Jo Piazza is the author of the new memoir How to Be Married. Her other books include The Knockoff (with Lucy Sykes) and If Nuns Ruled the World. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The New York Daily News. She lives in San Francisco.
Q: Why did you decide to write this new memoir about your first year of marriage, and did you write it as you went along or looking back at the end of the year?
A: I was terrified when I got engaged, completely convinced I would screw up the best thing in my life. It wasn't just that I didn't know how to take care of another person, I hardly knew how to take care of myself.
Everyone from the checkout clerk at Trader Joe's to your great aunt to Oscar winning celebrities likes to tell you marriage is hard, but no one tells you how it is hard or what to do about it.
My engagement got more likes on Facebook than any job promotion I’d ever been given or the publication of one of my books. It was clear that the world thought this was the most important thing I’d ever done. That freaked me out, and it also made me a little sad.
I had no good parental role models. My parents were married for 40 years and hated one another. And as for books on how to be a good feminist and be a good wife? Forget about it. They don't exist.
There’s also no real modern feminist’s guide to marriage. In fact it’s almost considered an afterthought, something still occasionally done out of necessity and the desire to procreate. No one talks about what it means to have a truly modern marriage.
As a journalist I tend to report my way out of confusing situations. So, that's what I decided to do with my marriage. I would ask hundreds of people around the world what makes a good marriage. We crowdsource everything else in our lives these days, why not this?
A few months after Nick and I got married we found out that I have a rare form of muscular dystrophy that might start to affect my muscles and ability to walk in a few years, maybe five, maybe 10, maybe 20. The doctors actually have no idea.
But this also put our marriage in perspective and made me want to get things right early on.
Experts, like marriage counselors and gurus call the first of marriage the “wet cement” year because it’s the year where a couple sets habits and patterns that can last for the rest of their lives.
I knew that if we spent the first year traveling the world and mixing up our cement until we found things that really worked for us we’d be happier in the long run.
I wrote the majority of it in real time.
Q: You deal with some very difficult issues in the book, particularly relating to health—how hard was it to write about that?
A: It was the hardest thing I've ever had to write. I've never written about myself so honestly in long-form and it was similar to going through therapy in a lot of ways. It's much easier to write about other people, both real and fictional.
Q: At the end of the book, you offer some advice about marriage. What would you say are the most important lessons you learned?
A: You need to stay your own person. I heard this over and over again in every single culture, even the more conservative ones. Your spouse cannot be your everything. You have to maintain your own life outside of the marriage or your marriage is much more likely to fail.
I spent a lot of time talking to Orthodox Jewish women in Jerusalem. I wanted to know how they kept their marriages strong and their families safe in the face of constant political and social upheaval.
What we talked about the most was self care, taking the time to take care of yourself before you try to take care of a partner or your family so that you can stay strong and centered through both good times and bad.
Q: As someone who writes both fiction and nonfiction, do you have a preference, and is your writing process different depending on the type of book?
A: My writing process is the same for everything I write. I write about five pages a day, no matter what, no matter how busy I am or how I'm feeling and I don't go back and edit it for a couple of weeks.
I finally go into the document when I have 50 new pages. I think it helps just to get it out and then to go back and play with it. Opening the manuscript and forcing yourself to write every day is the biggest thing for me.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on a new novel. I'll be able to talk more about it soon.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb