Of conscience and creativity

There's a man who fires my imagination ... but how far will it go before it threatens my marriage?

By Cary Tennis
Published May 9, 2013 4:00AM (UTC)
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(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I've followed you for what feels like 10 years, as I've traversed the quarter-life crisis and crises of creativity that speak powerfully to the blood that has always run through my veins.

So now I come to you with a more commonplace problem in some ways, but still so connected to the vein of creativity that you speak so well to.


There is a man. Isn't there always? An older man, and one I work with. So banal, I know. But we've been as you might call it, "good," or as good as one can be as two married people. We've admitted our attraction to each other, but agreed it would be reckless, careless and selfish to take it any further. I am not under any illusion that I love him, but I do enjoy his company. And that's my dilemma.  After traveling with him for work this week, staying up just talking until the sun came up, I suddenly feel a wave of creativity rushing my every sense. It's like being a teenager again, but one who's actually read ee cummings, Whitman and Milton. I find myself scooping up old poetry books, reading Shakespeare and even writing down the colors of this strange, yet I imagine so universal, blend of emotions. It's addicting in the way that any other vice might be, but I'm still young (so they tell me, at 28), so still learning the ways of this strange and wonderful world.

So my question is, what do I do about all this? The conflict in this emotional-but-not-physical affair is feeding my intense desire to feel human, to feel what it's like again to struggle against my otherwise easy, carefree world. But of course, my rational side tells me there's no good way this thing ends. But how do I murder the Muse? How does one say no to something that makes one feel so damn alive? And I'm happy, really, in every other way of the world. Unlike so many in my generation, I want for very little -- so it seems entirely selfish to risk any of it for that piece of the artist in me that wants to experience everything, good and bad, that this world has to offer. I don't think I've crossed any red line or any point of no return, but I suppose that's why I've come to you before I do. I trust in your experience of this world, of the writer that wants to feel it all, but also of the human being that knows how other human beings can be hurt by these addictions.

Thank you, for this, and all of it always


Caught Between Conscience and Creativity

Dear Caught Between Conscience,

Well, pour it into art. That's one way. Pour it all, all your soul's craziness, all your excesses, all your incomprehensible and frightening passions, pour it all into art. Use therapy and exercise and swimming and writing to keep yourself together. You are not these things; you are the container. You are the vessel, the host, for the world's movement through you. Read Jung. He will remind you. Read his "Psychology and Religion." And meditate. And find a window in your house where you can sit and be this other person that you become in this man's presence.


Be that person. Also, and most important: bring that person -- that other person that is also you! -- into your marriage. Be that person in your marriage.

Perhaps this is too idealistic of me, but a marriage should be able to contain this. A marriage should be a container big enough for all of you. Why is it not so? Why does marriage shrink instead of grow? Because we withhold so much of ourselves from it? Because we do not force it to expand to hold us all? I think perhaps that is so. I think perhaps in protecting it we do not test it. We do not test our partners to see how much they can hold, know, contain, accept, experience of us. And so the marriage does not grow because we do not force it to stretch.


So this is the theoretical, ideal way: Take these things into your marriage and make them a part of your marriage. I am picturing a container that is stretchable. I am thinking this is normal. This happens to many people. I am thinking it is the arrival, or the awakening, of some side of you that has been neglected and is hungry. It is hungry because it was not included in the marriage in the beginning. You started out as a certain person and if you change, you think, that change is not part of the marriage. But the marriage must change. It must accept that you do not stop growing when you get married.

But maybe you fear if you release even a tiny bit of this into the marriage it will become about jealousy and fear. Maybe your husband will see only the part of this that is about another man. Or maybe it will awaken his own fears about his own interest in others outside the marriage. Then you will have to talk about that. Perhaps talking about that is overdue. Do you fear rejection or a blowup? Do you fear that deep down you want to leave your husband? These fears happen when we clamp down too hard. But it is not about the man. It is about what he awakens in you, right? So this part of you that is awakened, take this into the marriage. And then what? Pay attention to what happens when you bring this into the marriage. Perhaps this part of you when you take it into the marriage feels suffocated. It cannot grow there. Then what? Then the marriage must change. Because if there is no room for this in the marriage the marriage must open up. A new door must be put in. A new wing must be built. You need a new room in your marriage for this kind of thing, like a sunny studio for your portraiture.

Cary Tennis

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