Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Mitford Wives

I just had an interesting conversation with my darling wife Colleen.

She just purchased a book called the Mitford Cookbook, a book of recipes inspired by characters in the Mitford series of novels. Neither of us have ever read the novels – apparently heartwarming pastiches of neighborhood life – she just thought it was an interesting comfort-food cookbook on sale.

So I looked through it, turned toward my budding-novelist spouse, and exclaimed, “How cool! Wouldn’t it be great to have your novel characters be so popular that they have their own cookbook? What a great idea to extend your ‘brand’!”

Colleen replied, “Yecch. I would never want my characters to have a cookbook. And the idea of using the word ‘brand’ in conjunction with a piece of literature makes my skin crawl.”

You see, Colleen’s novel is probably never going to about flowers, teddy bears, and domestic bliss like this Mitford series. Her books would be much more likely to examine the dark night of the soul, in characters that seethe with rage and anguish, but never actually talk constructively to one another as years and generations go by. People who, in my view, should be rushed by ambulance to one of my communications skills training programs.

I love being in Colleen’s life, but I would hate being in one of her novels. And the more I think about it, if her characters ever wrote a cookbook, it would be about whatever angry intellectual deconstructionists prepare for their dysfunctional families. And I agree that, in hindsight, they probably wouldn’t make for good stuffed animal tie-ins.

Which brings me to a much deeper point. How much do you appreciate the differences in your own family and workplace relationships? I am a pretty sunny, happy, straightforward, extraverted kind of guy. But I didn’t marry someone just like myself. I married someone whose tastes lean toward late nights, brooding novels, beautiful art, and unsolvable mysteries of life. And that is probably why I am still madly in love after all of these years. She makes my life interesting, and I make hers run smoothly. We ground each other, even if it means that I had better not ask about “branding” the characters in her novel.

So, do you appreciate and cherish the differences around you? And use those differences to learn how to speak to other people? I am still learning, and so should you.

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