Living Apart Together or An Anatomy of Anxiety

This blog still exists! (I yell into the void) As it turns out, everyone was right: the first year of an assistant-professorship is grueling and exhausting and all of my precious writing energy had to be collected–like I was Robert Redford on a life raft and it was desalinated sea water–and used on my novel. Anything left over has been diverted into my mental Worries About The House hanging file folder which now includes reams of jittery narratives about heat-oil costs and fuel-pump bleeding and frozen P-traps and tiny plumbers (that crawl space is small, yo). It has not been a relaxing seven months since this pet train arrived on the Eastern Shore and put its pawprint on the deed and mortgage. Seven months is a long time to hold your breath, but here I am. Holding. Not to worry, dear reader, forces have been marshalled to deal with all this, but it is, I’m sure you’ll agree, quite a lot to deal with. Literally everything has been new to me since August. Being married, home repairs, hiring plumbers, professing, all that small daily stuff that is invisible when you’re familiar with it but a mysterious pain when you’re not. This is the kind of state where being relaxed is literally impossible because the moment one’s body begins to experience something like relaxation, the hedgehog brain sends quills of panic out in all directions because being too relaxed could lead to something awful, like forgetting to finish the lesson plans for Monday.

So I quit drinking coffee, at which point things get better, briefly, but an absence can only provide so much relief for so long. Anxiety abhors a vacuum? In any case, one of the things anxiety loves is you, separated from your dogs and husband for months at a time. All that silence and space around the body–anxiety rushes in, some element heavier, denser than air.

It’s hard to Google this.

There’s a lot of information out there about how to be a stay-at-home-mom when your husband must travel for work–a lot of good, practical and totally useless-to-me advice. The slightly less gender-normative advice is dumb: Don’t go on dates with other people. Agree to talk to your spouse on the phone twice per day and stick to that decision even if you’re busy. Really, just marriage advice for an asshole. The stuff I’ve found about academic couples is usually pointed at the academy: either universities should be making more accommodations for married couples or fewer. Or it’s suspiciously sunny: in one article, four academic couples were interviewed and all of them agreed that living apart was no big deal and totes worth it for their awesome university jobs. While I’m skeptical of the latter, and, in the case of the former, I do think activism is important, I haven’t yet found advice out there about where to put the loneliness, the brutal mammalian stress of being separated from a bonded mate, from a pack. How do you wake up every morning and not feel an immediate crushing sadness? Sadness is a different creature from depression. It feels like something to acknowledge, to sit with, to honor, but then how to move it out of the way when the honoring is over? I haven’t lost anyone–do I even have the right to call this grief?

For a while I didn’t want to talk about this because I’m afraid it makes me sound weak. I’m afraid I am weak. I’m a feminist, a writer, an academic. I’m supposed to be strong. Am I? Maybe I’m not. But I didn’t understand how hard it would be to live away from my husband, even though I am an introvert who requires massive amounts of alone time to recharge, especially during the semester, even though I am–or was, perhaps a little defiantly, a little shamefully, deep in my heart–of the like-a-fish-needs-a-bicycle camp. But it is not the man I need, it is the person himself, the partner it took me a lifetime of painful looking and failure to find.

I really like my new job and my new home, but I need something more, something else in order for this to feel like the adventure it is. Right now it feels too much like women’s lit. I need a change of genre. Something with more swashbuckling and less crying.



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