Storytelling and Reading with the MouseMuse troupe: Join us

I had a beautiful experience doing writing to heal last night with a group of courageous and wonderful people. Now it’s on to storytelling on December 6… Six of us on the same theme, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” for 10 minutes: Fran Dorf, Tom Finn, Josh Kaplan, Chad Kinsman, Hugh Samuels, Rebecca Toon plus 3 brave volunteers.  While my story is on its face about a car crash a few years, what it’s really about surviving all my “tsuris.”  All my stories are about that.  Join me.

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And for this one on December 11th, I’m getting back on stage to read a few bits from my memoir: “How I Lost My Bellybutton and Other Naked Survival Stories.”  Also, of course, about surviving “tsuris.”  Can’t help it.  I’m the “tsuris” queen.  Thinking about reading a relatively serious bit about breast cancer called “Plastic Man,” and a lighter bit about my Grandma Rose, she of the vast bosom and orthopedic shoes.  I don’t know….is a bar the best place to read this? Well, whatever.  It seems Ina has adopted me.   14381_494841040550674_311216169_n

Writing To Heal – December 4th Stamford JCC

Looking forward to facilitating…

JConnect_October2-1-1Writing to Heal: A workshop for people who’ve suffered grief, loss, trauma, or illness Tuesday, December 4th 7:30 PM Stamford JCC, 1035 Newfield Avenue,Stamford

No previous writing experience necessary. Free and open to the community. For more information or to register for the workshop, please contact Eve Moskowitz, JFS Director of Clinical Services at 203-921-4161 ext. 122 or email at emoskowitz@ctjfs.org

OR JUST COME!!!!

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Shining a Light on Grief: Carole Geithner’s novel, “If Only”

Carole Geithner’s novel, “If Only”

I was honored last night to be part of a panel discussion, “Shining a Light on Grief,” with Carole Geithner, author of “If Only,” a young adult novel I thought was enchanting. I’d recommend Carole’s book to anyone, young or old. I’d especially recommend it to bereaved young people, and those who want to learn more in order to help a bereaved friend.  Some may find a novel like this more helpful than even a “how-to” book because it organically teaches what, and what not to do and say. “Showing” (as in a novel) is always more effective than “telling.” (as in a “how to”)

Carole’s a professor and social worker who works with the bereaved, and she said she wrote the book, at least in part, to help her deal with her own experience of grief.  As Bruised Muse readers know, I too wrote a novel inspired by my grief, “Saving Elijah.”  I inscribed a copy for Carole. She and I have a lot in common, it seems, both in our professional interests and in our understanding of the power of writing to heal.  (We may also have some personal things in common, since both of us are social work types married to successful businessmen. Okay, so maybe that’s a stretch, since Carole happens to be married to the US Treasury Secretary.)

Carole Geithner

Anyway, Carole is lovely and calm and knowledgeable and reassuring (all good things for a social worker), and her book is wise and accomplished and real.  It brings to life and gives voice to a believable thirteen-year-old named Corinna as she makes her way through the very difficult first year of aching loss and grief after the cancer death of her mother, Sophie.  In scene after scene, often with humor, Carole believably, enjoyably, and instructively depicts many of the situations and dilemmas you encounter after the death of someone you love. As a writer I particularly admired the scene in which Sophie is listening to a private conversation between her father and her aunt about her mother.  I was also struck by the range of experiences Carole managed to get into the book.  This includes everything from the feeling that nothing is normal and you’ve arrived on an unknown planet called Planet Grief, to the need to create new rituals, to the natural attraction to people who’ve experienced similar situations or just know how to “be with” you, to all the strange and hurtful things people say to you.

What is helpful/What isn’t

Carole has put into the novel wonderful examples of what’s helpful, which fit with my own suggestions:  Be present.  Be humble.  Be patient.  Observe. Reflect.  Give witness. Allow silence.  Don’t judge. Don’t try to fix it.  Accept.  Listen.

As for what to say, “I’m sorry” is fine, or even, “I don’t know what to say.” Some people are instinctively gifted at compassion-giving, while others need instruction.  It takes commitment and stamina to sit with the truly bereaved.

Carole also put in quite a few examples that nicely fall into the categories I’ve described for all the people who mean well but say the wrong things, including: babblers (Let’s talk on and on—about anything else); advice givers (It’s time to clean out the room…start dating again…get over it…); platitude-offerers/pain-minimizers (God must have wanted him…he’s in a better place…you did everything you could); pseudo-empathizers (I know just how you feel); lesson-learners (Everything happens for a reason…life is short…) and last and worst, abandoners.

I experienced most of these myself and I see them echoed over and over in the experience of others, so much so that at one point I was thinking of writing a book called: The Ten Worst Things to Say.  The key is: Don’t say anything that de-legitimizes whatever the bereaved might be feeling.

The evening was jointly sponsored by the Jewish Family Service, Jewish Community Center, The Den for Grieving Children, Family Centers, and the Center for Hope.  I have associations, one way or another, with all of these wonderful institutions in the community.

The audience included many professionals who work with the bereaved, and quite of few bereaved too.  I was thankful for some wonderful questions, such as this one (I’m paraphrasing):  “I understand it’s really hard to know what to say when people ask you how many children you have.”  Yes, indeed, this is always a loaded question. It’s one of the many real dilemmas of grief, particularly at first.  If someone asks how many and you leave out the dead child, you might feel as if you’re betraying that child. But if you include that dead child you might then be forced to answer the follow up questions, which might lead you (and the asker) where you might not want to go.  It’s always awful to find yourself suddenly talking about your most profound pain to a stranger who was simply making conversation, or even actually breaking down in tears in the cheese aisle.  There’s also the concern that you might ruin someone’s day.  Anyway, eventually most bereaved people figure out and make peace with how they want to handle this dilemma, which is one that’s going to be with them for the rest of life.  It’s a case by case decision.  It gets easier with time.

I hope the newly bereaved who were brave enough to come felt supported and cared for.  I admit that while I wasn’t surprised I was a bit disappointed by the lack of attendance by more non-professionals perhaps looking for information on how to help a friend. I guess I’m so comfortable with this topic, and with offering compassion to the suffering that I forget how much most people really just want to avoid it.

Here’s the link to Carole Geithner’s website, which has some great resources about grief in addition to info about the book.

Promoting kindness, civility: The difference between an “opinion,” hate speech, and free speech

LETTER TO AN (UNNAMED) WEBSITE OWNER WHO THINKS HATE SPEECH IS THE SAME AS AN OPINION

Dear Ms. Website Owner:

Shame on you.  A few days ago I put a few words into the Google search tool about a subject I was interested in, and found my way to your story about it. I then had the misfortune of reading the third comment down, which was hateful and beyond appalling.  I wrote to you privately, asking you to take the comment down because it is clearly “hate speech” and specifically because of the terrible pain it would cause its intended target. I carefully explained my reasons for asking this, which I won’t identify because I don’t really want to call attention to the particulars, except to make a larger point about the prevalence of “hate speech” presuming to masquerade as “opinion” or “free speech” in our culture, and whose responsibility it is to take a stand.  Your response to my request to take it down?

As a fellow blogger I am disappointed that you would want me to censor my readers. I don’t know what kind of blog you run, but (my website) receives (x number) of unique visitors a year and we take our readers’ freedom of speech very, very seriously. Although I do not see eye to eye with many of the comments that are left by my readers, I do respect their right to have an opinion.

Now I admit that you’re not alone in misguidedly offering an unrelated principle to boost a specious argument, Ms. Shopping and Gossip Blog Owner.  And this kind of garbage seems to be everywhere–on television, in the unbelievable amount of name-calling in this culture, in the unkind way people talk to each other, even on big, influential, serious Internet sites like Salon and Slate, which are presumably run and edited by educated, responsible people.  Personally, I think it’s easy to distinguish between hate speech and an “opinion.” It’s like Justice Potter Stewart’s notion that hard-core pornography is hard to define, but he knew it when he saw it.  But obviously you need clarification, so here’s the Wikipedia definition: “Hate speech is communication that vilifies a person or a group on the basis of color, disability, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristic.”

So give me a break. I would vigorously defend your right to publish your blog, even if I don’t particularly like its voyeuristic and strange focus on the misfortunes of others, but do you REALLY think allowing hate speech on a shopping and gossip blog makes you a virtuous defender of “free speech?”

First of all, if that commenter were exercising free speech, he wouldn’t be hiding his identity, and behind a disgusting moniker yet.  Secondly, many websites do ban hate speech; Facebook, for example, bans (according to its own definition) violence and threats, bullying and harassment, hate speech, graphic content, nudity and pornography, and phishing and spam.  Some websites leave a placeholder, something like, “THIS COMMENT REMOVED.” Some may have policies on such things but don’t enforce them particularly well.  Shame on them too.

Perhaps when you’re not promoting gossip and shopping you’re a law scholar, and you really are one of those free speech absolutists who say all expression, no matter how despicable, should be allowed online. So then where are all the spam comments?  Ah. Your spam filter edits those out, right?  Well, that’s free speech too, so obviously you’re not a free speech absolutist, now are you? It is, after all, someone’s “opinion” that penises should be larger, and that they can be made so with a product called PENIS ERECTOR, and if free speech is what you care about, why not allow all that up there in addition to the Prada and hate speech?

Now people (and governments) may disagree on what governments should and shouldn’t protect, but you’re not a government. This has nothing to do with free speech; YOU OWN THE SITE. And you’re making a choice here, an unkind and hateful one, an uncivil one.

Ms. Website Owner, what’s the downside to editing out hate comments?  Would it hurt your cause of more shopping and gossip?  All it would do is deprive the hater of a forum to anonymously spew hate.  Yes, I believe that the answer to hate speech is more speech, and I see now that a few people are dressing that commenter down in follow up, some with name-calling almost as bad, which of course makes my point, that we’re so steeped in this junk that we can’t see our way out.  Nevertheless, if the comment’s intended target, who is already suffering from unspeakable pain, were ever to see that first comment, it might STILL bring even more unspeakable pain. Do you really want to do that?  Do you have no empathy?  Didn’t your mother teach you anything about morality, civility, kindness?

And while you’re leaving that placeholder, I suggest you do the same for all comments by this person, who seems to be trolling your site for ways he can say the most indecent, hateful things and do the most damage to his targets. He’s obviously very sick.  If you provide a forum for this individual, it doesn’t make you a defender of free speech.  I’m not sure what it makes you, but it isn’t anything good.

If no one takes responsibility for anything in this culture, if people hide behind meaningless and unrelated principles, where the hell are we?  The Dalai Lama said, “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Sincerely,

Fran Dorf

Just Ask Me: Help! My Work Friend Got Promoted—and I’m Jealous

Dear Fran, 

I’m 31 years old and have been working in the engineering and project management industry for a little over 10 years, five at my current company. A good friend of mine started working at my company about two years ago but in the business development sector. It’s been great to have her here because we can grab lunch or a quick chat anytime.

Here’s the issue—I’ve had the same position for my entire time at this company and after only a couple of years, she recently got a huge promotion. Window office, director title, six-figure salary, the whole bit. I know I should be happy for her, but I can’t help but feel extremely jealous of her situation. She’s making more than I am by a good $30K and at her age, she is bound to keep on rising up the ranks.

I guess I also worry about our friendship. How are we going to keep up break time chats and water-cooler talk when she’s in a whole different hierarchy? How can I handle this whole thing more gracefully?

Thanks,

Don’t want to be envious

Dear Envious:

Ah, envy: that little green monster that often seems to cause so much pain. It can rear its ugly head at friends, colleagues, celebrities, bosses, family members, and perfect strangers (in no particular order). It can glom on to someone else’s courage, clarity of vision, emotional serenity, compassion, persistence, intelligence, quick wit, or success.

Let me give you a personal example. As a writer, my most powerful envy comes when I’m in the middle of a book and I suddenly find myself so profoundly moved or deeply amused by the words on the page that I have to stop and take a breath to contemplate (and envy) the author’s skill. Here are a couple of random examples that stopped me this way: Emma Donoghue’sRoomShira Nayman’s Awake in the DarkPatrick Suskind’s PerfumeJeffrey Eugenides’Middlesex; and Cynthia Kaplan’s book of personal essays, Why I’m Like This.

Now I want you to notice that, of the books that have stirred my green monster, some are bestsellers, some only sold a few thousand copies; some were recently published, some years ago; some were lauded by critics, some not so much. The truth is that while I might occasionally envy someone’s “success,” what I envy most powerfully is what I most value, certain qualities of character, and what I aspire to as a writer.

So first, I want you to be clear about what it is that you’re envying. Is it your friend’s success? The fact that she got chosen for a promotion and you didn’t? That she got a lucky break and you didn’t? The six-figure salary? Or does your envy stem from your fear she’s more skilled at her job than you are at yours?

I ask you these questions because I think it will help you to separate that which is mostly beyond your control and concentrate on that which is primarily in your control. Life is certainly not fair and your friend’s success may well be due to sheer good luck, which is painfully beyond your control.

What is in your control, and what you can concentrate on, is how to be the best you can be atyour job. Identify things that would make you promotable and work on those skills. Separate what is going on with your friend’s promotion from the realities of your position and the likelihood of moving up. If you truly feel that a promotion is due, pursue it with your manager.

Another worthwhile consideration is whether you actually enjoy and are stimulated by your current position. If you’re bored, or find yourself eyeing your friend’s (or another) field that seems more interesting or presents more opportunities for advancement, take some steps in that direction. Maybe her job change will prove to be a catalyst for you to make some changes for yourself. You don’t necessarily need to wait around for management to give you a bump up the ladder; maybe it’s time for you to pursue a new industry or a new company that will provide the opportunities that you are seeking.

Next, you call this woman a “good friend,” but I wonder if she’s a real friend. Is she someone you can actually talk to, or is your relationship merely centered around the water cooler chat? Are you worried about her throwing her new position in the hierarchy around because she already has? If so, then I’d stop thinking of her as your “good friend” and try to gracefully back away while continuing with the superficial water cooler chat.

My standards for a “good friendship,” however, are a little different. I root for my friends to reach their goals, I applaud their achievements, and I expect them to do the same for me. A quality friendship is based on whether I can talk to and confide in my friends, and whether they they can talk to and confide in me. I feel that friends are real friends because they share honest feelings with each other, and can allow themselves to be or appear vulnerable.

If this were me, and I thought she was my good friend, I’d find a time when she and I weren’t at work, and share some of my feelings surrounding her promotion. I might casually say that I’d been hoping for a promotion, too, or even confess how envious I am! I might ask her how or why she thinks she got the promotion, and maybe even ask her for some suggestions. And then I’d watch very carefully to see how she handled the situation. This is a tricky time for your friendship. If she’s really your friend, she’ll offer her support and hear out your disappointments in a loving way. If a candid conversation like that didn’t go smoothly, I’d seriously think about how close of a friend she really is.

I wish you the best of luck in your career and your friendship, and I’m glad you wrote in and asked.

Fran

Originally posted on The Daily Muse

Read More From Fran

How to Calm and Be Clear

Compassion Roundup, Part I: Who cares if your surgeon is a jerk?

Huckabee at the Republican National Convention

A few weeks ago, Mike Huckabee, making a medical analogy about the alarmingly jerky Mitt Romney, told Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast: ““The sicker the patient, the less important is bedside manner.  If you’ve just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, you honestly don’t care if your neurosurgeon is a jerk.”  Now I admit that Mike Huckabee is a personable, often funny, natural, and authentic guy, sort of the un-Romney, even though I disagree with him on nearly every political idea he ever expressed including this one.  I disagree with this one so much that it’s been stuck in my head for the last three weeks. Reason? My own personal experience with jerky doctors

Most commentators, including Gail Collins of the New York Times, commented on the weird “damning with faint praise” aspect of that quote, since presumably Huckabee meant to praise (if faintly) our Presidential candiate, who has proven himself even more jerky this week by among other things commenting on an ongoing violent international crisis before knowing the facts, and by suggesting that a statement put out by the American Embassy in Cairo condemning a hate film undermined American values.  Coming from a man who would be President in a highly dangerous, complicated, and non-black-and-white world, this was so misguided and jerky in so many ways that I can’t possibly mention them all in a blog in which I want to comment on Huckabee’s medical analogy.  So for the moment, I’ll simply wonder why Romney, or anyone, thinks it’s not an American value to ALWAYS condemn hate speech, counsel calm, tolerance and compassion, and support the forces of tolerance, understanding, and compassion in every situation and society.  To me this is among the highest of human values.  More about that in my next blog.

So back to Huckabee’s analogy. After endlessly fussing I’ve finally shipped off my memoir, “How I Lost My Bellybutton and Other Naked Survival Stories, to my adorable new literary agent.  While I’ve met many amazing and wonderful doctors during all my medical woes, the memoir details my experiences with some incredibly jerky doctors, including my late son Michael’s neurologist and the surgeon I call only “Plastic Man” whom I encountered during my breast cancer experience.  I think their jerkiness made them less rather than more skilled, that’s for sure.  I won’t talk about the neurologist here, but Plastic Man was jerky mainly because he lacked compassion, and I suffered mightily at his hands, not because he isn’t or wasn’t a skilled cutter. I assume he is, he certainly has a good reputation on that score. But bedside manner? The man was rude, stiff, abrupt, aloof, childish, petulant, and defensive, and became even more so when I developed an infection and became quite sick.  As I detail in my memoir, his jerkiness may have increased because he was afraid of being sued.  This doesn’t excuse it, of course, and in any case research shows that doctors who tend to the doctor/patient relationship lessen their risk of being sued. This makes perfect sense, of course, since people tend to give back what they receive.  The most important thing is, he made my situation even worse than it probably had to be, thereby affecting his skill not just as a cutter but as a physician, who after all should be a healer.  I say this not just because I was terrified and needed reassurance when I was so weak and sick and vulnerable, but because if that surgeon had LISTENED to me, his patient, as a good compassionate, non-jerky physician would do, he might well have been able to spare me all or at least some of that suffering, both mental AND physical.

So I say yes, I guess I’d prefer a jerky surgeon who’s a skilled cutter to a compassionate, non-jerky surgeon who isn’t a skilled cutter, but like almost all things in life it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) an either-or, black-and-white choice.  Why wouldn’t we want physicians—and politicians, and filmmakers, and everyone else–to think of having compassion for the weak (ie non jerkiness), as an important part of their skill and to be BOTH compassionate AND skilled?  As Gandhi and others have said, “The measure of a civilization is in how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members.” Substitute the word “doctor” for “civilization” and “patient” for “member,” and I think you see how this applies to the medical situation on which Huckabee is commenting, in my view utterly incorrectly.

So here’s a survival tip I learned the hard way.  I put it in my (hopefully soon-to-be published) memoir, “How I Lost My Bellybutton, And Other Naked Survival Stories”:

Survival Tip #17:  Compassion and empathy aren’t luxuries for a doctor, they’re prerequisites. Especially if things go wrong or you’re really suffering and really need compassion and empathy. So if you have a choice, find one who has some.

Mr. Huckabee, I know your analogy was meant to suggest that Mr. Romney has the skill to fix the economy, thereby lifting all weak boats in the trickle-down sense, but I think that the weaker and more vulnerable the patient (or the citizen, for that matter), the more I need and want to be tended to with compassion rather than jerkiness.

Creativity and Healing: Let The Little One Inside You Sing

Physicians, medical students, psychologists, poets, and other helpers, healers, and writers interested in the healing power of writing hugging a giant Cypress tree at the “Healing Art of Writing” conference in San Rafael, California, July 18, 2012. The guy in the light print green shirt looking away is the gifted John Fox, author of one of my favorite books on this subject, “Poetic Medicine.”

Why do we feel so satisfied when we engage our creativity?    Why is singing, writing a play, cooking a wonderful meal, designing a building or outfit, composing a song or sonata, capturing a particular moment in a photograph, or coming up with a new idea, method, or a way of looking at things in the brainstorming session at work so fulfilling?  Why does using our imagination feel so wonderful? Why does making the metaphor that perfectly describes something by comparing it to something else feel so gratifying?  Why do people make art anyway?  Why do people write?

A man is struggling to go on after losing someone he loves.  A beloved wife.  I ask him to try a simple writing exercise, and he runs with it.  He is not a “poet,” but he produces poetry, beautiful and true.  He has turned pain into beauty, and he finds the process satisfying, cathartic, healing.

Or take my own experience.  I was already a writer when I lost my son in 1994, and yet afterward I simply refused to write for a number of years.  I refused because writing was what I did before, and that life seemed over.  But the problem was I was cutting off my most available path to self-healing: my writing, my own creativity.   It was only out of sheer desperation that I began writing again three years later.  It turned out that the process of writing (my novel, Saving Elijah) was the very thing that helped me free myself from the prison and the merciless solitude of my sorrow.  Writing that book saved my life.  Everything I write now contributes in some way to my own self-healing process.

And it isn’t the applause we might crave at the end of our creative process that drives us, or that heals us.  It’s the process itself.  A writing mentor of mine always says, “Writing is a process, not an event.” This is, of course, true of all creative acts.  If you’re worrying about how what you’re doing will be received, your desire for acclaim, or your fear of rejection, you simply aren’t in the process.

I was recently honored and thrilled to be a part of an extraordinary gathering in San Rafael, California called The Healing Art of Writing.  The conference drew physicians, medical students,  psychologists, social workers, poets, a musician or two, and other helpers, healers, artists, and writers interested in the healing power of creative expression, in this case writing.  Just being in the presence of so many people accessing their own creativity or learning to facilitate creativity in others to heal was incredibly moving and healing.

Why is the creative process so healing?  I’m convinced that when we engage in creative expression–through writing, art, coming up with that new idea, or in whatever way we can–we feel healed because we have moved back into or toward our original state of creative bliss, a state from which we gradually separated in response to the reality of life and the demands of a sometimes harsh world.

Consider my grand daughter.  She’s two, and her creative spirit is still completely pure.   Every moment of every day she is deep into her own creative process, she lives in a wellspring of pure joy at her own imagination and creativity. When she walks down the street, she doesn’t just walk, she claps, dances, or skips, and she sings or tells herself a story at the top of her little lungs.  Her song might be one she’s making up or one my daughter taught her, and her story might be about the moon and stars, or Elmo, or a purple cow.  She doesn’t care that cows are black and white, in her mind and creative imagination they can also be purple. Everyone on the street smiles, as if to acknowledge how adorable she is, maybe to share in the knowledge that children are such creative little souls who unlike the rest of us can live so in the moment, so in the creative process, unconcerned with outcome.  Watch my granddaughter now as she becomes angry and has a tantrum when you tell her to do something other than the incredibly creative thing she is doing at this very moment.  She doesn’t care that you might be trying to save her life when you insist she stop clapping and hold your hand because you’re going to cross the busy street. All she knows is that you’ve interrupted her creative process, her joyous in-the-moment creativity.

You can see the effect this kind of interruption has as a child gets older.  Few ten or fourteen-year-olds would skip and dance down the street singing at the top of their lungs, for fear of the outcome, the rejection.

A loving, nurturing, encouraging environment in childhood supports a person’s ability to appropriately access his or her own creativity as a source of self-healing. I always feel so sad when I sit with people who were subjected to a non-nurturing, restrictive, neglectful, abusive, traumatic, or rigid environment that stifled their once-brilliant creativity, and even made them lose their ability to connect back to it as a way of self-healing. Some are virtually paralyzed by self-condemnation, just as I was after my son died.  Some cannot even begin imagine their lives differently.  They continue to think the condemning thoughts and feel the hurtful feelings others have foisted upon them, a process that destroys rather than creates.

So remember that no matter what field you’re in, or where you are in your life, or what trauma you’ve experienced, you always have the power to connect to your original state of creative bliss, and even use the process of creating as a way of self-healing  That little child is still in there, singing blissfully at the top of her lungs.  All you have to do is find her.

Next post: Ways to find her.

My novel, “Saving Elijah,” is now available on Kindle!

Wow!  It’s been twelve years since Putnam published SAVING ELIJAH, my novel “inspired” by the loss of my son.  It’s now available in a KINDLE edition through Amazon, and RIGHT NOW, for a limited time, Amazon is offering it FREE if you’re an Amazon Prime member.  Otherwise it’s just $3.99.  My blood, sweat, and tears for only $3.99!  And what do you get?  Terror and sorrow, poignancy and inspiration, I hope.  That’s a lot for free, and even for $3.99. Click HERE for the Amazon link to get the book, and if you happen to read it and like it, please leave a review there.  For reasons I don’t exactly understand, the reviews for the print edition of the book don’t automatically get transferred to the new Kindle edition.  This, of course, is one of the many things about this life that I don’t understand.

Here are a few of those rave reviews:

“Stunning, spellbinding, cracking with suspense, dark humor and provocative questions. A compelling page-turner that meditates, with honesty and insight, on the nature of parental love and responsibility.”  (Publisher’s Weekly, notable review)

Ambitious, imaginative, and beautifully done. (Wall Street Journal)

Fascinating, skillful, a fiercely compelling read. (Glamour)

Just Ask Me – She’s Pregnant, He Wants to Move–She Doesn’t

Originally published on The Daily Muse

Fran!

I really need some advice. I met my fiancé about two years ago and we got engaged on New Year’s Eve. I’m also eight months pregnant. Even though everything has been going so fast in our relationship and my life, I’m happy as can be.

We live in western Maryland, close to my family, and his family lives in southern Maryland, but he wants to move to Florida when our lease is up in December. He feels we would have a good life and more opportunities for our growing family. We have talked about moving, and I really want to, but I didn’t expect to move away so soon. I’d prefer to stay around here a little longer with my family, especially with my newborn.

I’m only 22 and he’s 24, and I’m just scared. I’ve tried explaining it and he doesn’t see what the big deal is. He said we will visit all the time, but I don’t see that happening. I don’t know what to say or do and I don’t want to fight about it. I just don’t think I’m ready to move! 

From,

Stressed and Scared

Dear Stressed and Scared,

Congratulations! This is a very exciting time for you, but, I’d also say it’s appropriate to be a little scared and stressed.

I’m not sure what to assume about the job situation if you’re giving birth next month, and your fiancé wants to pack you and the baby up and move to Florida because there are “more opportunities there.” Does that mean that neither of you have a job right now, and he thinks he—or both of you—will be able to get jobs there, rather than where you are?

This is a key issue, because when the baby comes—wherever you live—someone is going to have to take care of him or her. So first, you have to decide mutually who’s going to do that. If you both have jobs now, are you planning to quit? Is he? Have you discussed this? One benefit to staying where you are is that your families might be able to help with the care of the baby.

Next, it worries me that you say you don’t want to “fight” about this. Does that mean that you don’t think you have the right to express your opinion or concerns? Or that you’ve tried in the past to express yourself, about this or other matters, and found that it always turns into a fight? Does he always dismiss your concerns as “no big deal?” Have you gotten into a pattern of swallowing your feelings about important matters like this just because you don’t want to “fight?”

The truth is, conflict in a marriage is going to occur. A mature, healthy, lasting relationship requires negotiation, mutual respect, and compromise, and there is no need to fear fighting if you learn, practice, and implement fighting “fair.”

I think it’s important that you and your fiancé sit down and really sort this out. Here are some basic “fighting fairly” rules to review before you begin:

1. Be Honest With Yourself

It is essential that you understand your own feelings before you can begin to resolve any conflict. Many women are stressed and scared when they’re pregnant, and adding a move (particularly one away from family) to that is understandably overwhelming. Be honest with your fiancé when you confess your struggles, pain, and insecurities. Let him know what you’re going through so he can have the opportunity to support you.

2. Speak Quietly

No yelling. When you yell, your partner only hears you yelling, not the content of what you’re saying. This doesn’t mean that you can’t express your opinion passionately, but remember that the louder your words, the less you’ll be heard.

3. Discuss the Issue, Not Each Other

Name-calling, character assassination, cursing, insults, threats, or accusations—even as a so-called “joke”—are strictly forbidden. Stay on-topic and remember that your goal is to reach a solution to the issue at hand.

4. Use “I” Statements

Rather than saying “You always…” or “You never…” stick with something like, “I fear that if we move to Florida, such-and-such will happen,” instead. Remember that you are the expert on how you feel and he is the expert on how he feels. Neither of you should be dismissive of the other.

5. Listen Carefully

When one of you speaks, the other should focus on really listening, not just planning a rebuttal. Remind yourself not to interrupt while the other person is speaking. You might even try the “mirroring” technique and each of you try to repeat what the other says verbatim to be certain that you are hearing each other.

6. Keep it Private

Don’t bring up your parents’ or friend’s opinions, or ask for his friend’s and family’s thoughts. The two of you are the ones who are in this relationship and parents to this child. It’s important that the two of you bind together and unite. Auntie Em’s dislike of Florida is irrelevant when it comes to what’s best for your new, and growing, family.

7. Take Timeouts, if Necessary

If either of you finds you’re raising your voice or getting angry, walk away, take some deep breaths and calm things down. This is a serious discussion, and it’s going to get passionate. But you need to take steps to ensure that you’re not getting overly amped up and losing sight of the matter, or impeding your own ability to discuss it civilly.

8. Look at Each Other

Keep the setting for this conversation casual and comfortable. Make it so you can really engage each other. Look your fiancé in the eyes when you talk, and do the same when you’re listening. Hold hands and stay physically connected.

9. Fight for a Solution, Not to Win 

This is important. In the end, you don’t need to win the argument or be right. You need to come up with an answer that’s going to be the best thing for you, your soon-to-be husband, and your baby. If the word “fight” comes to mind, think about it as fighting for your family.

As you start to hash things out this way, you may find some sort of a compromise beginning to take shape. Perhaps your fiancé will agree to put off the move for a while and you can revisit the discussion after the baby comes. Maybe he will agree to have a job lined up before you move. Truth be told, after your fiancé sees how stressful and exhausting it is to take care of a newborn—the sleepless nights, the constant attention, the strain it puts on a relationship—he may be more amenable to staying put for a while, rather than adding more stress with a move into the unknown right away.

And, I do think you’re right that it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll be making a lot of visits to your families in Maryland after you move to Florida. And so as a final note, I would add to my list of things a mature relationship requires are realistic solutions to problems, not wishful thinking or denial of reality. I’m not sure what to tell you to do if your fiancé continues to refuse to hear your point of view and insist it’s no big deal.

Whatever solution you come up with to the current disagreement, I wish you the best of luck. And for the moment, congratulations. Cherish that wonderful bundle of joy!

Fran


Gratitude: 11 of the many things I loved in Paris

I have painstakingly learned to count my blessings every day, a practice not particularly natural for an old cynic like me, but actually helpful in maintaining spiritual and emotional peace and calm.   I suggest readers out there make this a practice too.   I’m spilling over with gratitude right now, after my recent quickie trip to Paris with my husband, who had to travel there to make a speech. Here are a few of the many things I loved and felt grateful for in Paris:

1. Paris.

2. Everyone speaks French (and English).

3. The bridges over the Seine, which connect the Left and Right Banks, especially the glorious Pont Alexandre III, with its Art Noveau lamps and its golden winged horses, cherubs and nymphs, and the Pont Solferino, where lovers place locks on the sides of the bridge and throw the keys into the Seine to symbolize their undying love!  Where else but in Paris?

4. Reading “The Paris Wife” in Paris.  Now I’ll have to read lots more Hemingway.

5. Having dinner with my husband’s French publisher, Dominique Gilbert, a lovely and kind woman (and of course brilliant for publishing him), her husband, and another couple, friends of theirs, at La Fontaine de Mars.  This is the restaurant where President Obama ate with Michele and maybe snubbed Sarkozy????  Basque food.  I’m glad I tried Cassoulet.  It was very authentic, but might have been a little TOO authentic for me. (We’re talking beans, duck, and sausage.)

6.  Receiving an email while there from a theater workshop back here granting me an interview.  I’m hoping they’ll help me stage my play-in-progress, “Survival Instructions,” a kind of one woman autobiographical thing, with supporting players, based on my memoir. Do I have the acting chops to be the “one woman?”  We’ll see. The last time I was on stage was 30 years ago, when I played “Inez,” one of three characters looking for a way out of hell in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.”  Also grateful for the other email I received, also while in Paris, that I now have an agent for that very memoir.  On the creative front, things are definitely moving along nicely.

7.  Watching my husband speak about his subject, entrepreneurship and customer development (His book is called, The Start Up Owners Manual.  Here’s the link to the book on Amazon.) Bob was a hit, even if most of his jokes were lost on the French audience.  I got the jokes however. (I’ve been getting them for 35 years.)

8. An authentic home-cooked meal in Versailles (the town, not the palace) at the home of the parents of our friend, Gregoire.  Gregoire’s mom must have been cooking for days, and she served each of many courses with great ritual and love. Also loved talking politics with the group.  Surprised to find a Frenchman advocating for a kind of United States of Europe.

8. The Rodin Museum, where you can walk right up to some of the most famous statues in the world.  Standing in front of Rodin’s white marble masterpiece, “The Kiss,” I found myself weeping.  Only one other artist ever did that to me before.  Jackson Pollack.

9.  The artist Muriel Stalaven, whose work we saw in a street exhibition, also brought me to tears.  (Wow. Two in one trip.) Here’s a link to her site, which includes a video that shows how she creates her figure drawings in ink in seconds.  I’m not exactly sure why I was so moved by her work.  Its simplicity, maybe.

11.  The Church of St. Surplice.  I love the churches of Europe, but I am always struck by how strange and ironic it is that the Catholic Church, the hierarchical and dogmatic church that erected such edifices (not to mention that often appears to be morally bankrupt, as in, say, the Inquisition, and the harboring of pedophile priests), could have developed out of the simple message of Jesus, who, it seems to me, preached only non-heirarchical kindness, inclusion, and love.