Dodos on Marriage

Jeffrey Meyers on Married Life and the Artist:

All writers need solitude. But celibacy often means loneliness, and a tranquil marriage can be dull. Many authors seem to thrive on personal conflict, which stimulates their work. Their lives show that the intense egoism essential to creativity was frequently fatal to marriage. For geniuses, the best marriage potion was love compounded with a dash of hate.

This is an issue that I’ve thought about, but frankly have no profound thoughts about.

Practically speaking, being/staying married as an artist is useful when trying to balance dayjobs vs. your art projects. Having a fallback income to survive on while you take 6 months to work on your project is extremely helpful. If a couple can do this fairly (i.e., taking turns), this can be a case where married life is definitely superior to single life.

Artists are focused inward and can be blind to outside realities. Competition for how to spend free time can be intense. Like any creative person, I work myself to death on weekends and occasionally weekend nights. Weekends become my salvation, and are really the only time I can get anything done. To be more precise: Sunday mornings and afternoons are practically the only time of the week I accomplish anything Heaven help you if you call me up or suggest an outing on that day. I will certainly bite your head off.

I can be outgoing and gregarious; I like fun stuff, meeting people, that sort of thing. I’m a family guy and would love to go out more, meet more dateable people, volunteer. But I can’t–I simply can’t. Leaving aside the fact that it’s so hard for artistic dodos to locate other members of own species, there isn’t enough time in the weekend to search for compatible people to enjoy life with.

Should artists date other artists? It isn’t necessary, but practically speaking that may be the only viable option. Men who have erratic sources of income are not viewed as “financially stable” or as “good providers.” Other people in the arts are better equipped to appreciate the difficulties of balancing the dayjob with projects and more accepting of material sacrifices. I can’t speak of the future, but my artistic enterprises pretty much guarantee that a)I won’t own a house and b) my car will always be old. What percentage of females can live with that fact?

Marriage changes people. I’ve spoken to a number of women who became mothers and found that the experience (while reducing the time for creative projects) actually enhanced their artistic visions. We all need to be properly grounded, and marriage/parenting helps you to see things from another’s perspective and to confront singular issues of growing up and staying connected with people. Artists more than anyone need this. And yet, where is the time?

Those lucky enough to make some money off their writing (either through royalty checks, or indirect methods like teaching fellowships) don’t feel the time pressure as much. They can treat writing as a kind of “job” even though we all know that it bears little resemblance to one, both in terms of working hours and expectation of reward. If you fund your projects on your own sweat and time, that is one thing; you are responsible only to yourself. On the other hand, if your project burns up time and money that would otherwise have gone to your children or spouse, that is almost heartless. What is the value of producing great art if it improverishes your family (both monetarily and emotionally) in the process? In some way women have it easier; they are expected to retreat from the world of paychecks during early motherhood to raise the kids. For a time in their life, they don’t have to worry about money (and cases where mothers support a household and manage still to be productive are in my mind nothing short of miraculous). On the other hand, women invest so much emotionally in the welfare of their children that they often end up abandoning their creative dreams (at least until their kids are old enough not to require babysitting).

The marriage question becomes significantly less urgent when artists are actually making some kind of living from what they do. In modern times, that isn’t easy.