Next Monday I’m starting my internship with Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The bad news is that I’m going to be apart from Matt, my husband, for the 10 weeks of that internship. It’s painful being apart. The best metaphor I’ve come up with for being in love is that we exchanged hearts–he has mine and I have his. Existing thousands of miles apart feels as untenable as living off of a heart pumping in another state; we manage. We did for 4 years (our 6.5 year anniversary as a couple is in 2 weeks).
There are small things which make it better. Nightly phone calls; a stupidly rote approach to detailing our days to each other–the tiny things which we’d only think to tell each other. Regular trips back to our home base in Seattle. Mailing tiny things to each other: when we were apart for 6 weeks at the end of last semester, I bought a bunch of silly Minecraft magnets on Etsy and mailed them to him, so he had little reminders I was in our (still then bare) apartment.
When Matt and I first started dating, our Junior year of high school, we had exceptionally little time between us for relationships. I had wrestling from 3 – 6; he had gymnastics from 6 – 9. Both of us got to school before 8am every day. I never had free periods and we only occasionally shared lunch periods. We sat next to each other in classes and between classes but most of our hang-out time was through Gmail.
Somewhere in my inbox’s archive, I have email chains 100s of emailslong where we just shared silly things. It would be cool if we were having big, important philosophical conversations (which we do! I swear.) but I think most of the textual evidence of our friendship comes in the form of xkcd comics and news links and class gossip.
Every time we prep for an extended parting, I try to come up with something different we can do. It’s not just that I’m easily bored: being apart lends itself to stasis, to each of us keeping up a holding pattern rather than progressing. Perhaps in the fear we’ll change apart if we dare to change at all. So it’s an act of faith and trust that I try new things when I’m away and an act of will when I channel those new experiences into our nightly phone calls and silly chat-chains and face-to-face storytelling when we see each other.
Last time we were apart–those 6 weeks when Matt was setting up at Amazon and I was finishing college–Matt’s radio at work broke. I had a few hours free, so I started making him a playlist of YouTube videos with music both of us enjoyed. I kept working on it through finals and graduation weekend: refining the order, changing out the musicians, grabbing different interpretations. I fell in love with nearly everything Scala and Kolacny Brothers does (a Belgian women’s choir which covers pop standards).
He didn’t ever listen to it at work, and we didn’t have internet in our apartment until yesterday, but he got bits and pieces of it at the internet cafe down the street. And making it helped me. There’s not much that I make with my hands right now–the odd pancake, my collection of provably unkillable plants (truly, truly: I shipped them USPS in a box and they’re fine), folded laundry. But the weaver in me wants to make things for my love, wants to give shape to some of the feelings I have.
There was no bigger crowning moment of awesome for me in Doctor Who than when Neil Gaiman let us know that it’s people who are bigger on the inside. Sometimes I need to take those feelings out from my inside and make them into something. A song is good; a cake is better; something that won’t die or crack is best. A playlist will work until I have space in my time and life for a loom or pottery wheel. So here’s what I made:
Idris [Woman inhabited by the soul of the TARDIS]: Are all people like this?
The Doctor: Like what?
Idris: So much bigger on the inside. I’m— Oh, what is that word? It’s so big. And so complicated. And so sad.
–“The Doctor’s Wife” Written by Neil Gaiman