Advice for Two Creatives Who Decided to Get Married

Listen to this episode

Speaker 1: This Ad Free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. More.

Karen Hahn: Hello and welcome to another episode of Working Overtime. Working is biweekly advice focused side hustle. I’m your host, Karen Hahn.

Isaac Butler: And I am your other host, Isaac Butler.

Karen Hahn: How are you doing, Isaac?

Isaac Butler: You know, I just went on this big family vacation to the Grand Canyon and it was really great. And the desert, I think I’m just going to move to, like a year in the middle of the desert. Yeah. Yeah. So how about you? Are you planning to move to a year anywhere?

Advertisement

Karen Hahn: No, not yet.

Isaac Butler: You’re in the middle of Silver Lake.

Karen Hahn: I mean, that could be nice. I mean, I wouldn’t say no if someone just offered me a Silver Lake real estate.

Isaac Butler: Yeah, who doesn’t want that?

Karen Hahn: But that said, what we are here to talk about is a listener voicemail, which I wonder if I have to do the jingle, because they very kindly did the jingle themselves, which you will hear.

Isaac Butler: I think the more times we do the jingle about listener voicemail, the better, frankly.

Karen Hahn: I mean, I also feel like, though, the more that we do it, the more that we should just have like a button for it and it shouldn’t just be us, like singing it into the void every time.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Isaac Butler: There’s going to turn to, like a morning zoo type thing where we just have, like, a lot of sound effects and whatever.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Karen Hahn: Yeah. Okay. So we received this voicemail from Maggie Cooper and Ashley Travis, Sachi. I’m so sorry if I’m pronouncing your names incorrectly. Thank you so much for calling in on being a creative couple. And let’s listen to their voicemail now.

Speaker 4: Hello, working. We are calling with a listener a voicemail about being a creative couple. We are both writers and while there are many things that are wonderful about getting to share this part of our lives, we’ve also noticed that we sometimes struggle with the fact that we have different creative rhythms. One of us might have a particularly generative season, while the other one is not writing much and vice versa, which can sometimes cause tension. It’s not so much that we feel competitive with each other, more that when the writing is going well for one of us and not as well for the other, it’s hard for either of us to feel like we can share our experiences without making the other person feel bad. Do you have any advice for creative couples like us? We’re really just trying to write some essays and stories and also stay married.

Advertisement

Karen Hahn: Thank you. All right. So to kick off Isaac, I know that you haven’t really worked in a creative partnership like the one that they’re describing, right?

Isaac Butler: Yes, that’s true. Dan Coates and I never got married. But, you know, I mean, look, this is what I’ll say. I think on some level, all long term relationships are creative acts. You know, you’re creating a life together. You’re doing that in a way that involves a lot of the same tools like imagination and collaboration and learning how to do conflict and problem solving that are similar to making art. But to really answer your question, no. Before we got married, my wife co-produced two plays I directed with me, but that’s about it. But this is very different from you because your romantic partner is also your writing partner for screenplays, right?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Karen Hahn: Yeah, that’s correct. We’ve been writing together for about two years now, so I definitely and maybe closer to the question that they’re asking than you are. That said, I know you have experience. The thing that Maggie and Ashley you’re talking about, which is the idea of creative seasons, because I think all of us go through this and if you don’t go through this, then holy cow, more kudos to you. But do you have similar worries about talking about navigating those creative ups and downs with your creative friends?

Isaac Butler: Oh, yeah, sure. And in fact, we have a recent episode where you interviewed someone who never has a creative fallow period, and that was mind blowing to me. But, you know, most of the writers I know who I am friends with and this is a, you know, maybe this is because I’ve cultivated them for this have an incredible feeling of solidarity about this stuff. Right? Like they all have had periods where it’s going poorly. So if it’s going well, they know how to sympathize with that and vice versa.

Advertisement

Isaac Butler: I’m on a group chat, that’s all writers of one kind or another, and it’s a really supportive environment because we’ve all been through the same shit, you know, just because you’re having a good run right now and I’m having a bad run right now doesn’t mean I can’t be happy for you or, you know, whatever.

Isaac Butler: But I will also say that, like through sharing your creativity and the problems you’re having in the successes you’re having, because I think a lot of us and I’m guessing this is true in in this voicemail as well, it’s actually the successes that can be harder to share, you know, than than the struggles, because we’re so used to talking about our problems and not about the things that and it’s hard, but but through doing that, you learn who you can do that with and who you can’t because you know you can’t do the same thing in every single friendship and friendship serve different purposes, I think.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Karen Hahn: All right. So we are going to dig a little more closely into Maggie and Ashley specific question. But before we do that, we’re going to take a little break and we’ll be right back after that. Hey, listeners. Is there a particular creative struggle you’d like to hear us tackle? Let us know by emailing us at. Working at Slate.com. Or even better, you can call us and leave a message at 3049339675. That’s 304933w0rk. All right. So let’s get a little bit more into Maggie and Ashley’s question. You’ve at least worked with people, if not as closely as they’re describing. And I want.

Isaac Butler: To indeed work with people. Yes.

Advertisement

Karen Hahn: We all do. Nobody nobody’s an island. But how do you navigate working with someone else? How do you make sure you’re being considerate of someone else’s feelings?

Isaac Butler: Well, you know, I will actually say that sometimes. And maybe this is because I’m a middle child or something. I think I’m actually a little too conscious of other people. You know, I can have trouble sharing my success out of fear. It’ll make someone feel bad. Or if things are not going well, I don’t want to burden people. You know, I mean, when you’re in an actual creative collaboration with someone, I think that the secret to having a good relationship that’s considerate of the other person’s feelings is just to put the thing that you are creating together at the center of that relationship that, you know, that has its own needs, and that’s more important than your own ego. And usually one of the needs that it has is that the two of you be considerate of each other, you know? Yeah.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Isaac Butler: I also think that the better you know, someone, the better you’re going to be able to read them and to know when they’re not. It’s a good time to say a certain thing or to learn how to phrase feedback so that it can be heard or how to really make someone feel seen, or how to ask someone to see you in the way you need to be seen. You know, things like that. But that only comes from trial and error, you know, like long term relationships, whether they’re creative friendships, romantic relationships, family relationship. There’s going to be moments where you fuck up and those are important. Like those moments of failure are important because that is how you’ll learn. Just like in a long term romantic relationship, you don’t want to just learn how to avoid arguments. Although there’s some times where you need to avoid an argument, you really want to learn how to have an argument in the best possible way, a way that brings you closer together and moves the problem forward in the relationship forward. You know what I mean?

Advertisement

Karen Hahn: Yeah. And I think it’s also kind of worth noting that you are allowed to sort of take a step back and ask the other person, like, what do you need for me to do? Like, What do you want this conversation, for example? I think this kind of went around about a year ago, the discussion of being like, sometimes people just want to vent and you have to ask, are you telling me this just because you want to vent about it? Or is this a discussion in which you want me to contribute what I think about it and try to help?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Isaac Butler: That’s funny because that’s something my wife and I do and have done for a really long time. But mostly because we’ve been together. You know, we’re older than dirt now, but, you know, mostly because of how long we’ve been together. But, you know, one of the things we learned really early on is like we both have difficult jobs and there’s a lot of stress and sometimes you just need to vent, you know? And so one of us will either ask that question of the other one or actually one of us will start talking and then be like, by the way, I’m just venting. I just need to vent. I don’t want advice and be like, Great, okay, cool. Yeah, vent. Or sometimes the other person goes like, Actually, I’m in my own shit right now and I need to not have all that negativity at me. So can we talk about this later, you know? And I think that’s really important, like talking about what you want out of those conversations, I think is really vital.

Advertisement

Karen Hahn: Yeah. And I think another tough thing here is that Maggie and Ashley, what they’re describing isn’t something that’s exactly within your control. And I guess I’m talking about this in a sort of solitary or one sided way. But it’s important to talk about still, because you can’t control when inspiration will strike you and how do you stop beating yourself up about things like that?

Isaac Butler: Yes. You cannot summon Apollo to come to you and, you know, give it to you. It’s funny, because, you know, my whole book, the method, the method really started because Constantine, Sarah Slutsky, wanted to figure out how to get inspired on demand. He really like, he was like, maybe there’s a way that you can just get inspired on demand. Inspiration cannot be controlled. You can create an environment within yourself and within your work that’s, you know, more receptive to inspiration, but you can’t control it in terms of not beating yourself up.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Isaac Butler: If you know the answer to this question, please tell me, because I feel like we and our listeners, we could all be saving so much money on therapy because like I have been learning and working very hard to not beat myself up because that is absolutely the reflexive place that I go to. It’s just an emotional reflex I can’t control. You know, there was a time when I believed that I needed that voice of anxiety to create that. If I wasn’t like writing myself really hard, I just spend all day playing Cult of the LAMB or whatever.

Karen Hahn: Good game.

Isaac Butler: It’s amazing right now. I probably would do that, but now I feel like, look, I’ve written a couple of books, I freelance, I teach, like I work extremely hard. I clearly don’t actually need that voice. I can’t stop. The voice from coming. But I can just be like, okay, this is just a reflex. I have time to get back to work. You know, everyone has their fallow periods and that’s okay.

Karen Hahn: And do you have any advice about overcoming that kind of creative fallow period?

Isaac Butler: Yeah. I mean, like I said, you can’t force inspiration, you know, so part of it is to let go of the idea that you’re going to force that inspiration. You’re going to make yourself more receptive to it, but you can’t you can’t force it. And you just have to have faith that it will come back. And in the meantime, you can create habits and structures that will make inspiration more likely to strike. You can do mourning pages. You can meditate. You can look up a list of weird artistic prompts for whatever your discipline is and do one every day. You can make sure you’re regularly encountering art in all of its forms, you know, going to museums, watching movies, reading books. And, you know, the nice thing about being in a relationship with another artist is that you can also use your own fallow period as an opportunity to be as generous to them and be there for them as much as possible. I really do find that it’s often by giving to other people that we find nourishment for ourselves. And that’s true both in life and in art.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Karen Hahn: That’s a really, really lovely sentiment. And we are going to Isaac’s next book will be a calendar of inspirational quotes.

Isaac Butler: That’s true.

Karen Hahn: We are going to dig a little bit more again into the core of Maggie and Ashley’s problem. But before we do that, we are going to take another break and we’ll be right back after this.

Karen Hahn: Hi, listeners. I just want to remind you that if you’re enjoying working overtime, please subscribe so that you never miss an episode. If you listen on Apple Podcasts, we would love for you to rate or review the show. It really does help new listeners to find us. And if Overcast is your app of choice, please hit the star to recommend the episode to others. Thank you. So in their voicemail, Maggie and Ashley also note that it’s not a sense of competitiveness that makes things kind of tough. I may be projecting from my own experiences, but it seems like a feeling of giltinis over not being productive is kind of the big problem here, especially in relation. And I think this is a crucial part to comparing your quote unquote success to that of others. Have you dealt with this kind of problem and what did you do about it?

Isaac Butler: Oh, yeah. I mean, I think everyone deals with this. If you’re going to like try to be creative, you know, I mean, I just went through what you could maybe call a recharging period after the book came out, you know, in part because all my creative energy was going to make sure people had heard about the book and would go buy it or preparing for interviews or whatever. And that felt weird every single day. I it’s like part of what it is is that, you know, if you care about your art and I’m sure you’ve recently experienced this with your book as well, you know, working hard and being productive and delving in and solving those kinds of problems, it it feels really good. It feels really good to accomplish that. And I think that when you’re in this sort of recharging moment, it’s really easy for your brain to just miss that little dopamine bump it’s getting from being successful at this stuff, you know, because you’re doing other things.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Isaac Butler: And I really do think you need that time, though, to, like, be a human being, to connect to your friends and your life, to reconnect to yourself, to to expand, you know, your soul and who you are. Because the fuller human being you are, the better your art will be. And many times the easier will actually be to make the art once you go back to it.

Isaac Butler: So there’s a weird way in which I know exactly what you mean, because I sort of read the same subtext into that question of like, you know, if I’m the one not doing well or if I, you know, if we’re not in the same place, how can we connect? But, you know, there’s a weird way in which it sounds to me like Maggie and Ashlee are being too hard on themselves and maybe too nice to each other. It’s okay for you and your partner to just not be in the same place spiritually, mentally, in fact, you know, having to reach beyond yourself to understand where they are and be with them in that moment is a really great way, I think, to kind of like expand your humanity and expand your love for one another. And sometimes that’s going to cause conflict. And that’s okay because part of being married is sharing the fullness of yourself with another person. Just like part of making art is sharing a part of yourself with the world, you know what I mean?

Karen Hahn: Yeah, absolutely.

Karen Hahn: And I think on my friend, as someone whose partner is a creative partner and romantic partner, I guess I have sort of two pieces of advice. One of them, I feel like, I’m sure Maggie and Ashley, as very astute listeners of this podcast, will already have sort of done, but it’s to sort of maybe try to break things down into a more micro, like when you’re discussing the work that you’re doing, maybe more specifically talk about one idea or one paragraph or one line, like one thing, just so that the macro side of it where it’s like, Oh, I’m working on this big project that I’m feeling really inspired about versus I’m working on a project that I’m not feeling inspired about that difference maybe feels a little bit smaller.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Karen Hahn: And I guess my other suggestion would be maybe try to find something outside of work to work on together as well, but specifically something that you’re working on together, not a project where it’s like you’re each writing different essays, because I think that’s one of the things that I maybe have an advantage in terms of my creative relationship because my partner and I are working on the same project. It’s not like we’re both working on different screenplays and comparing notes at that point. We have one project that we’re both contributing to, which I think lessons that feeling a lot, although I completely understand that it’s not always possible, but it could be as easy as like playing Luigi’s Mansion three or two together or like doing a board game or a puzzle. So maybe just like trying to figure it out in another medium would be helpful.

Isaac Butler: Although man that boss fight in Luigi’s Mansion three where you’re in the pool with the boat is really badly. I think that boss fight could cause divorces.

Karen Hahn: Boats and games are always bad. It’s not your fault.

Isaac Butler: It’s not your fault. Just like it’s not your fault. If you have a creatively fallow period or anything, you just. You just it’ll. It’ll go away. Your creativity will come back. What a good ranking is where he is the king of Segways.

Karen Hahn: It’s true. I bow down to Isaac in all respects, as you may have gathered. That is all the time that we have for this episode. Thank you so much for listening and thank you so much to Maggie and Ashley for calling in. And if you like the show, don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and if you have ideas for things we could do better or questions you’d like us to address, we would love to hear from you. You can send us an email at working at Slate.com or give us a ring at 3049330rk.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Isaac Butler: If you would like to support the things. We do here at working sign up for Slate Plus at Slate.com slash working plus you’ll get bonus content, including exclusive episodes of slow burn and Big Mood. Little Mood. You’ll get extra segments of this show. You’ll get full access behind the paywall. It’s pretty great. And it’s only $1 for the first month.

Karen Hahn: Big, big thanks to Kevin Bendis and to our series producer Cameron Juice. We’ll be back on Sunday with a brand new episode of Working and in two weeks we’ll have another working overtime. Until then, get back to work.