Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"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 tarbox house? 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, columnist, journalist and creative writer, 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 has been lauded as an international bestseller, has been named a Best of 2008 Book by Library Journal, has 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 on this ridiculous 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.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Suzanne Finnamore, the best-selling author of Otherwise Engaged and Split: A Memoir of Divorce has found love again — online! Here, we speak with her about the search for love, writing and life with a new fiancé.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

Charming, brilliant and highly attractive men without a scrap of integrity need not apply; I am looking for a sincere and genuinely available man...a grown man. I am a grown woman. Think how well these two things go together. This, after all, is why cats don’t date dogs. They don’t match, they never will. It’s the way nature intended; I am just following the higher order of things. -- From author Suzanne Finnamore’s (now-extinct) online dating profile

Captivated readers have loyally followed Suzanne Finnamore’s most intimate moments since the publication of Otherwise Engaged, her hilarious novel about a nervous bride’s crazy trip to the altar. And when Suzanne’s marriage
dissolved, readers followed her romantic adventures once more — this time, with the veil of fiction lifted — through the pages of Split: A Memoir of Divorce. Here, Suzanne is giving Happen magazine the straight scoop on how she met her fiancé (hint: online, through!) and how her past experiences with love, marriage, divorce, and planning for her second wedding have made her a wiser romantic.

Did you do much dating after your divorce? Did you take a break or jump right in? How’d it go out there? Was it scary?

I took a break for five years as I raised my son and wrote Split. Then one Sunday my single-mom friend, Cora, announced she had just been on an Italian cuisine bay cruise the night before, whereas I had watched my eleven-thousandth episode of Entertainment Tonight. “Try,” she advised. We walked right over to my computer together and signed me up. I immediately found several men to fall in love with and who seemed to love me. Now I realize that, looking back, it was like when you think the moon is following you, but it’s not — rather, it’s following everyone and it’s following no one; it’s a giant planet and is oblivious to fantasy or desire. You can even land on the moon, but that’s unlikely, isn’t it? But in a way, I did. It only took four years to take “…that trip to the moon on gossamer wings” and meet my fiancé.

I became something of an expert at Internet dating — which can be a gold mine if done properly. But in the beginning, these men were all wrong… for me. They were dead right for someone else; i.e., one had just lost 100 pounds, and that scared the heck out of me. It was too close to shape-shifting, I suppose. One laughed at everything I said — literally. I’d say “hello” and he’d laugh. I’d say, “There’s a woodpecker outside my window” and he’d laugh. Then I said, “Can you call me later; I’m busy writing,” which was an obvious excuse to get off the phone, and he laughed. I guess the short answer is: I had tons of flings and a few boyfriends after my husband and I split. It was scarier for them, I suspect. Internet dating got me back into the pool of life. I swam and was better off for having done it.

Tell us about meeting your fiancé. How did you meet? Did you know right away that he was special — or even The One?

What’s so strange is that I almost didn’t meet him. Both of us had kept our profiles hidden for months. I’d let my subscription lapse. Then I got an email that said in the subject line, “30 Days of for Only $20.” A little voice within said, “Do it.” Two days later, I met the love of my life — a ferociously smart man with the body of a Rodin. suggested I use a new feature: “The Daily 5 ...5 Matches We Chose Just For You!” It’s a brilliant feature, because you just check one box: “Interested,” “Not Interested,” or “Maybe.” I looked at Tom and thought, hot picture. I read his basic statistics: 49, divorced, Chapel Hill, NC, two kids. And then, without thinking, I checked the “Interested” box. And that was just it: the ultimate in one-click shopping for my second husband — “add to cart!” (I guess the moral of my story is this: with online dating, don’t give up; follow your own small voice inside and trust your gut.) I clicked the “Interested” button, my life changed forever.

I have to give some credit to pheromones and superb timing; also, our values and personalities are very, very similar. Of course, being only human, Tom and I had both been dastardly fiendish in our profiles: I lied about my age and he lied about something else pretty big. Once we’d roped each other into our digital webs of inequity, we told each other the truth. Today, we are still telling the truth. You can only meet someone online; the rest of the process of dating should be — and, marvelously, usually is — completely live and analog in nature. Within a month, Tom made the ridiculous proposition of marriage and I accepted.

Now, I salute the power of, a service without which I believe I can say with absolute certainty I would not have met my fiancé (whose large, shiny shoes I would willingly drink champagne from).

Is Tom different from your ex-husband in ways that are important to you because of your experience with your first marriage ending in divorce?

Well, my ex is a wonderful man, but he has never been a slave to monogamy. Conversely, Tom has a history of fidelity; we spoke candidly on the phone for two hours, after which I expressly cut him off until we met for a mildly expensive and highly civilized, protracted lunch. Brisk coffee dates, in my opinion, are overrated when it comes to romance. And from the first date, Tom has been a completely open book. He’s patient to the extreme versus being moody and fiery.

My first husband was dark and swarthy; Tom is blond and fair-skinned. My ex had a black thumb. As I type this, Tom is busy landscaping our yard, liberating the gardenia bush from the hyacinth and cutting the crepe myrtle tree back and killing the poison ivy with some spray, all while he holds a conference call to Silicon Valley on his Bluetooth. He also mops floors… without my asking him to do it. And no, they don’t have any more at home like him.

What do you think you learned from your first marriage and its demise that have helped you in this relationship?

I have learned that not just sexual fidelity, but also fiscal fidelity is possible: Tom and I opened a joint checking account yesterday. It was poignant for me, almost sensational. I can book a solo passage to Paris, run rampant through Pottery Barn — but Tom trusts that I won’t. I find this kind of union to be on par with a bone marrow transplant; my ex and I never had joint accounts. Long before the affair that ended my first marriage, there was no essential, foundational trust; I see that now. I learned that I could let a man just be himself, because there is no controlling someone — and I don’t want to be controlled, either.

Are you approaching the planning of this wedding any differently than you did the first time?

Our respective families want us to have a proper wedding — a wedding that, we feel, would shave a full decade off our lives. So we’re having a stealth wedding, then a brief honeymoon in Charleston followed by our apologies all around.

How are your expectations for this marriage different than they were 10 years ago, with your first marriage?

I honestly never expected to re-marry. (I also thought I was done filling sippy cups and weeping at school plays… it just goes to show how wrong you can be.) And I know what marriage is, now. I know it can, frankly, wreck a lot of things. We won’t be new anymore. But honestly, it’s like we are already married. We’ve been living together since December of 2009. We’re a blended family; we have his two kids (ages two and eight) every weekend, plus Mondays. My son, Pablo, and Tom are so good together; he is the day-to-day father figure and parent that my ex can’t be, because he hasn’t lived in the same state since forever ago. My ex is my son’s father, and they have a great bond — and to me, he’s like a really old friend whom I happen to have a son with.

Marriage and children essentially strip off the veneer, all the protective layers people hide behind; it can be petrifying. But far worse is imagining what my life would be like had I not met Tom. In some slim but important ways, emotionally, I was amongst the walking dead. Even though I had a good time with friends and with dating, and although I adored my son, I don’t know how I managed before Tom. I think I had just flown on automatic pilot for the whole past decade. Leaving California and every single person and place I knew behind was hard. Four months later, I walked into Rue Cler in downtown Durham, North Carolina and met Tom. And I thought, “Dear God, is this it? Have I really found someone who can love me? Really love me?” I was worried. But my friend, Augusten Burroughs (who happens to be a much, much better memoirist than I), said: “Focus on how he makes you feel. The rest is bullshit from a smaller era.” And he was right. I believe the trick is to take the egregious mistakes you made during your first marriage and try not to repeat them. With Tom, I notice how tender and careful we both are with each other. It may be simply a matter of paying attention.

What are you up to now?

These days I’m writing a novel about love, the second time around. The first sentence, if it gets beyond the fragile opening stage of all books (and romances), may read like this: “I was still paying for my past when my future burst into flower on a tree I thought past fecundity, whose branches held the seed of a small miracle.”

And with that, we’ll leave you with the last stanza of a poem Suzanne wrote for her fiancé:

The decades have not brought me here.
The way was unmarked. No amount of signs
would guide me to this place — well, why not just say it
— to you. I am all in. You are what I’ve come for.

Suzanne Finnamore is the author of the best-selling books, Otherwise Engaged and The Zygote Chronicles (a Washington Post Book of the Year in 2002), and Split: A Memoir of Divorce. A novelist and journalist, Finnamore is a frequent contributor for publications such as O, Marie Claire, Redbook, Glamour and online at Her novels have been translated into 12 languages. Visit Suzanne at

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over and a regular contributor to Happen.