“Find joy in the creation, let go of the wanting.” Imagine the freedom in living this way. This sentiment from Laura Munson’s interview can be applied to everything, including parenting and ourselves: what if we released the idea of who we (or our kids) are “supposed” to be and celebrated who we are?
Pre-kids, I did a lot of introspective work and one of the mantras I incorporated into my life back then was:
May I be happy
May I be free from fear
May I be free from sorrow
May I be free from suffering
(then you do it again substituting “you” for I, and then “all beings” for I)
Like many things I did regularly pre-kids, this mantra fell by the wayside when I became more absorbed in repetitive nursery rhymes than meditative mantras. But, just 4 months ago, it crossed my path and I posted it above my kitchen sink…though in a telling sign, it fell behind a picture and I totally forgot about it again!
Then I heard Laura on NPR and again on Good Morning America talking about her new book, This is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam), and there was that mantra attached to Laura’s very real situation. Laura’s book is the telling of an incredibly personal crisis – a marriage crisis in which her husband of 20+ years tells her he wants out and she responds with “I don’t buy it.” This crisis thoroughly tested her practice of living in the present, ending suffering and creating happiness.
Ultimately, This is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness is so much more than a relationship story. It’s a captivating and honest book that helps empower you to design a life that works for you. In the book, Laura advises her pre-teen daughter about creating her own happiness, and she thinks about how lucky her daughter is to be supplied with this knowledge at such a young age. At 12 or at many years past 12, it’s never too early or late to embrace wisdom.
In your book, you mention and thank your writing group in Seattle. What benefit do writing groups have and how did this specific writing group help you develop as a writer?
I planned to get my MFA in creative writing after college, but a wise and seasoned writer said, “You don’t need an MFA. Do you write all the time, read religiously, and have a writing group?” I answered yes to the first two. So when the chance occurred to start a group based on Natalie Goldberg’s improvisational writing book, “Writing Down the Bones” I jumped on it. That group took on its own form over the years and is still a great support for me even though I no longer live in Seattle. Writers need support and honesty from people they can trust who are also being vulnerable with their work. No one like fellow writers can understand the perils and passions of the writing life, and it’s essential to share with them whether it’s in group critique or writing exercises.
Have you had a writing mentor over the years who’s helped guide you and offer feedback?
That’s one thing that is hard to find if you don’t get an MFA. Writers are busy people and not all of them have teaching spirits. I’ve had two writers over the years greatly influence the shape of my writing journey, not necessarily my actual writing. I call upon them for advice, and truth be told, I met both of them attending their readings. I try hard not to call upon them too often. And truthfully, writers really can’t do much in the way of getting other writers published. But it is helpful to have writer friends who are further along in the journey than I am, mostly for trade advice.
It seems you’ve had a book agent for a while – can you talk about when and how you landed your agent?
There is no recipe, I’ve found, to achieving the peak moments in the publishing process. It’s all been quite flukeish in my experience. I’ve been writing hard for 20 years, with 14 unpublished books under my belt. (Not 14 GOOD ones, however.) In the first ten or so years of my writing life, I wasn’t consistent at querying agents. I was either stubborn or scared or busy with babies or just obsessed with writing my next novel. But about five years ago, I felt that I had completed four or five solid publishable books, and I got serious about the business end of the writing life. I started putting a lot of energy into networking and researching agencies. It’s amazing what happens when you take an active, deliberate role in creating your dreams into realities. It was very soon after that I learned of an agent who was switching from film to books and was looking for new clients. I contacted her, and the rest is history.
In your writer statement you mention wanting to help people and you’ve done so by drawing on a highly personal experience. At what point did you feel compelled to share your story publicly? Did it feel scary, liberating (or something else entirely) to open yourself up like this?
Writers write what we know. Sometimes we plug that knowledge into fiction, which has been my first choice over the years, and sometimes we feel driven to write life as we know it in reality. If my goal as a writer is to provide relief for myself and others, then it felt important to be the main character when I was writing my way through my marital crisis. I needed that book on my nightstand, if only to let me know that I wasn’t alone. Vulnerability is a character trait I value, and writing can be yes, very scary in that regard. But it’s worth it if it helps people. I hope this book does just that.
How did you get your essay published in the “Modern Love” section of The New York Times? Was that the launching pad for getting this book deal?
I submitted it and it was accepted. I’d submitted several before that were rejected, so it was a great surprise. It was the platform I’d been looking for—not easy to achieve. A lot of people read that essay, and within 48 hours of my agent submitting the book version, which I wrote first and in real time, I had a book deal.
Writing your memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness must have been an entirely different experience than writing your fictional novels. Can you talk about that?
To me, fiction is distilled reality—realer than real. It gives you the elbow room to practice empathy and create a story which is not limited to your own experience. I love the freedom in that. Memoir is limited, then, in that sense. However, in its best form, it’s raw and real and has the ability to deeply touch people’s lives because they know there’s a person out there going through a situation they might identify with. It helps people to know they’re not alone, and that is deeply powerful.
In your book, you mention another book, “The End of Suffering,” which had become a guiding light in your life prior to the situation with your husband. How did that book initially find its way into your life? Can you share one or two of the guiding principles of that book?
I mentioned the “end of suffering” in my Modern Love essay which was a bit confusing. It’s not a reference to a book, (though there is a book by that name, which I haven’t read), but rather a philosophy to choose to exile the destructive thoughts in our heads and to commit to being responsible for our own well-being, focusing on the present moment. There is terrific freedom in the present moment when we are choosing to own what we can own, create what we can create, and surrender the rest. I am interested in that freedom.
You briefly mention in the book the idea of detaching vs. un-attaching from your writing…can you talk about the difference?
To me, detaching is an avoiding or a departure from something that is powerful to you. The departure is brought on by pain that you still acknowledge, and therefore, that pain is apt to still hold power over you. You may play victim to it by being ever-aware that you have left it, but have you really? The result can be a despondence or a brokenness. And to me, being un-attached is to say that you are not engaged at all in the power of something over you. It holds no power. You are not in a relationship with it as a force in your past or your future, and especially not in your present. It’s neither bad nor good nor right nor wrong. Its power doesn’t exist for you, and it especially doesn’t define your well-being or purpose in life. That’s how I came to view the publishing world.
Why is This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness resonating with so many readers?
People need to hear stories about empowerment. Especially in this economy. People are hungry for the message that you can be powerful even when you feel powerless, simply by choosing to be responsible for your own happiness. And I think that people are also thankful for the candor in my book showing when I am no good at all at practicing this philosophy. People want to know that they are not alone in their humanness. And that there is great possibility even in very potentially painful situations.
Your passionate dedication to your writing is inspiring – any advice for other aspiring writer/mothers?
Persevere. Make rules for yourself about your writing time and do your best to adhere to them. But try not to let resentment build when your motherhood interrupts your writing time. Be kind to yourself. Have fun on the page. Find the joy in the creation, and let go of the wanting. See where you are suffering from wanting to be published. When you have something good, submit it—send it off with a kiss, and then forget about it. When you get rejections, don’t take them personally. Get back to the work.
Did this experience in your marriage change the kind of mother you are?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure. I think I got to practice a philosophy I’d been working with in a very real practical life situation. And I did it with a strength I didn’t know I possessed outside of my writing life. So in that sense, I have a deeper confidence in myself that I hope my children see and will want to model in their own lives. I also have a stronger commitment to letting go that probably has me being more spacious when it comes to parenting. I’m very dedicated to teaching my children to live in the present moment and not fret about the past or the future, and I see them working with that concept in their lives very successfully. I am honored if they’ve learned that from anything I might have taught them.
My favorite snack is: toast with butter and jam.
Don’t ask me to: gossip.
I would put into a time capsule my: heart-shaped rock collection, a few books I’ve loved, and maybe a few books I’ve written.
My favorite place is: lying next to my sleeping children (second place: galloping on a horse on a beach).
When I have a creative block I: I have never had writer’s block.
My favorite mantra is: “Sit loosely in the saddle of life.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)