We have worked together for fifty years and slept in the same bed. Sometimes we speak with one voice; sometimes our languages are so different that we barely understand each other; but inevitably we hear that we’re singing the same song.
A few years ago I created a Book of Years, a album of facts and photos that started with a baby girl and a baby boy, then the growing-up and school years, and then the meeting, the wedding, the working, the son, the daughter, the thousands and thousands of miles as a family crammed into a Dodge van, and the performances we created together.
I made three copies of the album as Christmas gifts for the family; and true to form, I stayed up all night for two nights and a last-minute finish. Finally, at dawn, I looked at it and saw all those faces, those stories, all the things I thought I’d forgotten, saw the miles and days and nights that led from Then to Now, and thought, “My God, how did we do that?”
We’ve been a couple for five decades now, working as co-creators all that time. Sometimes people we meet really admire our track record as a long-term marriage but can’t quite wrap their heads around the idea of working 24/7 with the person you go to bed with. Well, yeah, we say, of course there have been rough places, some awful fights, but there was never any question that when we mated, it was for life.
This isn’t that self-help fix-it book with the seven secrets to try after you’ve exhausted the previous seven secrets. It’s simply the two of us trying to tell the truth about our span of fifty years and taking the risk of exploring what is the truth. We didn’t get married young due to pregnancy; it took us ten years to get a kid. But definitely when we met, something got pregnant.
We made art, we made kids, we made a life, and in a very real sense we made each other. I was a very wobbly first draft of myself in the fall of 1960, all edge and no center, and it was a miracle to fall head over heels in love with someone whose creativity was unstoppable. He became not only my lover, he became my gyroscope and my work list. I was too busy to fall apart very often or for very long, and as the years went on I found I’d been growing a soul while I wasn’t watching.
Once I had to go onstage in the throes of some thorny, tear-stained argument, and the first breath after lights-up brought a torrent of release. Hey, this is my partner. We know each other. We’re completely vulnerable to each other on-stage, seeing, responding, riding the rhythm, and when it’s over, we’ve repaired the disconnect.
In the Sumerian myth, when the goddess Inanna descends to visit her sister the Queen of the Underworld, she passes through seven gates. Each opening is so narrow that she must strip off a piece of her finery. Through loss, she reaches her destination. In other myths, you utter the magic word to open the gate to the treasure. But our own passages have been more like Inanna’s, scraping away all certainty to face an unknown future. When she passes the final gate, her challenges have only begun.
But gates do lead forward. Often, for us, we have only a hazy map scribbled in a dream. We seldom know where we’re going until we’ve arrived, and then we discover we’ve arrived at another gate.
We all know the classic jokes about marriage and the resultant seven-year itch. For us, that’s not been a one-time crisis. We’ve had a major seismic shift . . .