Why Marriage (and writing) Needs a Third

Why Marriage(and writing)Need a Third

“Two’s company, three’s a crowd,” we are told. But sometimes that is not true. Both in marriage and in writing.

Writers can’t just write about writing. It’s tedious. Not to mention boring to the non-writer.

Nouns, verbs, and prepositional phrases can only interest a person for so long, but put those same words in a story, and a writer has the ability to capture imagination.

Writers need a third thing–something “to gaze out at” according to author Natalie Goldberg in her book, Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.

Sometimes the writer has no plan or control of what that third thing will be.

“We must find the third thing,” Goldberg writes. “And we cannot afford to be fussy. How a pothole is formed holds our interest. A kind of cheese, a license to own a beauty parlor, a felt slipper, someone’s toothache, all are fodder for our pen….”

Or staples. Staples can be the third.

This week I decided to re-do my kitchen chairs. I can’t remember what fabric originally covered the chairs when my grandmother owned them. After my mom inherited the chairs, she covered them in a cream-colored fabric, material that was now showing years of stains:

  • Stains from family dinners of scalloped potatoes, ham, frozen peas, and orange jello served in goblets Mom and Dad received as gifts at their wedding in 1957.
  • Stains from years of grandchildren learning to eat cheerios with a spoon, but invariably milk dripped down toddler chins and pooled on the fabric.
  • Stains from card games around the table, with fingers needing to be wiped of popcorn grease, and the cushion serving as a giant napkin.

Decades of stains.

I flipped over the first chair, a testament to the importance of life around the table, to begin removing the material from the cushion. I encountered staples.

Many, many staples.

As I pulled them out, I began counting. Twenty…thirty…forty.

The kitchen table was soon covered with flying metal projectiles. Sixty…seventy…eighty.

recovering a kitchen chair

I began to laugh. I knew, without being told, that although my mom selected the fabric, my dad was the one who stapled the material in place. Although neither was alive to ask, the unseen surface of the bottom of the cushion told the tale of a man who was legendary for taping the wrapping paper around Christmas presents so securely, that a knife or scissors was needed to open the package.

Mom was the project idea person. Dad was the implementer of the plan. 

Like writers, Goldberg contends, couples also need something “to gaze out at” for time cannot always be spent looking face to face, but rather, also, side by side.

Projects were my parents’ third. As was family. And faith.

I pulled out the last remaining staples holding the dingy cream fabric. Eighty-five. Did the chair cushion really need eight-five staples to hold the material in place?

“What are you doing?” my husband asked, walking into the kitchen.

“I’m re-counting the staples,” I replied, a bit distracted as I remembered yesterday moments around a Christmas tree. (To his credit, he did not ask why I was re-counting staples.) “I wonder if I can write a blog about staples?”

“I think you have proven that you can write a blog about anything,” he said.

I smiled at the compliment, from a man who has lived with my writing third, not an interest he shares, but a gifting he gives me space to pursue–which in itself is one of our thirds.

Family. Faith. And applauding one another’s dreams. Each has given us something “to gaze out at.”

Eighty-five staples do not hold us, yet we walk side by side.

What is your third?

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4 thoughts on “Why Marriage (and writing) Needs a Third

  1. I applaud you efforts in blogging and including the subject of staples. It brings memories back from your childhood and your comments on how it showed the role of your mom as the creative project person and your dad as the one who completed the subject made for interest in your family dynamics. I have to say that my third is writing as my husband has no interest in the subject and would rather read a tech article rather than a novel. It makes our life interesting as we have space to pursue our dreams that are altogether different.

    • I think giving each other space to pursue passion and dreams is so valuable. It sounds like you have been fortunate to find that.

  2. Having read your article, I’m left with a sense of peace – of joy. At 4:00, in the morning, I suppose that in itself, is a great thing.

    I happened upon ‘Wordservewatercoolercom,’ by chance.Yet, I left with so much more! Thank you.

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