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Author has marriage issues all locked up

'Wedlocked' shows how couple wrestles with difficult times


Jay Ponteri's new book.The ingredients for a stellar memoir are simple: lay your soul bare for all to judge you.

Actually doing that, though, takes exploring your own psyche to a terrifying degree. Portland writer Jay Ponteri braved those waters to publish “Wedlocked.”

A few years ago, Ponteri, the director of the undergraduate creative writing program at Marylhurst University, began writing a journal about his marriage. He planned on eventually using the thoughts to form the basis of a work of fiction. After a time, though, he realized that he had developed a complete memoir chronicling his difficulties with his marriage as he finds himself infatuated with a woman other than his wife.

“Wedlocked,” published by Hawthorne Books in Portland, was well widely praised and recently won the Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction.

The Portland Tribune caught up with Ponteri to talk about the unique twist of “Wedlocked,” the aftermath of the book, and how he now feels about marriage:

Portland Tribune: Why did you decide to write a book examining your marriage?

Jay Ponteri: I just started writing about my own dividedness and mixed feelings about my marriage with the intent that I would eventually turn it into fiction. After a couple of years I realized I was working on nonfiction. The book really describes not so much a marriage, but the experience of loneliness inside of a marriage. I really wanted to see inside of a married man’s head. I felt like I was writing a book that I needed to read.

Tribune: Was it unnerving to write about things so personal?

Ponteri: Not when I was writing it. It was what I needed to do to understand what I was inside of. The unnerving part is publishing it. I finished the book in 2010 and I sat on it for a while. It was a time when my marriage was healing from all of the uncertainties the book catalogs. As my marriage grew stronger and I was revising the book, I started thinking of sharing and publishing it.

Tribune: How did your wife feel about everything you wrote about?

Ponteri: I’m not going to speak for her. That’s one of our policies about how we’re dealing with the fact of the book. The only difference (in our marriage) between what happened in the book and what happens in our lives now is we really deal with it together. The book is about the experience of somebody who resists dealing with difficult things.

Tribune: In the aftermath of the book, what are your thoughts on the institution of marriage?

Ponteri: The book reveals a certain kind of cynicism toward marriage. But after staying in my marriage and enduring its most difficult moment ... (marriage) is still very mysterious to me. As a culture we don’t do very well with it. And yet we reach for it. I’ve learned to embrace its mystery.

Tribune: What is next for you as a writer?

Ponteri: I have a chapbook (small book) called “Darkmouth Strikes Again” coming out by Future Tense Books. It’s a small version of a larger manuscript where I’m writing about my experience of struggling with depression. It’s a different work and feel. It’s very short sections meditating about what it means to struggle with

depression.