Thursday, June 4, 2009

In the Beginning, There Was The Word: "You Can"

Before going to press with my third book....Split: A Memoir of Divorce, there was a divorce. And before there was a divorce, there was the Word. The Word, for those not privy to this particular Tower of Babel moment in my little house in California? The word(s) was, "You Can." As in:...."You Can Write About This, Suzanne."

My ex-husband said these six empowering words as he was leaving me, along with advance suggestions about Child Custody and when I should expect a Petition To Divorce Subpoena to slide into my visage.

He had known me for ten years as a copywriter and working novelist, for Knopf and Grove/Atlantic. So he'd already considered that I might find this particular divorce a compelling subject. Some men might be fearful or even in some confusion over what would happen in future. Yet in an exuberant, free spirited moment, he selflessly extended his blessing to a memoir, a novel, or even a Press Release, should that suit my purpose. It is all worth repeating, now that Split is an international bestseller, has been named a Best of 2008 Book by Library Journal, had an entire chapter published in The New York Times as well as The London Times, and is available worldwide via Barnes and Noble Booksellers, - and on its Kindle.

Yes, as he sashayed out the front door of our home, he sang out: "You Can Write About This!"

It may be difficult and a long road to publication, I thought to myself...I may not be able to finish it, say, in the next few years (it turned out to be 7 years and 400 revisions before Penguin USA graciously stepped in to bring it to press), what with diapers and single parenthood and the relentless mortgage debt of $600K on this fucking toybox house? But who cares, I reasoned. Let creditors cool their collective heels! Art is in motion. I Can Write About It. I resolved to do so.

As I think I make plain in Split, he has always had a great "joie de vivre", giving of himself freely and constantly. I suppose he felt that as a bonus consolation prize to his walkout, he would grant me intellectual rights to my own experience. It was extraordinarily large of him. He gave it away freely, without a care in the world: He was moving on to a better place -- in fact he was leaving that very night to the 42 celebrated hills of San Francisco -- but I could write about the space where he had been.

It was all going to be all right.

True to form, he also went farther than was strictly necessary, on the same night. He made a bold optimistic proclamation as he stood with his hands outstretched to me, as I lay on the floor in a tragically humiliating stupor of shock, grief and horror. Yes. He delved into the subject of the good fresh money to be earned, now that I could write about it. He said, twiddling his long elegant fingers in the air in front of his body...

"All you have to do is sit down to your keyboard, Suzanne, and you will make three hundred thousand dollars."

It is a mark of his exaggerated belief in my skill as a writer and his confidence in a strong economy that he was so generous with this figure. Nonetheless, the oral estimation of the exact dollar amount I would certainly earn based on this little domestic fracas seemed to make him seem taller and richer, himself. He glowed with the benevolence of a giving patron of the arts, he exhaled an intangible aura of abundance and optimism. Then he walked.

To his credit, back on that spring night in 2000, he looked excited for me. There appeared a gleam in his eye that had been previously absent. It was a Whole Community Moment. He gave me his permission to write about my own divorce, as he delivered the news of the divorce itself to me. This was adroit, he saved all manner of question and answer periods that would have come later, he blocked my writing permission into the overall information news bulletin that night -- the primary news being the fact that he was leaving our family.

Yes I cried, yes I railed, but to no avail. It was not important, as I had failed miserably in my job as a wife to him, he had found a better candidate and he was history, good people. Our 15-month year old son and I were on our own, although he did pay the amount of court ordered child support, delivered on time, along with affectionate and frequent visitation. As for his forecast amount of $300K for the memoir of our divorce, it proved to be far less than that. I forgive him, though. How could he have known what a drastic turn our national economy would take, and how gas prices would go straight through the very roof of Heaven? How did he know there would be the unthinkable holocaust of 9/11 and then on the heels of that cataclysm, a complete travesty of a war and a national Recession to contend with? He is only human. He didn't know.

None of us knew anything. That's why writing - memoirs in particular -- became so important. And memoirs poured from the orifices of America.

We draw a curtain upon this time. We hope for better times.

And speaking of hope? A scant four days after my ex husband left, I had an emotional seizure. It was a dark, lonely weekend morning and I was unable to breast-feed and I became very sad. Not only could I not retain a husband or make the mortgage payment alone without plunging into an irretrievable abyss of debt? I could not express enough milk to wet a stamp. Sobbing, I gave my son a bottle of Enfamil. I picked up my telephone and I called Information and traced down the phone number of a favorite writer who lives in my area, Anne Lamott. After at least ten rings, she answered her phone, although we were mere acquaintances. And when I told her of how my husband had left, but! But that he'd said I could write about my divorce, she said - and I'll never forget the grace of the moment --" YOU'RE GODDAMNED RIGHT YOU CAN."

Ms Annie Lamott was on her way to church, it was a Sunday, and she talked to me the whole way. She is a marvelous writer and has not suffered divorce, to her ultimate credit as a human being. I feel instinctively that the great ones manage to avoid it, along with marriage as well. We need look no farther than dogs, horses, lions, lambs, Katherine Hepburn and Jesus as prime, unassailable examples.

Finally i would posit that if we don't learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

Cut the cake.


Polly Kahl said...

Yippee, it's Suzanne's blog! This needs to be here.


thanks! i have more time for it now that i'm unemployed, or at least underemployed! it helps stave off the negativity and keeps me in present time.

i love that the annie lamott kindness is in this post. all true, of course. she is a luminous presence, a real menshe.

Linda said...

Damn right you can!

I have several of Annie's books and cherish her words. So wise. You are both so funny in your wisdom, Suzanne. That is amazing.

I have been married 3 times. Hmmm. Not the stuff of interest for any book, but I am trying to learn from my mistakes, especially since I am apparently still in the midst of the 3rd one. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

I am reading Split on my Kindle! You are funny and wise and it is so TRUE.

--Mary Lou in Charlotte


thank you anonymous!!!!! you are a great anonymous.

chriskitlll said...

I met Annie Lamott at a swimming hole on the Feather River many years ago. I didn't know who she was at the time. Just a thin woman in a two-piece who had me looking at familiar things in a new way. I love that I can hear her voice when I read her words. It's the same when I read you. I can hear you speaking.

Anonymous said...

"He said, twiddling his long elegant fingers in the air in front of his body..."

i know this gesture. it was always sarcastic in my marriage. and yes, i hear your voice saying "you own this!" damn straight.

and wow, 7 years. (that's good to know)



lovely. thank you. to be compared to anne lamott is a high compliment. she is indeed a miracle.

chriskitlll said...

Yes. A miracle. Like inhaling finnamones.


wait a minute! i know you! god i am so slow on the uptake. i have forty thousand books and personal effects to sort through for my move, to the opposite end of the country. i've been a little...tense. a bit occupied. more so than usual. i honestly don't know where i am or what i'm doing, except that it all has to be boxed up or given away or recycled in some Herculean effort. oh and i have to create advertising and magazine articles and run down to KQED as well, and raise my son, Pablo. he i ten. he is the buddha himself, he is buddha pablo.

i have one friend come over every day to stand by and help me discard everything. it helps if they're gay, but it;s not essential.

i hear you are doing good things in the world, chriskitIII. it makes me happy. xo finnamore


i have a Kindle. It's still in its box.

Manic Mommy said...


I have read Otherwise Engaged, and just devoured Split. Oh my God, do you know how to write! And the things that struck me as I was reading were many. For one, how extraordinary that you don't bring Thing Woman in to much of the story, because obviously, you know she will have read it, and you completely DISCOUNT her in the book, and I love that! You don't give her the time of day. Yet, you also let her know that you had sex with your husband after the fact. THAT had to kill her. Your thought process is tremendous! Brilliant!

I wish you so much happiness in your life, for you and your son. And for him, I just feel sad for such a sad confused man. (I hope that's OK that I said that - and of course, curious to know if Thing Woman is still in the picture?)

chriskitlll said...

mine is wrapped up in storage


we all are, until we decide to be free. we're all wrapped up in our ornate boxes until god pops the lid.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Not enough milk to wet a postage stamp. That is a sad day, indeed. Thank God for Anne Lamott, in more ways than one.


carrie -- my milk never came in. my dr says it happens to 1 in 10 women. the breast-feeding nazis of our current culture do not want us to know these figures. BITCHES.


yes, well. SPLIT isn't about Thing Woman. that would be so there's hardly enough literary material there for a pamphlet.

Caroline O'Neil for CafeGirlsPress said...

I am just now reading SPLIT and I thank you for writing it. I had no idea that anyone else had been through my exact same experience.

Do these sociopaths have a handbook detailing step by step how to fillet the very guts out of their women?

They say and do the same things to all of us, as if following some recipe in the Narcissist Handbook.

And they do it so well, with malice aforethought.

And the family court systems, including women's attorneys, collude with them in the quest to annihilate us as human beings.

Are we tumors to be excised?

The cold blooded inhumanity is incomprehensible.

And I have let three such men do this to me. What is my problem that I assist in my own destruction??

PS Love Anne Lamott as well.