by Leonard Bishop, Author of Dare To Be A Great Writer
All writing is either a protest or a confession. What I write in this space, is both. My wife and I can no longer speak freely or forthrightly to each other. The belief that I have always upheld –” if you have talent, use it!” –has backfired against me. This winter Celia decided to redeem her elapsed teaching credential and is attending Marymount College in Salina. She has been assigned to write class papers. What we would never dare admit or speak about has been forced to surface. Her intelligent is more interesting, the dynamics of her personality more forcible, and the brilliance of her writing talent turns mine to a faint simmer.
This crushing disaster happened last week. I had finished writing a scene from my novel. I rush into the house, anxious for my fix of approval and flattery.” Babe, read this scene, will you? Tell me what you think of it.” She glanced at me with aloof disdain. I’m writing a class paper on Plato’s symposium. I’ll read your scene next Tuesday.” I recovered quickly from the rejection. And just to be gracious and reaffirm my stature as a writer, I said,” I’ll read your class paper. I might be able to show you some professional structures. You know, some ultra sophisticated techniques.” She chuckled with nasty superiority,” Really?” She handed me the paper and shrugged. As I read my jaws clench, my legs shuddered, I began sweating. The prose was lyrically majestic, the critical insights astute, her concepts, panoramic. Although I have never read the symposium she had turned it into an enchanting adventure.
I smiled weakly,” Erh, heh,uhhm – this is not bad, Babe.” She snatched it from my trembling fingers. I said,” Hey let me read it again. Just to check the spelling.” She clutched it to her bosom.” No. You’re running dry, and you are unprincipled. No one’s writing is safe around you.” Oh, how peeved I become when someone understands me.
The next day she drove to Salina. I rushed into her room and, like a master spy, began reading the papers she had written. I was cold with awe and inflamed with envy. She was consistently splendid. The inspired phrases poured dripping from her ballpoint pen. Like:” penetrating superficialities.” Marvelous. I could use it when I wrote about television surveys that explored human relationships. In her analysis of Voltaire’s Candide, she wrote” illustrious buffoonery” and” cacophonous claptrap.” Just yummy! I must have these phrases when I write about the function of political campaigns.
Oh, that mean, mean woman, I thought. She deliberately waited for this critical time in my life to unleash her talents. And to think that once I encouraged her.” You should try writing, Babe. You might have some talent. It’s an amusing escape from the daily tedium.” Yet I have no true cause for whining. We always knew she was more scholarly than I am. Her vocabulary is larger, her analytical capabilities keener. Her intuitive responses to people and events, more perceptive. These virtues were a gratifying contribution to our marriage — as long as she kept them hidden.
When we married, we had an unspoken arrangement. Since my ego was so fragile, all attention and celebrity would be focused on me. Her reward for the sacrifice and stroking would be constant love and uncompromising fidelity. I would provide economic support, and the unrestricted privilege of keeping our accounts and now, I am betrayed.
Aware of some minor sleaze in my character, Celia double locks her room and always carries the keys on her person. She hardly talks to me in fear that I will steal her ideas, her phrases, her imagery. I can no longer show her what I write because in fact, she might improve it. For days I have thought about a solution to this unexpected disaster, and this was my decision: since I am a genteel man and too considerate to compete with her talents– I will resort to the only masculine alternative I have–I must stop her!
I now wear my socks for only half an hour, then toss them into the laundry bin. I do the same with undershirts and shorts, then pout,” Hey, babe, how about doing some wash?” Every time I see her in her room, writing, I find a way to interrupt her.” Babe, would you wind my wristwatch. My fingers are too thick,” or” Would you tighten the screws on my eyeglasses–they are too small for me to see,” or” Remember that tape cassette of me addressing a writers conference five years ago? Let’s search the whole house and try to find it.” Her willingness and patience is driving me crazy. And she’s still writing.
She reads Chaucer, St. Thomas Aquinas, Boethius, Etienne Bonnot De Condillac, Pavel Borrissovich Axelrod, Nicolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, Jean Baptiste LeRond D’Alembert–and really understands them. I always knew that universities were breeding grounds for radicals and social climbers. Oh, how I hope that some truly enlightened women would write to her and persuaded her to return to the traditional and delightful ways of female subjugation and anonymity.
I did not sleep last night. I lay awake in a convulsion of anxiety. Celia had put down the book of medieval philosophy she was reading and said,” Tomorrow, I think I’ll begin writing a novel.” I lay beside her in rigid fear. Then she rolled onto her side and said something that made me want to fall to the floor, grovel before her and beg,” Please, babe, don’t do that to me. Don’t ruin me!” She had said,” I heard that the largest newspaper in Wichita is looking for someone to write a column titled” Quadruple Viewpoint.”
(First published Sunday, February 17, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)