It was so nice to chat with you all again that I thought I might occasionally post progress reports. Just every once in a while, because on the whole the days roll past here with little to differentiate them from one another, which is exactly the way I like it. But it occurred to me, that being said, that writing a book is like the most awful love affair you can imagine. One of those unhealthily exciting relationships that you torment yourself over even at the time that you live through it, wondering whether it wouldn’t be better for all concerned to make a good, clean break. The reality of it is tedium itself and yet the process is transformed by a thick gloss of excessive emotions. Every day I turn up to the keyboard, needy and insecure, wanting to be affirmed in my value, and every day the manuscript looks back at me, indifferent for all its promise, unapologetically rich in flaws. It’s the very mismatch between the two of us that keeps me fascinated, though, that and the occasional flash of almost euphoric love that lifts the experience out of the realm of reasonable expectations. ‘Why can’t it be like that all the time?’ I ask no one in particular. ‘Why must we fight one another so?’ Ah but I exaggerate for the sake of the metaphor. It really is the most interesting way to pass the time.
Over the past couple of years, while I’ve been getting into the writing, Mister Litlove has been sitting by and watching and thinking about his own creativity. Career-wise we have always been chalk and cheese: he favours science and technology, I favour the arts, he is the practical one, I am relentlessly cerebral. When we did the Myers-Briggs psychometric tests, he came out as the Field Marshal, or something similar. What I really retained was the sentence that said ‘you would willingly send men to their death for the sake of the battle’, which sounds an awful lot like daily life chez Litlove. My husband went into management partly because it was the sort of thing that smart young chaps like him were destined to do, and mostly because he didn’t have a real passion that he wanted to pursue. But above and beyond that, he does like to order people around; I mean, he really likes it. And given that he is the kind of man who looks laid-back and super-reasonable, and who never loses his temper or bears grudges, he is more suited to issuing orders than most. There’s much about management that he has enjoyed; he loves meetings for instance, (when I would rather pull my fingernails out individually than have to sit through them), he enjoys business travel, warmly embraces phrases like lean or agile manufacturing, can be part of a power huddle with colleagues without being swamped by irony, etc. But it seems that more and more lately he has been bored and dissatisfied by it. He’s ready for a change.
What he would really like to do is take a course in fine woodworking and see where it leads him. He has made some beautiful things during our marriage – a blanket box, a bookcase, matching bedside tables, a chest of drawers. They are lovely objects to live with, all clean lines and sharp joints and smooth, grainy surfaces. But making them was often a slow and slightly painful process. If you met Mister Litlove your main impression would be of a very confident and capable person, but his creativity is the place where he loses faith in himself. As the witness here, I know he can do it. Even without the hours of practice that I, as a seasoned campaigner in the struggle to make things, know is necessary, he has turned out pieces of furniture we love and appreciate and still admire every day. That’s natural talent. But it has been intriguing for me to note how talent doesn’t go hand in hand with the permission to believe in ourselves. Mister Litlove loves making furniture, he is fascinated by the process, and yet every step of the way he struggles with doubt and uncertainty. This is mostly because he finds it very troubling to make mistakes. It’s almost as if one single error cancels out all the successful, clever, beautiful parts of the process he’s accomplished so far.
Making mistakes is always frustrating, I do agree. But I suppose I feel that there is no real creativity without them. In fact, sometimes I think you have to get it wrong before you can see your way to getting it right. And words cost nothing. I don’t mind writing 5,000 words only to throw them away later. I’m sure it’s harder to cut or shape a piece of wood wrong and then feel it is only fit for putting on the fire. But I also think that mistake making has to be incorporated into a creative attitude. I haven’t quite managed to persuade my husband of this yet, although I think he accepts it as an abstract truth. In practice, the uncertainty he feels about his own abilities lies in wait to discourage or disqualify him at the first sign of any error. But, he is seriously thinking about undertaking a long course, one he could do one day a week, and I’m all for it when the right moment arrives in his paid job. Gradually, he inches closer to thinking this might be a dream he could make real. I’ll let you know how he gets on.