Saturday, April 25, 2009

Read Ask My About My Divorce



I used to be one of the writers for The Boston Globe's "A Reading Life" column, work I adored.  When they pared down the column, they offered me the chance to write the bi-monthly Sunday Self Help column instead, and I jumped at the chance to do it, both to keep working for a place and people I loved, and because, frankly, I like the idea of Self Help.  I don't think Self Help has to be all about "Ten Ways You Can Make Yourself Into A Hot Mama" and there are actually some fabulous, quirky, and very smart books out there and I like that it is my job to point out those sort of books to others.  

I became friends with Candace Walsh after I read Ask Me About My Divorce, which means  I can't give it press in The Boston Globe or Dame Magazine, but I can, with full disclosure, write about her book here.  As someone who also had a much better life after getting out of a bad marriage, and who has a wonderful second marriage after getting out of a disturbingly controlling relationship, I loved her take on the Great Split. Divorce can be liberating.  Divorce is not always traumatic.  Divorce can open up worlds.  And as someone who writes about her life--including my own relationship splits--in essays and for anthologies, I was fascinated by the stories all these women told.

The website will be up May 1st, and there's a great interview in Redbook here. Candace was great enough to let me ask her tons of annoying questions, too.  Thank you Candace!

What gave you the idea to do a book about divorce?

 I was chatting with a woman at a dinner party, and the topic of my divorce came up. Instead of launching into an entirely mournful and sympathetic response, she asked, neutrally, "How's that going?" "Great, actually," I said, surprised that that was the answer that surfaced when I wasn't in the midst of disentangling myself from another person's projection of how horrible divorce must be. "Awesome!" she said. "I got divorced, and I've never regretted it. My life has improved so much since then."  "The whole idea of divorce needs a makeover." I riffed. "Divorce is rad--it's leveled my life in some ways, but there is so much fertile growth going on." It felt like accelerated time lapse photography of springtime coming on, lushly and ferociously. And we toasted to that.

            Unlike many "great ideas" that I've had at a dinner party two glasses of wine in, this one stuck with me. Within the month, I wrote the book proposal, printed it out, and mailed it to Seal Press, without an agent or a personal contact there. I share that because I think it is encouraging news. It's great to have an agent, and to be able to drop someone's name when you're writing to an editor. But if the idea's good, and the publishing house is paying attention, you don't need those things. Don't let that stop you from putting yourself out there if you feel inspired.

 What's so interesting about your book is the slant it takes--that divorce is not the end of the world, but often a beginning to a richer and fuller life with greater possibilities.  Divorce, in fact, can be liberating, as anyone with a miserable ex can attest to. Did anything about any of these essays surprise you as you were collecting them? Has any reader response surprised you?

 My sense is that the truth has been out there--that I'm just shining a light on it. If we all stopped defining divorce as one of life's great tragedies, I think it would be a lot less difficult to go through that process. We do have to grieve the loss of a dream, and accept the scrapped plan. We have to say, "I thought I was going to do that. But it ended up being this." Scary stuff! But embracing that having an intention doesn't guarantee its execution is one of the great life lessons of all time. We are not in control. Learning that makes us wiser, more surrendered, more able to flow with what life has in store for us. My big happy surprise is that what I thought would make me happy ultimately did not. And I am now in a position of savoring a greater happiness than I ever imagined was possible. If that's the result of my scrapped plan, I'm not only okay with that, I'm deeply grateful and humbled.

 To be honest, the only thing that surprised me (very gratifyingly, I might add) as an editor was how much my instinct had been on target. My call for submissions got a huge and very varied response. It felt like I stood on top of the mountaintop and shouted, "Am I alone here?" and instantly, all of these women were thundering towards me with their essays in hand, shouting, "No, you're not! Choose me!"

 I love how varied the stories are. The book includes a woman who left a polygamous Mormon relationship to strike out on her own...a woman who left her French husband and Paris both...a woman who left her bland Bay Area marriage to her best guy friend, and ended up falling in love with a Finnish woman via the internet. They now live in Finland, and are married with twins. And then there are the quiet, non-spectacularly framed stories that contain a lot of really insightful and trenchant interiority.

 I felt so lucky to read all of these stories, because each one had a bit of healing medicine to it. I benefited from that. I think I must have read each essay at least ten times, and there are still essays that make me completely choked up, or make me cackle, every single time. If I had not had the idea to put this book together, if I had not read the essays, I would be in a different place--back there a bit. I don't think I would have transcended the experience of divorce quite as much. It accelerated the pace of my healing and my thriving.

 How do you juggle work/writing/family life?

 Oh, lordy. Let's just put it this way. I think I only manage to keep most of the balls in the air by waking up at 3:30am once every couple of weeks and playing a grand game of catch-up. I do feel a day late and a dollar short in many ways. It's been an ongoing exercise in mindfulness to accept myself, accept my life, accept what I can give, and claim my birthright--to both be a mother and to be a writer. And a magazine editor. And the head of my household. And a partner, and a friend...

 My life is rich. It is so much richer than it used to be. I'm starting to think that inadequacy is a bugbear that follows us, if we let it, both when we are doing 10% of what we're supposed to be doing, and 110% of what we're supposed to be doing. I am lucky, though--my partner Laura and I have a very fruitful symbiotic relationship. You know how in a relationship, one person is often the giver and one is the taker? Well, Laura and I are both the givers, and I have to say that it's a delight to experience a relationship that is so rich in giving. I don't feel tapped out, because everything comes back to me times two. She scrutinized every page of the manuscript four or five times, has done piles of my children's laundry, is the first person I want to tell any news, good, bad, or innocuous. She has been so supportive over the last year. I know that I could have done this all without her, but I wouldn't have had as much fun or done as good of a job. I juggle it all with the help of two extra hands--hers.

 What are you working on now--and why?

Doing this anthology has been so much fun. So, I want to do another one. I love the feeling of weaving together a series of stories, making them cohesive, preserving their voices. I love nudging writers to go a little farther here, pull back there. I get to be therapist, mother hen, polisher of brilliant passages and ruthless executioner of flabby paragraphs. On top of that, the vibe of the Ask Me About My Divorce bunch has been very slumber party, very sorority (in a good way). I wasn't the type to rush a sorority in college--I was more into hanging out with the pensive, smoking, literary, black-clad types, so I feel like I got a second chance to be in an all-girls society of very chummy, supportive, warm women--the Sisterhood of the Big D, aka, Delta (which is the symbol for change in math and physics, incidentally). So, I want to do another all-women anthology, and I have the topic, but it's something I'd like to keep it under wraps for now. When I do unveil it, I will update you, I promise. I also want to write a full-length memoir. I can't say that I've had a dull life--it's been both comically and tragically interesting so far—and for a writer, that's a gift.

2 comments:

peter said...
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peter said...

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