Every day, for the last twelve years, I’ve loved two mistresses.
Each one knows about the other and each one hates the other. They shouldn’t hate each other, really, since they have their similarities. I mean, they’re sisters, after all. Both are intelligent, both are passionate and powerful in her own way, and both, working with me on a daily basis, help to make complete my Work as a writer.
Let me step back–they don’t hate each other, they just don’t understand the other’s involvement with me. As flattered as I would be to admit that they feel anything close to the human affection of Love much less Affection for me, they really couldn’t care less; our relationship—though springing from a place of pure human emotion and intellect–is purely for writing. I’d say they’re more amused by my tenacity to be with them than anything else.
It’d be easier if they were human. Humans, as irrational and emotional as we are, can still be brought to a middle ground of logical compromise, to a point anyway. But these two, my two mistresses, they’re not. Human, that is. They symbolize an emotional change, if you will, or a change in perspective. They are the archangels for the Introverted and Extroverted drives of the writer.
But I’m being rude. Let me introduce you.
Chloe likes to read. That’s about it. It’s her glass of water in the morning and it’s her cup of tea at night. No time is better spent than flipping through the chapters of a novel or non-fiction book, as long as there are adventures to embark on and words to guide her.
Chloe has been with me since day one of reading. She was there when I sounded out the letters that flashed across the kids books. She was there by my side, realizing the rhymes and singsongy paragraphs in Dr. Suess and Sesame Street. She helped me to deduce the endings of the Encyclopedia Brown stories, and she laughed and groaned with me as we followed Romona and Beezus through the pains of being young and awkward.
Chloe is a woman of the soul. From her comes not just the urge to read but the reflection that goes with it. Chloe loves candles, incense, meditating, and solace. Chloe was that girl at the restaurant reading by herself. Chloe will forever hate the movies made from books. Chloe uses her sense of smell to make the final decision on whether to buy a book.
As boring and awkward and sometimes horrible as pedestrian life can be, there will always be books. And thank God, since real-life people are awkward, weird, odd, and silly (or maybe that’s just her?).
Chloe and I are soulmates, no doubt about it. In all her acts, and more, I’ve followed suit. She is as intricately braided with my heart and soul as the ivy is to the brick wall. The most active thing she will ever do is dream, but it leads nowhere. Ideas, fantasies, memories, dreams, and symbols come and go so easily with her. She doesn’t wish to create or construct or build—nothing that would pull her away from her books (that is her twin sister, Joe, of who I will introduce in a moment).
I’ve taken a liking to her and promises have been made, the major one of which is that of time. All she has ever asked from me in return for her love and patience is time with her. And so, before I met Chloe, before I was a writer, I was a reader. And did I read!
My thirst for understanding every facet of life all around me hit me when I was young, and the means of which I was to quench this thirst was to read about it. This is how I understand the world around me. It is through the music and meaning of words that I can make sense of myself and my life.
Then, as now, there was never enough time to read. Reading took up all of my free time. I read about things in textbooks and encyclopedias; then about white whales and orphan boys and broken Russian families; then about phantom cars, insane clowns, and plagues that wiped out entire civilizations; and now about extinction, sad Russian wives, hobos hitching trains across post-war America, and punk rock stars shooting heroin and talking about Bowie. Nothing is and (mark this) will ever be greater than reading. As much as I call myself a writer, reading will always be my one true love. It’s my heart’s natural state.
Of course, one day, just like my ancient ancestors, I put rock to cave wall about an idea I had, and nothing’s been the same since.
I can’t remember how old I was when I wrote my first story or poem. No doubt it had something to do with a broken heart or a question that was bugging me about girls. I remember I was young and that I was too young to care at all about who would see it, even myself. I simply let the words that had been on my mind flow out.
That was the day I met Joey.
That was also the day that I first broke Chloe’s heart.
Don’t call her Josephine.
“Do this! And this! Now, put that there! No, THERE, dummy!” She shook her head, pacing in the back of my mind. I could smell the strawberry gum she was chomping loudly on, and when my mind started to wander, she would poke me in the brain. “NO!” Another hour, and I was just about done with her and her chomping and yelling and whispering and mumbling, when, all of a sudden, a phrase, written perfectly, shimmered for us. “There! There there there there there yes yes YES!” She kissed me on the top of my head and gave me a slap on the cheek. “Keep that keep that. Okay okay okay. Now. Let’s see now…”
This is Joe everybody. Isn’t she dreamy?!
If Chloe is the writer’s Introvert, Joe is the writer’s Extrovert: my mumbling, yelling, hyper, up-and-down whirlwind angel. Everything is ‘out there’, in the writer’s sense. All those mantras about getting your butt in the chair, typing your novel out, getting it down, getting it done, moving on–that’s Joe. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was created with her spirit in mind.
Joe begins where Chloe ends—dreaming. But dreaming isn’t good enough for Joe. Joe wants to create from words. She reads, sure, but to make something bigger than just dreams. She doesn’t believe in the will o’ wisps of dreams but the sturdy steel and concrete skyscraper of Form.
Our relationship is…interesting.
“Oh my god, WHY didn’t you read this before you wrote this whole other chapter?! So stupid. Ugh!! Okay, write another backstory.”
If me and Chloe are soulmates who inhabit the same heart, Joe and I are roommates who inhabit the same mind. Joe doesn’t care about my life—get the Work done! She doesn’t care that I had a headache yesterday, she doesn’t care about how the Blackhawks are doing, my cousin Irwin’s wedding pictures I keep forgetting to comment on, or my double shift at the pizzeria Saturday night—get the Work done! Joe wants one thing from me—GET THE WORK DONE! She is, to quote Norman Mailer, “the Great Bitch in one’s life.”
But I love her, I do, with almost as much intensity and passion as I love Chloe. Chloe can take me any way she can as a writer, as long as I spend time reading. Joe wants me to be a better writer, always being better. Chloe loves me like a mother but also being a child at the same time. Joe is my equal, my partner. Chloe will give her life for me, if she so felt it (and every time she helps me write, she does). Joe will storm the castle with me if I am honest and sincere with her.
I love them both. Of course, both don’t see eye to eye. Which is awkward since we need each other, all three of us.
Chloe is greedy—she wants my time for reading and dreaming. That idea I had when I was young about writing a novel about nothing in a nonsense language? That was her idea. Chloe thinks my time with Joe is wasted only if I spend too much time with her. Whenever it’s time to take a breather and ‘fill the creative pool’ after grueling months of writing and editing—that’s Chloe taking me by the hand and putting a book in my hand. So Chloe wants me to read.
But Joe is greedy too—she wants my time for writing and creating. After all, no one ever made a living reading and eating apple slices. The fact that I’ve written this very blog post is all Joe’s doing. Every physical object, on screen or in print, is Joe’s doing. It may have been Chloe’s idea to write it, but it’s Joe’s support that makes it come to fruition. So Joe wants me to write.
And for a long while, I was dizzy from the running around. In the beginning, I read for months at a time, not writing a word. And then, for months on end after that, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wore myself out. Until finally one day, we arranged a meeting.
And this is how it works. Every day, I dedicate my time with Joe. I work and I slave over my Work. Mostly, it’s Joe who helps me but, in the beginning and all throughout the middle, Chloe will come by and help me create. And then, after my designated time, I quit and read. I read to fill the pool, so to speak, but I read to be inspired or, most of the time, simply to be that little boy again. I need this and all Chloe does, every single time, is take me by the hand and put a book in my hand.
Sure there’s my pedestrian self—making dinner, folding laundry, going to work, pay the bills, hanging out with friends. But in the end, it’s these two women that keep me fulfilled.
Balance is hard work, though. Every now and then, I spend too much time with the one instead of the other, and most of the time, they’re forgiving enough since I’ve paid my dues and kept my promises.
It’s these two little ladies that drive me. They don’t need me at all as much as I need them; but in some small way, somewhere within their angel heads and hearts, they like me. Little ol’ me!