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This reading group guide forFalling Apart in One Piece includes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Stacy Morrison. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
1. Throughout the book, Stacy uses the metaphor of a shoji screen to describe her ability to compartmentalize and deal with the shock of her husband’s sudden decision to leave, the ill-timed flooding of her brand new basement, the challenges of caring for a toddler, and the first stressful weeks at the helm of a major national magazine. Have you ever used this strategy to cope with difficult aspects of your own life? Were there ever times when you shut off certain thoughts or feelings for too long? Do you think Stacy ever fell into this trap of denial?
2. What are some of the other strategies Stacy develops by the end of the narrative that help her rebuild her family and stay sane without completely cutting Chris off from her life? How do you think her outlook has changed since she was an ambitious young adult trying to land her dream job?
3. Stacy has a strong but complicated relationship with her mother. How did it inform Stacy’s career decisions? What lessons did it teach her about marriage?
4. How does Stacy use what she’s learned in the high-pressure, tight-deadline environment of magazine publishing to deal with her problems at home? To what extent is she effective?
5. Social situations seem to put additional stress on Stacy and Chris’s relationship: The trip to the Hamptons and the trip to the wedding in Maine highlight some of the differences in the outlooks and personalities. Why do you think this might be? What has changed since the early days of their relationship?
6. Amazed at Stacy’s composure, her friend Melissa says, “Stacy, where is your anger? I mean come on, I know you’re a big thinker and you can explain anything, but are you even human?” (112) Why do you think Stacy remains so calm for so long? Can you think of times in your own life when your emotional response to a difficult event took you by surprise?
7. Stacy eventually does get angry after she and Chris are fully separated. Do you think the outburst triggered by Chris’s request for compassion is a necessary step in the healing process, or does it represent a setback in Stacy’s quest to rebuild a life free of the bitterness she sees among her divorced friends?
8. Stacy gets a great deal of advice from her friends throughout the book. If she had come to you for advice, what would you have told her?
A Conversation with Stacy Morrison
1. What made you decide to write this book? Did your understanding of the events you describe change as you wrote?
I want to change how we talk about divorce, what we expect from it. I’ve been a relationship and marriage “expert” for twenty years now and I was completely surprised by the insights and lessons my divorce brought me. How could I not have known that I would have to rebuild my entire sense of self after my marriage ended? It’s not about anger; it’s about loss and grief and relearning everything you think about life. And I was also shocked to see what others—strangers and friends alike—wanted to bring me as I was going through my divorce: people wanted me to be angry; they wanted Chris to have cheated on me. I was just amazed and surprised by the whole experience. And, the great thing? I’m a much better person now for having lived through it all and thought about it all. The book is a resilience roadmap.
The lessons I wrote about in the book are the lessons as I lived them; and the gifts and learning they brought me are as true now as they ever were. I continue to live by them.
2. Did you always know you wanted to publish your story? What was Chris’s reaction to his portrayal?
I tried not to write this book for more than a year, but I kept ending up at parties with a ring of people standing around me, listening to me share my insights and diatribes. I’d get embarrassed about going on, and stop and joke that I was going to become a talk-show host or a Buddhist, but at one party an agent (who became my agent) suggested maybe I should write a book instead.
Chris hasn’t read the book yet! I gave it to him months ago, but since he lived it already once, I guess there’s not that burning desire to read it to find out how it all turns out.
3. What are some of the key lessons you can learn about yourself when going through a divorce or any major life change?
You have this incredible opportunity to discover who you really are. And to learn what you believe is true about life, too. For me, this was an incredibly calming transformation—that is, after I got through the many layers of fear. But one of the first ones you discover? You can handle more than you think you can. Because you don’t have a choice! But accepting that allows you to stop fighting the things you are afraid of, and start just moving through them.
4. What’s gained by focusing on divorce as an event of grief rather than anger? Isn’t anger sometimes warranted? Is it ever therapeutic?
I’m not saying anger isn’t in divorce; it very much is! And in this book I felt the responsibility to show what it all really looked like, so you see me yelling, raging at Chris and the heavens on more than one occasion. But I think we, as a culture, talk about divorce as if it’s a fight—who’s right? Who’s wronged?—as if the anger and the blame is the primary experience of divorce. And it is not. It’s not. Grief and loss and heartbreak, and emptiness, the death of a dream: that’s where you live most of the time in the years you’re moving through divorce. Plus, I truly believe that if you stay angry, you won’t learn from your loss what you need to know to move past it, to be whole again. I wanted people to help me grieve and honor my marriage; and what everyone wanted to do was help me with the anger. No, thanks. That wasn’t the help that would help me.
5. Can you share any co-parenting strategies that have worked in your family?
Everyone has to find their own path, but for Chris and me it was about how to keep Zack in one place. He was so young when Chris moved out—16 months old—that it just made sense for Zack to stay in one place, with me. Which meant that Chris and I were the ones who were inconvenienced by the separation, not Zack. We had weeks of exchanging uncomfortable, unfriendly hellos and goodbyes in my apartment after Chris had been there to take care of Zack. But it was totally worth the months of hard, hard, hard for the reward of Zack’s always knowing where home base was.
6. There are so many challenges to being a single parent. Have you discovered any benefits?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one for me to admit out loud. Because the fact is that it is very hard to raise children in America right now; everyone’s stretched so tight for time and money, and that’s a focus of what we do at Redbook every single month, helping women manage that crunch. But because of my arrangement with Chris, I have time to myself in every week; I can actually make it to the gym occasionally. And I joke—and it is not at all funny—that being amicably divorced is the only sane way to raise children these days! But I’m not a single parent; I’m a mom who’s not married to her child’s father anymore. Chris and I are definitely doing parenting together.
7. Do you have any dating advice for single moms?
Dare to do it, that’s my advice. But treat it as an entertainment. Don’t go into it looking for a partner—that sets the stakes too high, it makes it too hard. Start out because you want someone to go to the movies with once in a while, or whatever it is you like to do. Claim the time as something you’re doing for you. When I was finally ready, it was an intensely magical relief just to think about me for two hours, even if the guy wasn’t ultimately “a match.”
8. Your career is obviously very important to you, but it’s also clear that your family is a priority. Do you have any advice for women looking to find balance? Was there ever a time when you felt you put too much emphasis on either aspect of your life?
Balance is an impossible dream, and the ten million Redbook readers and I know it. What we shoot for instead is good days, to have more good days than bad days. And for me, the fastest way to get to more good days has been to truly, 100 percent accept that I can’t be in two places at a time. So when I’m at work, I’m a worker; and when I’m home, I’m a mom, and I try not to feel the tension and pull of the Other Place, wherever I am. It’s taken years of practice to get here, though! Practice is a great word I use a lot about life: I am practicing how to balance, and if I have a bad day, no big deal. I get to practice again tomorrow, always learning. I practiced my way through my divorce, too; the days I was so angry at Chris, I would forgive myself, and then practice having compassion for him the next day. And eventually, I practiced myself right into the good, happy, solid, peaceful, whole place I am today.
Stacy Morrison is the editor in chief of Redbook magazine. Under her guidance, the magazine has found new vibrancy and relevance for today’s generations, winning a Folio award for General Excellence (2005), a Clarion award for General Excellence (2007), and a National Magazine Award nomination for Personal Service (2006). She has appeared as an expert on women, love, sex, money and more on the Today Show, CNN Headline News, CNN Moneyline, and The Early Show, among many other TV programs.
Before becoming editor in chief of Redbook magazine, she was Executive Editor at Marie Claire, working on the international advocacy projects, and had previously been the editor in chief of Modern Bride magazine and the venture-funded dot.com/magazine about design, One (which won three Ozzie awards in its short lifespan). She was also a part of the launches of Conde Nast Sports for Women, Time Out New York, and Mirabella magazine.
She lives in Brooklyn with her 4-year-old son, Zack, whose father is at the house many, many times a week.