First, find a woman with infinite patience and a bad memory. At least, that's the way the old saw goes. Thirty-one years ago, Dana and I married in Austin, Texas, and boarded a plane for Japan to teach English. The first year of our marriage we slept on the floor on a futon built for one in an apartment so small--around 200 sq. ft.--that we had to roll up said futon and stuff it in our itsy-bitsy closet so we could walk around during the day. But we were newlyweds, so it was perfect.
We were dumb as dirt in those days. We didn't even know how to make rice! I thought I knew how to make rice: twice as much water as rice; cook twenty minutes. But the first time I made rice in Japan I got runny rice porridge. Indignant, I called mom. "Your recipe is wrong!" She suggested making rice is not rocket science and told me to try again. So, we tried again with the same result. "I know," Dana said one morning, "we need to find a Japanese housewife."
It didn't take long; Japanese housewives were everywhere. By the time I returned home from a grueling day of playing Duck, Duck, Goose in English with my fifth-graders, Dana had cracked the code: Japanese rice is different; you only use 10% more water than rice. Mom was impressed.
Those of you who have read the Kept books know that I occasionally poke fun at Dana. This is not difficult. Case in point: she once booked lodging for us (the kids were 3, 5 & 8) in Singapore. When we arrived at midnight, our "room" turned out to be an enormous, crowded youth hostel in the Muslim quarter with communal sleeping arrangements. We had to drag the children around in the dark, searching for empty bunks throughout the hostel, scaring the daylights out of more than one low-budget backpacker. By the time we'd tucked the kids into disparate sleeping arrangements and I'd made the rounds several times to make sure they hadn't been murdered, the dawn call to prayer went out from the mosque next door and everybody was wide awake. See what I mean? It's not hard. Nevertheless, Dana is my biggest fan. (It helps that I make fun of myself, too.) She never reviews my work before publication. "Nope. I trust you," she says, which I guess is a key ingredient to a successful marriage.
I made reservations at a top restaurant for our anniversary, but Dana was so discombobulated by the overwhelming amount of work required to move in days to an isolated, totalitarian dictatorship on the opposite side of the world--we have to paint Dana's beloved maroon truck white, because the Great Leader decreed all cars in Turkmenistan must be white--that she couldn't even think. So, instead of a romantic dinner, we stayed home and got organized, leading me to remark to an ad-hoc meeting of the Feminist Supper Club, "You know you've been married thirty-one years when your anniversary present to your wife is helping her consolidate her to-do lists."
The thirty-second year of our marriage will be a challenge. In days we'll leave our comfortable home in Austin for Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, the world's strangest city. The experience will generate boatloads of book material but will require sacrifice and flexibility (two more ingredients). But, as I wrote in Kept: An American Househusband in India, when faced with the frustrations of daily life, we can choose to laugh, cry or get angry. Dana and I plan to laugh as much as possible. Stay tuned.
P.S. - Dana, happy anniversary to us. I'll learn to play the guitar you bought me and sing you love songs in bed like you asked. Oh, I also got you this. - g