Getting On With It
As a six-month separation slid headlong towards divorce, I longed for stories. There's no shortage of books about how to save your marriage or navigate a divorce. And I've found a few brave writers willing to share how sad, and hard and complicated divorce can be (thank you, Theo Nestor). But for the most part people seem to write around divorce instead of about it, skipping over the raw, messy middle section onto the part where life has moved on. (Even in Elizabeth Gilbert's wildly successful Eat, Pray, Love, all of the eating and praying and loving happen after she leaves her husband.)
I'm hungry for more.
There are good reasons that people don’t write more candidly about divorce. It isn’t really anyone else’s business, first of all. The stigma of the divorce and the shame that comes with it can make sharing your story feel a bit like strolling naked through a supermarket. And then, there are other people to consider–ex-spouses and kids and in-laws and lawyers. (Not necessarily in that order).
Nora Ephron was almost sued by her ex-husband for writing about their divorce, and her book was fiction. Her 1983 novel, Heartburn, is often considered the first divorce “memoir.” In it, Ephron tells a thinly-veiled version of the story of when her husband, the political figure Carl Bernstein, left her for another woman when she was still pregnant with their second son. Years later, when Ephron was asked what advice she would give to someone who was writing about their own divorce, she said, “Don’t do it.” (Mary Karr, it seems would agree. The hugely talented memoirist and author of "The Art of Memoir" includes in her list of things not to write about in a memoir, "a divorce you're going through."
Heartburn is smart and funny and endlessly charming–chock-full of one-liners that hit like sucker punches and recipes. (Yes, recipes.) It’s just the book you’d expect from the woman who went on to write rom-com classics “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless In Seattle,” and a book of essays called, I Feel Bad About My Neck. But as I was reading I kept thinking, “Why isn’t she being more honest about how excruciatingly painful this must have been?”
And then right there on page 176, it is as if Nora Ephron (who died in 2012) has heard my question and reached through space and time to answer it. She writes:
“It worries me that I’ve done what I usually do–hidden the anger, covered the pain, pretended it wasn’t there for the sake of a story… Vera said, ‘Why do you have to turn everything into a story?’
So I told her why:
Because if I tell the story, I control the version.
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”
I’ve only been sharing more publicly about the end of my marriage for a few weeks now, but already I know what Nora Ephron means in those last two lines. I kept waiting for the divorce to feel over for me to share, and now I realize that the sharing is what has made it feel over. For now, at least. As I work on my memoir and these little micro-essays, I hope to write about my experience without watering down the pain.
Because if I tell a watered-down version of my story, then I can get on with it. But if I tell the truth, maybe I can make it easier for other people to get on it with it too.
Thank you to those who are following along on this writing journey, and for all the comments and shares and messages and support.
Have you read any books that talk about the experience of divorce? I’d love to hear recommendations for fiction and non-fiction books that both do and don't cut to the heart of the divorce experience.