The Writing Life: reflections by a working writer. The Writing Life

Reflections of a working writer, a university screenwriting professor, and the editor of Oregon Literary Review.

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Charles Deemer

Oregon Literary Review

MFA, Playwriting, University of Oregon

Writing faculty, Portland State University (part-time)

Retired playwright and screenwriter.
Active novelist, librettist and teacher.

Email: cdeemer(at)yahoo(dot)com

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The Writing Life...
"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."
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A friend over beer, Berkeley, winter, 1959

"And it came to pass that all the stars in the firmament had ceased to shine. But how was anyone to know?"
The Half-Life Conspiracy

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The Writing Life II

(Posts archived here are from 01/10/03 - 10/31/06)

Monday, May 26, 2003  
Breakup, or the Problem of the Chicken and the Egg
[from a memoir in progress, which began 4/13/03]
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when I realized that my marriage to Carol was over. In fact, Carol and I have never agreed on when and how this happened. What is clear to me is this: I knew we were drifting apart. I knew my writing had become more private, less a partnership, as I moved from fiction to drama and as Carol became more focused on her own career. I knew we were making love less often, partially because of the increasing bodily effects of our habitual heavy drinking. I knew I felt like a failure. I knew I felt more and more lonely.

And then, one day, I realized something else. My wife was a lesbian.

In Carol’s mind, as I understand her own interpretation of our breakup, she herself did not know this yet, so how could I? She was merely curious about same sex relationships. If I was making a wild guess, I was dead on because she’s been a lesbian activist for a long time now. But at the time, early in her career at Chesapeake College, I apparently was more certain about her direction than she was.

It’s like the classic problem of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Did Carol become a lesbian, after which we split up, or did we split up, after which she became a lesbian?

It really doesn’t matter whose interpretation is correct. What matters is that my world crumbled the moment I realized, decided, or guessed that my wife, my soul mate, was a lesbian. I was used to the surprises of the gods but nothing like this. I responded to the news badly, recklessly, and rudely.

Carol sometimes sang a tragic English ballad about a man who murders his “gay young wife.” I embraced the song with a satisfying sense of irony, a metaphor for my revengeful plan.

In A View from the Bridge and later in Our Town, playing Editor Webb, I hung out with the theater crowd, which was comprised primarily of students. A theater student I’ll call “Faye” and I had been flirting with one another in a harmless kind of way through both rehearsals and productions. She also was taking classes from Carol. I decided that the perfect response to having a lesbian for a wife was to sleep with one of her students, and with Faye I’d already put down the groundwork.

The seduction took no time at all. As if needing still more scandal to complete my revenge, I next did something to make sure our affair became public. What’s the point of sleeping with your wife’s student if she doesn’t know about it? When Carol went out of town to a conference for a week, I invited Faye to the farmhouse, and we all but shacked up. It didn’t take long for the doctor’s wife to come over and find her and make the obvious conclusion. To a good southern lady, I was acting like a Yankee reprobate, and it’s hard not to agree with her.

Carol and I finally had our confrontation after she returned, and I decided to move back to Oregon. Divorce was obvious.

I regret this behavior more than anything I’ve done, even more than the thoughtless way I treated Dee and our new baby. If I had acted less recklessly, I think I could have salvaged something with Carol.

In my play The Half-Life Conspiracy, I rewrite my personal history so that a similar couple manages to salvage a relationship after breaking up. In this story, an alcoholic playwright wins a one-act play contest. At the premier, he discovers the play is being directed by his ex-wife, who left him for a woman. Now she is splitting up with her lover, and the playwright offers to help her move out.

OLSON: You're breaking up, aren't you? Well, I have prior service. A real vet at breaking up. Not only you, I've lived with three ladies since us and broke up with every one of them. I've got experience. Know what I learned?
CYNTHIA: What did you learn?
OLSON: If you're the one being left, it's best to leave town. If you're the one moving out, it's best to throw the whole damn mess, I mean the actual labor of moving, into the lap of a good friend. Which are you?
CYNTHIA: I've been wanting to move closer in for some time now.
OLSON: How much furniture do you have? I'll help you move out.
CYNTHIA: Be serious.
OLSON: I am serious. I'll rent a damn truck and move you wherever you want to go. Into storage if you have no place to stay.
CYNTHIA: I thought you were flying right back.
OLSON: I'll get a later flight. Two hours sleep and I'm raring to go. What do you say? I'm one hell of a truck driver.
CYNTHIA: Why do you want to get involved?
OLSON: We used to be married, for Christ's sake. We had some good times.
CYNTHIA: Yes, there were some good times.

(A car drives away below, ANN going home alone. CYNTHIA is about to lose it..)

OLSON: Don't worry about it. Ann has to live her life. You have to live yours. Discretion has its place.
CYNTHIA: (bittersweet) Discretion . . .
OLSON: It's the best I can do on such short notice. I also think it's the truth.
CYNTHIA: I hated it in San Francisco. Every time we went into a gay bar, I sat in terror, worrying that one of our clients would walk in. Then one night one did — a woman whose PR we handled. The way she looked at me, so . . . so knowingly. I didn't want her to know anything about me. I didn't want to make a statement about my sexuality. Why does sexuality have to be political? It's so — personal. Maybe sex belongs in the closet, like a special part of the wardrobe saved for special occasions.

In classical Greek there are three words for love: Eros, Fidelia and Agape, roughly translated as sex, friendship and spiritual love. At one time Carol and I had had it all. In struggling with being a lesbian, Carol was putting only the Eros part of the relationship in jeopardy, and if I were the man I should have been, a man who cared for her deeply, I would have helped her through this transition in such a way that kept us friends and maybe even soul mates.

Maybe this is a pipe dream. We already had other problems as well, stemming largely from our progressive alcoholism. But maybe we even could have helped one another there, too.

All of this is idle speculation. Once I accepted that Carol was a lesbian, I seemed hell bent on hurting her, and hurt her I did. I caused a local scandal, embarrassing her in front of her colleagues. Later Carol would think I told her family she was a lesbian before she was ready to come out, but this is not true. If they learned this, they learned it from someone else.

To this day, Carol will not talk to me. I miss her more than I miss my daughter.

5/26/2003 06:52:00 AM | 0 comments

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