You know your marriage is strong when…
When you (mis)spend your life as a writer, as I have, and when you’ve perpetrated millions of words, as I have, other writers always ask you the same question.
Do you need silence when you work, or could you work in the middle of the Beltway at rush hour?
I always answer Option Two, but for a very unusual reason.
I share a study with my spouse.
Our click-and-counterclick has been going for more than four decades, as has our marriage. We have long since perfected the art of tuning into our task at hand and tuning out the person in the nearby chair.
Our desks are arranged as an L, one leg for me, one for her. We always hear each other, but we can’t see each other unless we pivot. That produces over-the-shoulder conversations like the following:
Bob (interrupting the noise of his typing, but not turning to his right): “How many L’s in ‘millennial’?”
Jane (interrupting the noise of her typing, but not turning to her left): “Two, then one.”
Bob: “Thanks, Gorgeous.”
Total elapsed time: about four seconds. Total saved time from not having to look up the spelling of the word: About 10 times that much. That’s a bargain any way you slice it.
If any long-term marriage depends on bending to the whims of the other person, our shared study proves the case.
Very often, one of us will need some silence to conduct a phone call. This produces yet another staple of long-marrieds: hand signals.
When one of us needs the other to shush, or get lost, we flick one hand at our dearly beloved, as if we are trying to rid our collar of dust.
We don’t abuse this, so there’s never any back talk or debate. One flick, and the flickee is gone, to drown his or her sorrows in a book until the critical phone call is finished.
Like many marriages, opposites have attracted with our share-a-study selves.
Jane can touch-type with the best of them. I never learned that art. I have always used just my two index fingers.
The result is anything but a symphony. Over there is Jane, clacking delicately away. And over here is her hapless spouse, pounding away. If you measured the decibels in our study, I would account for more than 90 percent of them.
Our dueling desks are also a study in contrasts.
I am the more organized one. My toast rack full of files is mostly neat and mostly sorted by subject.
The three stacks of paper at various corners of my desk have sharply defined roles. There’s the Immediate Stack. There’s the Sometime Stack. And there’s the When-I-Get-Around-To-It-If-I-Ever-Do stack.
Jane likes to think that the post-tornado swirl atop her desk isn’t as confusing as it looks. But when I hear that voice I know so well ask me, without turning around, “Have you seen my copy of XYZ?,” there’s no question which of our desktops could stand a spring cleaning.
As for décor, we are again a study in her way and his.
My side of the study is full of achievements on the wall —honors I’ve won, diplomas I’ve earned, even a high school newspaper clipping that says I led my basketball team to victory in the big game with 19 points.
Jane’s wall is full of Not Much. Some family snapshots here. Some random art there. If there’s clutter on her desktop, there’s almost none on her walls.
And then there’s whimsy.
One of my proudest possessions is a little gold strip — the kind you can order for $1.98, the kind that usually announces your name and title. In my case, the strip says THE BOB LEVEY IDEA FACTORY.
It has gazed down on my labors for many moons. So has the photo of my father, in his World War II Army uniform. So has a sign that says YOUR CO-PAYMENT IS DUE AT THE TIME OF YOUR VISIT.
And so has a framed, dog-eared membership card in The Submarine Race Watchers Society.
This group was all the rage during my teenage years. The idea was that you would take your best girl to the nearest river bank after dark and watch submarines race.
You can’t see submarines race?
Well, then, you and your best girl might find some other activities to keep you busy, if you follow me. Today, it sounds lame. Back then, it was a guaranteed giggle.
Will Jane and I ever grow tired of the other’s work noises? Will we ever banish the other forever?
The answer to that is about to happen, once I type a few more words. I will call, over my shoulder:
“Hey, Gorgeous, would you take a look at this, please?”
She is my editor. I am hers. You may not find that on a Hallmark card, but such is our togetherness.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.