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love, writing, and keeping the pipes clean

the work of ten years

the work of ten years

We were in the middle of the dance floor, band in full swing, people dancing all around us when she stepped close to me, eyes intense, and said, “I love him. I really do. I love him. But…”

Meanwhile, I could see her husband in my peripheral vision happily dancing behind her, oblivious to the fact that his wife is clutching a final straw. Though her and I are about one conversation away from being total strangers, as we stood there together, woman to woman, an island in our own world, I saw clearly what she needed, knew well that look in her eyes.

It was the set look of a woman who has been in the trenches of raising babies for nearly a decade, a woman who is ready to bloom again, this time within herself. And she is trying to tell her husband this, trying to tell him that she wants to get back to nurturing herself, to nurturing their relationship, wants to evolve within her marriage and family.

She keeps telling him this.

But he is not hearing her.

He doesn’t understand. He adores her! He respects her! He keeps his head down and works his ass off to provide for their family! He is doing the best he can. What more can he do?

Pick his head up and listen. Be here now, not buried in work, but reveling in the family they have built together.

We fall in love and get married, our eyes fixed on each other, fixed on the excitement of building a life together. Then we have children and get down to the near-constant work of raising them. As we usher them into their first years of school, the dust settles a little and our gaze rises back up to meet those of our partner’s. If we have not cared for and fed our marriage, this is the time when we feel and see the consequences of it.

Like a garden, a marriage needs constant tending—pulling weeds, feeding it our attention and love. If we have neglected our marriage while raising babies, and if we care about this thing and still want to live ‘til death do us part, we must kneel down together on that dry, cracked ground and start the work of bringing it back, of tending to the earth and soul of our relationship. When our dreamed-about futures become day-to-day life, when there are no ice sculptures at the dinner table or honeymoon chocolates on the pillow, then the real work, the soul work, of a relationship begins.

Communication is the major artery of a marriage. If we don’t clean the pipes on a regular basis, flush out the grievances and hurt feelings and misunderstandings and resentments, these things build up fast, and relationships sag and grow tired under the weight of it all.

This woman to whom I am referring has seen pictures of my husband and I biking and traveling with our family, always smiling, looking connected and happy. Many people say they look up to us, to our relationship, and hope/wish they could have the same.

Well, these people have not seen us shut up in our closet, nose-to-nose, yelling to be heard. They have not seen the jar of peanut butter sail across the kitchen and explode against the back wall. They have not pushed the picture aside in our kitchen to see the fist-shaped hole behind it. They have not seen the tears or struggle or the nights spent up all night talking and mending. They have not seen the investment of time, heart, and vulnerability.

And they have not visited the pages of our journals.

These are not journals in the diary-sense of the word. They are workbooks, and within them, they hold our last straws, when verbal communication fails to break through. It is within these pages that we work to stay connected, to stay smiling on the inside, to hold up that promise we made to each other on our wedding day—to have, hold, honor, and love.

We do not have to be writers to keep a relationship journal. This is not about writing. It is about communicating, about working together to hear and be heard when tensions run high. And it is also about saving those moments that would otherwise be lost in the gray matter of our brains. It is about remembering and letting go, all at once. It’s about saying yes to the whole adventure—the joy and the pain, frustration and the comfort, the work and the play.

Because this life together? This is a soul adventure.

After ten years of marriage, here is a glimpse into the real work of keeping pipes clean, passion high, and love strong:

this one was dismembered when it sailed off the deck in a frustrated fury.

this one was dismembered when it sailed off the deck in a frustrated fury.

communication is key

communication is key

we balance the work with love

we balance the work with love


rupture and repair

rupture and repair


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life is intense, man


The following is the latest of my existential illuminations born one night when I simply looked at my husband reading in bed beside me:

We date, we fall in love, we get engaged, married, have children, and then raise these precious and fast-growing beings.  We get buried in the constancy and work of parenting, and unless we are aware, we put ourselves in danger of losing the passion that began this family in the first place.

Raising babies into small children requires a lot of energy and often at the end of the day, I want to luxuriate in my bathtub, read a book, and not talk.

And then sometimes I’ll look over at Paul and be struck by the realization that one of us is going to die first, that this journey on Earth together will one day come to a close.

This realization will both punch me in the stomach and inspire me to grab him, tell him I love him, and hold on tight.

It’s a luxury to be able to take our partners for granted.  But sometimes it’s necessary to pull ourselves out of our daily lives and routines and really see the people we love, to soak them in, soak in these moments together knowing everything–all of life–is ephemeral and passing through our fingers like water pouring from a tap.

Life is intense, man.



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living in tandem

Almanzo 100, 2012.  Photo by Dave Mable

My husband Paul and I love to race our tandem mountain bike very long distances.  We race anywhere from 40 to 100 miles, though our favorite races are the 100-milers.  These races will take anywhere from six and a half to twelve hours, which amounts to one hell of a journey though pleasure and pain, hope and disappointment, exaltation and desperation.

At every race, we can count on at least one person asking, “How’s the Divorce Machine?” as we ride by.  It’s funny, but in the seven or so years that we have begun racing on one bike, I have thought about this comment and observed how true this could be.  Marriage and enduro-racing—both wildly intense endeavors.  In both cases, if we cannot work together, if we cannot stay strong when the other is weak, if we cannot recognize the talents each person has to give and value those talents, if we are not compassionate and patient when the other is not on their game, if we do not communicate clearly and consistently, and, most importantly, if we are not having fun, this thing will not work—not this race, and not this life together.

Where a wedding is analogous to the excitement and giddiness of signing up for a big race, marriage is actually getting on the bike and settling in for the long haul.

The goal is to find that sweet spot where together we flow.  My spontaneity and his logistical planning, my motor and his power.  And when we break down, when we get a flat, we need to stop, get off the bike, ignore the world rolling past, get our hands greasy, fix the damn thing, and get back on the bike.  We cannot flop around for very long on a flat, just as we cannot flop around in a marriage where there are unresolved issues.  We must stop, fix the problem, kiss, get back in the game, and ride our asses off, ride this Life together.

I think we are deluded into thinking the wedding has anything to do with the marriage, just as signing up for the race has anything to do with actual racing.  It’s just the entry point.  The race and the marriage begin when both people work together: through spinning up that first hill and fixing up that first house; through burning muscles and raising children; through exhaustion and old age; through flat tires and illness.

When it’s all said and done, when we have reached the finish line and when we have raised our children, for all of our shared joy and pain, I hope to always grab a hold of this man who I have put all of my faith and all of my life into loving and say, “My love.  Thank you for the great ride.”

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