Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pets and Peeves

Relationships are supposed to be simple. You love someone, they love you, and so a bond is formed. Other loves shouldn’t run interference. Yet I’ve read more than one story of a cat or dog-loving individual who marries someone who despises the “filthy beasts” and shuns them with utter contempt.

Occasionally daily exposure to the other’s pet ends up magically cultivating a similar appreciation. But in other homes, things get nasty. The dynamics of the relationship clash. And human nature, being what it is, the pet is doted on more to make up for the other’s disdain which only magnifies the situation. And so soon the whole relationship is shabbily frayed.

But what could that possibly have to do with me? I didn’t bring any pets into this relationship. And the pets we have now were discussed and agreed upon. All I brought to this relationship were a few personal possessions, a meager number of books, a Scrabble game and several boxes of hand-written journals. Still Hub looked askance at those boxes and that Scrabble game with the same kind of skepticism bordering on abhorrence that I’ve seen reflected in the face of those who shun felines and canines.

I do think Hub resented my passion for Scrabble. But at the same time, after much pleading on my part, he eventually agreed to scrap Crib in favor of Scrabble. But he did complain – he complained that he was a poor speller and that he was not a Scrabble player. Still complaining, he took his chair at the table in front of the Scrabble board. We played and I beat him mercilessly the first two games. That’s when it occurred to me that maybe if I didn’t back off, he would stop playing.

But when Scrabble is such an enjoyable challenge as it has always been to me, it was difficult to ease up. And just when I was contemplating how to put such a plan into effect, I found it was not good to let down my guard. Because now with extra cajoling on my part, we played a third game and Hub handily won. And he won the fourth and fifth and sixth game as well.

And that is when our Scrabble playing abruptly came to an end. He said to me. “I don’t like this game. I have never liked this game. But since you insisted, I decided to play. But now that I consistently win, there is no reason to continue playing, is there?”

I’m a bit slow on the take-up sometimes. I didn’t realize until some years later what his strategy had been. I assumed that intellectually in word games, I was superior and therefore it was simply a bad stroke of luck. Bad letters. Too many I’s, too many U’s and not enough counters like X and J.

But Hub had a strategy. He concluded after the first two games that striving for a high-value word was not working, so he switched to defensive play. So now he would not build an obvious 7-letter word if it would set me up. Instead he plugged in two-letter words in places that would stalemate the game even though in doing so he was scoring no more than five points. And incredibly, it worked.

So that’s what happened with Scrabble, but I also loved to cuddle in bed with my words. Loved reading in bed. But here I fell into another snare. I, for one, cannot sleep with a light in my room. Never have. And I cannot sleep with someone next to me fidgeting or rustling paper. Regardless of all this, I read in bed for a short time after we were married, and Hub never complained, but I was bloody aware that if he ever adopted the habit, I would be livid. Lights on, glaring in my eyes, pages rustling when all I want is to go to sleep. It would drive me nuts. So I quit that as well.

Words to me are such a delight, but this delight was not shared by Hub. He is eternally frustrated by Politicians, Experts, and Newsmen that smudge the clarity of language with so many words. So I knew better than to allow all those extraneous and wildly imaginative adverbs and adjectives of mine to tumble about, shedding hair on the furniture and piddling behind the couch. Nevertheless, I cautiously continued word-play with my word-pets when left to my own devices.

Lucky for me, it is easier to keep word-pets in seclusion than animal-pets. I kept my words in my head. And then while shopping, baking, or when Hub was away, I took them out and arranged them and rearranged them. We cuddled and kissed. I stroked and examined them all the while looking for relationships, incongruities, contrasts, rhyme, reason and succinct expression.

So with that kind of caution and with so little exposure to my gaggle of words, Hub remained comfortable in his own philosophy that words are tools that have a purely functional purpose like an ax or a hammer. But for that practicality, I am pleased, in an “artful” way.

What an emotional tangle this relationship would be of jealousy, envy, and opposition if he loved my words as I do and wanted to sort and play and kiss and edit them in ways outside of my dominion and approval. That would be worse than interference in my kitchen.

And furthermore, if I had a Shakespearean-Chaucer-type mate, he would rip up this rant and tell me “If you’re going to write, write something worthwhile.”

Instead, when I read what I’ve written his feedback is as practical as the man.

“Good. But you need to shorten it up.”

4 comments:

Pauline said...

Roberta - you crack me up. I love that hub likes utilitarian words and you are pleased in an "artful" way. You are a great heart-smith as well as wordsmith!

Matty said...

Roberta,
Great post as usual...I wonder if opposites do attract? and maybe that's a good thing!
Personally I think you write only what you want read and the rest remains unsaid.
Hey that rhymes.

Roberta S said...

pauline, nice to see you. I should have known even if no one else caught that little phrase you would catch it and cipher it. It's nice to hear you chuckling. And nice to hear you laugh.

Roberta S said...

matty, nice bit of ad lib poetry there. You're probably right that opposites do attract but Hub and I are not so much the opposites we were in the early years -- stuff rubs off. I saw the Practical Man weeping tears over a sad dog show the other night and Emotional Woman has learned to set emotions aside when they are too much in the way.

Thanks for the comment, matty. Always such a pleasure to chat with you.