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Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed

1. Describe your  book in 250 words or less:
Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed is my take on what it’s like to share a life with the same man for forty years. My husband, Stu, and I met in high school, got married before the women’s movement (with roles models of one mother who loved knitting and making sauerbraten and the other who ironed underwear). We had two children, pursued separate careers, survived major illness, and are still together in a new marital world, liking each other most days. How and why did this happen? I wanted to examine that in a realistic way—one that captured the complexity and nuance of a long-term relationship.

2. What motivated you to write it? 
Because media versions of marriage, in books, magazines, and on TV, didn’t match my own marriage experience or that of others I knew.  Media marriages are either too happy, as if people had a lobotomy, or too miserable, as if life was always hell. They don’t reveal how one can go back and forth between fury and a belly laugh—and that’s what the real marriages I know are all about.  

Also, I wanted to prove Tolstoy wrong. At the beginning of Anna Karenina, he writes that “all happy families are alike,” and only unhappy families are interesting—as if the issues of boredom, restlessness, a sense that the grass is greener somewhere else never come up. But they do. So how do long-marrieds like me get through that?  I explore that, not as a sociologist or historian, but as a person who keeps sharing a bed with the same man. Why?

3. How long did you spend writing it?
I started writing marriage essays twenty years ago, after a freakish double health crisis: Stu had a heart attack and I had breast cancer within two weeks of each other. The double whammy made us reconsider our lives, individually and as a couple. “Our recuperative honeymoon,” as Stu calls it. Not only did it heal our bodies, but made our marriage go from shaky (Stu disputes this) to very good (We both agree on that.).

4. What was the most challenging aspect of the writing?
Writing honestly about a marriage I am still in. It’s easier to write about one that has ended—or one you call “fiction.” But I wanted to let the reader inside my head as I try to figure marriage out since that day in 1961 when I said “I Do” and had no idea what I was agreeing to. My book offers no case studies, how- to checklist, or “This is how to do it!” list. It’s more about a work in progress, which is what all marriages are, aren’t they?

5. What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?
That the idea of an all-or-nothing marriage that I started out with—either you are with Mr. (or Ms.) Right or you are not—is way too simplistic, and issues that don’t get resolved at the end of the day, as in “The Cosby Show” or “Mad About You,” don’t automatically sink you. It’s more like riding a seesaw, and the trick is to keep your sense of balance on the ups and downs of feelings. It’s always a challenge, and if you are lucky, it’s always interesting.

6. What do you think has kept you together all these years?
Partly, it’s a frame of mind about commitment that buys the whole package of kids, parents, relatives, and friends that make up a marriage. Neither of us sees it as only about two people. Partly, it’s love that keeps popping up when we need it. Partly, it’s how we fill in the missing pieces of each other.  Partly it’s that we can walk into a room separately and ask the same question or make the same comment; it drives our kids crazy. But the glue that binds, I’d say, is a shared past: we knew each other when, before we had identities, before we had adopted personas for the world and for ourselves. That unadorned person who we once were is always inside, and it’s nice to be with someone who knows her (or him) so well—so you don’t have to pretend.

 7. Is your experience contrary to the prevalent thought that those who marry young don’t stay married?
There are more of us than you’d think. Anecdotally I know at least eight couples that  go way back and grew up together. I think it’s because we all retain the old “You can do it!” attitude we told each other in high school. Not a Pollyanna optimism. We are honest about problems, but  “If you want it, go for it!” prevails.  So you don’t have to feel as if you are stuck in a rut. Of course, you have to let the other person change, too, and that is always a scary proposition, but necessary. Stu keeps says, “I’ve been married ten times to ten different women named Mimi.” That’s about right for me. He’s steadier, so for me, it’s been maybe six different men: originally Stuie; now mostly Stu; sometimes, Stuart

8. How did your husband feel about your writing this book?
I worried about that, but when he read it he was pleased. “That’s how it is. You go it right!” he said. It was a generous act—and why I love him.

9. What other books would you recommend to someone who likes this one, or who is interested in its subject matter?
My favorite book about a long marriage is Wallace Stegner’s novel, Crossing to Safety. He got it just right. I also like Bailey White’s Mama Makes Up Her Mind, which, though not about marriage, is about family relationships and how the small things in one’s life represent the big things. So much of memoir lately is focused on the major crises such as rape, murder, incest, or divorce, but there’s a richness and struggle in daily life that we all face. The quotidian has secrets worth mining. I love the moment in Russell Baker’s memoir, Growing Up, for example, when he doing homework with his mother for the umteenth time, and they suddenly both realize that he now knows more than she does. Or the time, in Bret Lott’s essay collection, Fathers, Sons, and Brothers, when he watches, from his window, as his small son pedals his bike, in vain, to keep up with the big kids, but that doesn’t stop him.