’m counting. But the minute that changes–and it will–she’s in for a rocky lifetime.

    We’ve been together since we were teenagers. I’ve never fucked a non-writer, and I never will. We’re not just first readers, we dig in there and rewrite. That’s when you know an editor is serious, when she’ll put herself on the line, on the page. When I worked, for twenty minutes, with a Famous Editor, she’d jot down a few sentences or a paragraph to show me what she had in mind. Always sucked–which she knew–but I don’t think I appreciated anything more. She gave me a point of departure, at the cost of making herself look foolish. My wife and I do that with entire chapters. We have one screaming fight per book, like clockwork, forgiven three hours later. She admires my ‘fourth act,’ which is the 20,000 words I write after the story is over, and I love her keen sense of conflict, in which everyone gets along.

    We’re not Writers, opening veins and splattering pages, we’re just writers, work-at-home stenographers who make shit up. Neither of us has a day job. We pay $6,500 a year for health insurance with a $15,000 deductible and no actual coverage. Please, I beg you, if you’ve got a

    Am I -needy-? I’m poleaxed by jealousy every time she reads a book to our kid. How come she’s not reading The Travels of Thelonious aloud to -me-? How come she’s not making -me- a bag lunch to eat at my desk? And ‘needy’ is my better half. You should see the entitlement.

    • >Please, I beg you, if you’ve got a

      What’d you leave out there, August?

      You mention both your wife, whom you’ve loved since you were a teenager, with an editor who sacrificed herself a teeny bit to help your work, practically in the same breath. That’s about as writerly and romantic (in the deep sense) as it can get for me.

    • August, you’re a romantic at heart! I’m melting.

  11. I fucked a real writer – a novelist. A really good one. I fell in love with him before that, but he was/is impossible, closed off, full of himself, and yeah, it might be an act. Worst part is that – if it is an act – he’s convinced at least himself. He was/is beautiful and warm when drunk. I still don’t know what to do with him and probably never will.

  12. Affair with a screenwriter true to form packed twenty damaging years into three sex smeared demented months from which I emerged ready to write instead of writhe.

    • “I emerged ready to write instead of writhe.”

      Good for you. So few writers can separate the two processes. Many masterpieces were probably written in anguish, but some fabulous stories once served as a writer’s road to recovery.

  13. I never slept with another writer. Afraid I’d get a badly edited version of a relationship.

  14. You know….I’ve tended to date people with regular (i.e. steady, well-paying, corporate) jobs because I think it will be a better balance with my crazy writer self. But you know I can’t say that’s really working out so well. They never really get me.

    I once dated a poet in college. He got jealous when I moved to NY and got a job in publishing and said a bunch of nasty things about how I was a lazy writer then claimed he was only ‘joking’. I never really forgave him for it and it definitely turned me off dating other writers of any stripe.

    Don’t know where that leaves me…

  15. My husband and I are the same but completely different. He wants something, he makes it happen. I’m a Katy Perry song. But I don’t stay mad long, don’t hold grudges and laugh at his jokes.

  16. Shortly after selling my first novel, I had the following IM conversation with a male writer friend …

    FRIEND: How does your husband feel about your success?

    ME: I think he likes the idea of fucking a published author.

    FRIEND: Who doesn’t?

  17. I’m the only real writer I know, as far as I know, and I don’t recommend living with me. As far as I can tell, it’s like living with a caged, wounded lion who once in a while becomes enlightened and starts preaching the good word to the walls and writing it on pieces of paper that stack up to a big pile. I’m always here but never there so says my girlfriend. To be honest, I think there’s more something wrong with her than me. But that’s me, again.

  18. A life in the arts has led me to the sad conclusion that those who create tend to be a pain in the booty.

    My writer/lovers were self-involved and, contrary to the dictates and necessities of their craft, largely unconcerned with other peoples’ stories.

    Remember “Barton Fink”? He didn’t listen!

    I approach my writing, I hope, the way a shoemaker would approach cobbling. I do it and leave it in the desk. Wife and son shouldn’t absorb the bottomless demands of MY ART. It wasn’t their choice and I didn’t turn out to be very important anyway.

    Besides, there is time, and there are other things.

    • What you said about writers is often true of American actors as well. One might expect them to be observant and attuned to others, whom they’re called on to represent, but the Russian-American training most actors get (Stanislavsky filtered through Strasberg) turns them inward. Writing training varies more, but I think it’s usually more focused on the work produced than on the ostensible subjects of the work–with somewhat the same results.

      On the other hand, I’ve found people who are on top of themselves, who have struck a good balance of attention between the world within and the world without, in every field, among artists as well as non-artists. I just haven’t found a lot of them. And I’m far from sure I can count myself among them.

  19. Ms. Lerner, I just finished reading one of your books, the tome of woodland lore. Thank you for writing that. It is every fiction-writer’s nightmare: a practical, useful nonfiction book rooted in knowledge, experience, and passion. It has soul.

  20. Exactly the kind of question I should be answering while in the throes of PMS.

    When I was 24 I moved from Boston to San Francisco to live with a guy I’d dated and fallen hard for during a stint in grad school. Tall Irish-Italian fiction writer with a killer wit, a brilliant contrarian mind, and a heart of gold–the good kind of gold (like the stuff you wrap chocolate in).

    Sat behind him in screenwriting class and sort of fell in love with his neck–and shoulders, and deep gentle voice. Also he came across as California-relaxed, not full of himself, even though he had it going on (well, occasionally he’d trot out the braggadocio in a non-serious way, –occasionally I appreciate that).

    On the first day of class the teacher made a point of introducing G. thusly: “This is G. BUGSBUNNY. He is one of the most talented and accomplished writers I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

    G. lived up to the introduction, even though it embarrassed him. It became clear early on that he was, in fact, the best writer in the class (and the smartest and the funniest).

    Anyway, one night G. came to screenwriting class a bit tipsy (some California friends had surprised him with a visit and spirited him away for drinks before class). There was a woman in the class who was very sweet but wasn’t a very good writer–at least then. She wasn’t consistently terrible, but she definitely wrote some stuff that was tough not to laugh at because it was dramatically bad in several ways. Anyway, during this particular class, the not-good-writer woman read a a couple of unintentionally funny lines aloud. Most of us sat there, thoughtful expressions firmly affixed. But G. just kind of sputtered, turned red, and put his head on the desk in an attempt to stifle his laughter (he was ordinarily VERY supportive and polite). But he was drunk and just lost it, even had to leave the classroom. That was when I started to get interested in him.

    A bunch of us went out after classes to smoke, drink, talk shop, tell jokes, flirt. G. wasn’t a grandstander, but he was a natural storyteller and comedian, so, well, he just kind of ruled our little group, that was the way it was. He was close friends with a glamorous woman from L.A. who I thought he was dating, until her girlfriend joined us for drinks.

    Anyway, this is long and I’m tired and likely rambling. Sorry. Cutting to chase — G. came over to my place one night in December, carrying his VCR in a suitcase, along with “The Big Sleep.” Several of our classmates came over as well. And I was dating a chemical engineer at the time, so it wasn’t anything like a date, at least until everyone split and left us alone.

    Anyway, after G. got his MFA in Boston he returned to the Bay Area, where he grew up (he wasn’t a big fan of Boston). We had a long-distance relationboat for two years, after which time I traveled to SF to move in with him. It was a passionate relationship in all ways, and filled with good humor and fun. We had similar needs for socializing and solitude. We talked about books and movies, music, comedy, we had very similar sensibilities. We critiqued each other’s writing (though he was more prolific than I was). Both of us were sensitive to criticism, both of us were brutally honest critics … initially there were some hurt feelings but those got smoothed over quickly because we loved and respected each other. So yeah, it was heaven in a lot of ways. But I was a young 25 and had left my whole life on the East Coast, so after about a year we broke up and I moved out. That was 17 years ago. We chat or talk on the phone most weeks. We get together for walks, lunch and remain close friends. I fixed him up with another writer I took a class from who I thought would be great for him. She is. They are living together happily.

    And for five years I’ve been married to a gorgeously kind and soulful man who writes ad copy for a living, writes arts and culture stuff for a website and has written music pieces for magazines and arts papers for many years. We met when I was a music editor for AOL and he was one of the freelance writers who wrote for me. I asked him out for coffee. We met on a Sunday afternoon at a pub in San Francisco called the Bitter End (I told him if we started at the bitter end and survived things would probably work out okay). We burned our tongues on curry fries and lousy coffee. We talked for three hours. We sat upstairs near the pool table and a suit of armor. We played darts.

    I need more solitude than he does and I’m a little more sensitive than he is, in some ways. But we’re both pretty self-sufficient or are at least able to trade off on the neediness stuff (which doesn’t happen much, maybe when we get sick or stressed). We’re supportive of each other’s writing and I LOVE the fact that he makes music too. We don’t have the same taste in literature (he doesn’t read much fiction or poetry), but we have other interests in common. And we laugh, a lot, which I think is key to, well, almost everything really–the laughter of delight, surprise … all those tones and colors.

    • Lovely story, but I hope G never sold a novel.

      And I’m jealous of your husband. I want to write ad copy for a living.

      • Thanks. But G should sell a novel–because if he did it would be well worth reading. He hasn’t tried, though. 🙂 Instead he’s focused on earning a living, which is nice work if you can get it, especially in the Bay Area, where the cost of living (what a term!) is larger than life. I nudge, I push, I sing motivational praises … won’t give up. He’s one of those tricky cases–good at writing novels, screenplays, plays, essays and journalistic pieces. Distracting. 🙂

        Re writing copy: Well, you could, probably. Take a class if you can afford to or read a book and write up some copy. Mediabistro dot com has online classes (sorry to advertise, Betsy). Am in the process of writing my own samples for a portfolio, which has meant putting the kibosh on most any other writing, but so it goes (we have to pay rent and YMCA dues). Will send book recommendations if you like–let me know.

  21. Figured out what Betsy’s so skilled at doing here. She spills in a funny, real, imaginative and spirited way and then throws down the gauntlet. (Most writers live for well-thrown gauntlets!) Also this is how she puts it: I spilled, now you, no big deal (but kind of a big deal. how dare you not respond!). Kindly get off your duff, so-called writers and rise or fall to the occasion in kind. Or maybe it’s just: Truth AND Dare. Go!
    Simply Irresistible, kind of like the song, though of course way better (because actually the song sucks–there are resonances but they might be more visual than audial).

  22. Sometimes I like to think of myself as Benedick looking for his Beatrice. When I find her and the unexpected expected happens, I’m prepared to announce (as he did), “When I swore I would die a bachelor, I never thought I would live to be married.” If she happens to be a writer, so be it.

    Short of that, I’ve done all sorts of things with all sorts of people–actresses, a dancer or two, a harpsichordist, a traveling saleswoman, academics, others both creative and non–but after ransacking my memory only one substantial affair with a writer comes to mind. Loved her, loved what we did together, loved the stimulation of her company–she was like espresso for me. But she was a few important steps ahead of me; I was more a dick than a Benedick, I imagine. I ended it.

  23. You’ll find her (a benedicktion).

  24. I was married to a journalist once – and was COMPLETELY fucked. (And, yes, he was actually a brilliant writer.) That was in another life, another lifetime.

    Now I associate with a lot of writers – crit groups, RWA (that’s the Australian one, not your one) other scribblers, on-line writers and bloggers such as these – and have never been fucked by any of them, literally or metaphorically.

    It’s seems to me these days it’s the editors – dare I say agents – that fuck the writers. Especially Aussie ones. Too Australian, not Australian enough. Not interested in Australian setting, characters, blah, blah, blah.

    So looks like I AM fucked after all!! LOL.

  25. I can’t stand guys who think that being an artist, athlete or musician is enough in itself to get them a ticket to Pantyland.

  26. Wannabe writer turned craftsman, literary critic turned cookbook writer, wannabe actor turned copywriter, short story writer. My choices went from bad to worse to horrendous, and concluded with super rat.

    Loving the cloistered life. Writing about much of the above.

  27. I live with a writer. He mostly writes humor pieces for our local paper, and advertorials for the health section of a major newspaper. He thinks he’s brilliant.

    I write for an art magazine, but I write fiction. I work very hard on improving my writing for both the articles and my stories.

    The ol’ man (as I refer to him) always wants me to read his pieces. I did for a very long time because I wanted to be supportive. Now on the rare occasion I read something he wrote, I rarely comment. I learned that offering any sort of constructive suggestion would be dismissed

    Does he read any of my work? Not one single word. He comes up with excuses all the time, and even has said what I write just doesn’t interest him.

    After 20K words completed in less than a week for NANOWRIMO, I made the passing remark that I was nearly halfway through the first draft of the novel. His reaction? He scoffed, “It’s not a novel. You’re not published.”

    So I get nasty comments and my work is dismissed. However, I stopped fucking him two years ago, and I’m moving on when our lease up. How’s that for a happy ending?

    • The best endings are bittersweet. Write him up in a thinly disguised memoir, and as Anne Lamott advises, give him a tiny little linga. Good luck in your new life. May the next one be a mensch.

    • It’s not over till it’s over. Does he know you’re moving when the lease is up? Does he know you stopped fucking him two years ago? There are different ways to fuck. Does he know you fucked him here today?

      I’m not really helping, I know. Best of luck!

  28. No, never. No actors either. Arty guys always made me deeply uneasy. I seem to go for the mathematical guys. My physicist husband is an excellent critic and proofreader, and has suggested a few fine plot points. But with all arts, he’s content to be in the audience.

  29. Of course, I didn’t answer what it’s like living with me! It’s interesting. So I’m told.

  30. Was married to a writer for 9 years, until his death. It was heaven.

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