“You have to accept that an artist also has a relationship with his or her art and his or her fans: you are in an open relationship whether you like it or not. Give the artist room to go into the place they create (literally or metaphorically). And love them when they can’t remember where they put their keys.” – Neil Gaiman
This. This is the very truth I’ve been trying to convey to people for the last six years. It is also the very hurdle that began the avalanche ending my last serious relationship . . . over three years ago. A relationship I walked out of with cuts on my soul so deep, I’ve refused to poke at them too much until recently. Yes, that means I’ve spent the last few years living in a bubble where I could pretend I’d healed. The truth is, I slapped on a Band-Aid and let that bitch fester.
But once again, Neil Gaiman is here to say what I could not all those years ago.
If I’d been able to look at my significant other back when I realized art is my life, I would’ve known well in advance that he couldn’t share me. His narcissism wouldn’t allow it. And I’d gladly fed his ego. Why? Because *someone* paid attention to the shy, soft-spoken, clinically insane twenty year old girl I’d been back then. I grabbed onto the attention, never once stopping to look at the person it belonged to. He was totally wrong for me. Had no ambition. No drive. No sense of commitment to anything not self-serving. He used people and threw them away with insults when they couldn’t anything for him anymore. Basically, this man was the complete opposite of myself.
A few days ago, I found myself talking to Laurell K. Hamilton and Yasmine Galenorn about what happens when a significant other is an intentional distraction from the writing/creating process. Laurell’s current husband is the ultimate cheerleader. Watching them interact around her work is inspiring. He gets what Mr. Gaiman said above. Conversely, Yasmine admitted that her ex-husband once told her he’d leave her if she ever made a name for herself as an author. And it was baffling. Until I realized, that was exactly what *my* ex had done.
He constantly dogged my attempts to sit and finish a manuscript. I’ve got the corpses of two dead novels laying in my desk as I type this that are proof of his interference. Any momentum I gained on a project died within a month. Why? Because I wasn’t pandering to the man I lived with. My computer and the voices in my head took my undivided attention away. He’d passively do things to get between me and my work. Often it came in the form of playing video games with the volume turned up so loud, no matter how high I turned up my “work” music, it still bled through. Not to mention, the constant flickering out of the corner of my eye dragged my focus away to whatever wrestling game he played that day. Other times, the video games (catch the drift, that’s all this guy did–play video games) would pop on in the middle of the night. There I’d be, exhausted from a day of trying to write while taking care of the family–including a toddler, my nephew who we’d been thrown into caring for without notice–and this jerk sat beside me in bed, bouncing as he played the game. The flickering lights and constant movement kept me awake. It got to the point where I couldn’t sleep in my own bed. I’d move to the couch. Which is not good for my back issues.
For a while I functioned on just about four hours of broken sleep every night. It became too hard to think in terms of my book worlds when I couldn’t even focus on *this* world.
It wasn’t the open relationship I needed. I was miserable. Creatively pent up and toeing with suicidal thoughts far more often than I ever had before–even after my father’s death in 2001.Once I grew a spine, I corrected a six-year mistake to reclaim my creativity. And wouldn’t you know it, I’ve published one novella, two novels, and have pieces in three anthologies since then. It wasn’t that I couldn’t write. I just couldn’t write with that person in my life. Because he didn’t want me to.
Don’t do this to yourselves, guys. If you’re an artist who is treated like art is a sin, get out of that situation. The act of creating something is not dirty. Nor is it a waste of time. Yes, you still must be an adult and do adult things like paying the bills and providing food for your family, but once those obligations are done, go forth and make things. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone to walk by your side and cheer you on.
It doesn’t take much to cheer artists on. Bring us our favorite beverage. Give us a back rub. Most importantly, give us space to make a relationship with our work. And be there to catch us if that relationship hits rocky shores. You’ll also have to remind us that there’s a real world, occasionally. But you wouldn’t love an artist if you didn’t also love the worlds in their minds, right? There’s no one or the other.
You marry the artist, you marry the art. Take pride in it.