The Collaborative Marriage
Working together, professionally, sheds an interesting light onto the structures, the work, of creating a life together.
The conversation goes like this: “Oh, I could never work with my husband.”
“Hmmm,” I say, “Well, I bet you do. You have a place to live, right? You’ve got kids. You go on vacations… all of that takes collaboration.”
Working together, professionally, has given Hal and I lots of structure to navigate the everyday kinds of collaboration that happen in a marriage.
We run our business from an old farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, which is as absurd as it is romantic. How we work together, how we collaborate, has everything to do with how we flourish.
We, like many before us, bought our country house as a sometimes-refuge from the assault of city life — or more precisely, from the assault of city work. We have lived in New York City a few different times over the years, and I came to realize that, for me, living in Manhattan was really only working in Manhattan. There is so much there to take advantage of, but we didn’t. We worked.
Hal and I partner in Johnson + Wolverton, a boutique brand agency. He’s a media artist and I’m a brand strategist. We’ve been working together for over 20 years, leading creative on projects for global brands like Jaguar, BBC America, Comedy Central, and Dos Equis — walking to work in the city was often an exercise in jealousy or disdain because the streets are covered in the kind of work we do.
Socializing in the buzz of the city was socializing in a massive sphere of like-minded people who shared our passion. And as often as not, it was sharing time with people we worked with. I loved it, but it was, undeniably, a bit of an echo chamber.
Because we were rarely home, meals shared in our apartment were generally ordered in. Delicious (NYC has the best restaurants after all), but still, for my soul, it was a little chilly. I noticed that I bought fresh herbs the way I bought flowers: as decoration. They were a taunt of sorts, a reminder of something I valued, but didn’t do.
When we bought the farm, the lure of starting the weekend working from upstate on a Friday took hold quickly. Then came the dance of stretching the weekend out to also include working remotely on a Monday… and then a series of eye surgeries had me take a good, long look at everything.
I learned, in that long look, that there are a few basic things that make me happy in my life and my work: I like to have a good deal of time alone. I need time to think. I like the kitchen and the garden to be connected to my studio. I didn’t discover this truth, I came back to it. Hal, too, needs his space. His studio is in the barn. For him, a drill press is as central to being ready for a project as is a camera. (You wouldn’t believe the amount of gear we travel with.)
Hal and I have been married for 27 years. That’s enough time to figure a few things out, like how to get our asses out of the city. And that’s what this series is about. Figuring things out. Collaborating. We collaborate on client projects and personal projects. Those projects take us around the world, but we return home to a farm in the middle of nowhere, where our life is a collaboration on thriving.