Failing Fruitfully: The Gifts of Divorce and Other 'Mistakes'

When you're walking along in a strange city, and you've studied the map and think you know where you're going, there's a period of time when you're actually going the wrong way but you haven't figured it out yet.
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Right before I got married to my (now ex-) husband in the spring of 2000, my office's secretary offered to read my palm. "Okay," I said. She held my hand in hers, atop the gray formica that made up her desk. Her eyes squinted. "You love your fiancé, but he needs you more than you need him... you're a writer, and you need to write. I see a woman. When you meet her, she is going to be the one who helps you to write."

Ellie's hand grew feverishly hot -- hot. Beads of sweat popped out at her hairline. I felt like all of me was in her hand -- that the seat of my existence was in my hand, resting in hers. I wanted to know more.

Abruptly, she dropped my hand. "I have to stop."


For years, every time I made a new friend, part of me wondered if that person was The One. Not a romantic One, but a mentor, a muse.

Little did I know that until I nested within my truth like a squirrel into its burrow, I would have nothing compelling to say.

Though there was the intern at my job, Liz from Smith College, who was tall, and tomboyish with buoyant breasts, which she shyly flaunted when she asked me out for coffee, or a beer, or lunch... waiting... lingering by my cubicle. My eyes skittered around so as not to stare at her bosom like a letch. What was I doing? I was engaged. I lived with my boyfriend. We were in love. I was flustered, flushed. I said no.

Surrounded by filing cabinets, I filed away Liz's effect on me. Got married. Had two kids. Moved to flyover country. Bought a station wagon and a house with my husband.

In 2006, I walked into a therapist's office. Within three sessions, I fell in the most clichéd love there is; the love of a sexually unsorted woman for her (happened to be) female, (happened to be) lesbian therapist. That queered several deals. I was unable to get any healing work done in that scenario. I suddenly couldn't tell her how I felt. I could have, but I just couldn't. My marriage, which was on its last legs, fell to bits. So much of the relationship relied on my own dissociated, strategic passivity and iron-toed will to keep going. Those logy imperatives were replaced with quicksilver waterfalls running up and down inside my body. I was liquid, I was light. I was alive and couldn't be dead any more. Not for one more second.

My worst nightmare: a "broken home," was now almost a sidenote, like the eggshell that a chick leaves behind when it emerges vividly into the world. I honored my marriage, I cared for my ex-husband, and I was sad that the time and energy we spent on our relationship was not going to result in a lifelong partnership.

But the second I left, hoping like hell I wasn't walking off a cliff to be dashed on the rocks below, things began to fall into place. A few months later, I wrote an anthology proposal in 30 minutes, mailed it off to one publisher, and got a book deal for Ask Me About My Divorce.

A year later, I met Laura. The two of us pitched our anthology, Dear John, I Love Jane, and sold that, too. And right before that book came out, I pitched my memoir, Licking the Spoon, to my editor, and she said yes.

My message is not "Get divorced, become a published writer." It's more like this:

When you're walking along in a strange city, and you've studied the map and think you know where you're going, there's a period of time when you're actually going the wrong way but you haven't figured it out yet. You're confident, feeling competent. And then it hits you. You're way off. You might walk for a few more blocks because you don't want to look like a stalled-out, clueless tourist. Eventually, you do what you need to do to get to the museum, or the monument.

This is not about how to avoid going off track. This is about how to accept and forgive that you will. You will misconstrue the words of oracles. You will file away the clues that confound you. You will find yourself in an entirely unexpected bad neighborhood of the soul. You will break your own heart, and those of others.

That's good time to start writing, or applying to a long-delayed degree program, or taking steps toward moving to Costa Rica. The quotidian humdrum is not weighing you down like a thousand leaden motes of dust. The investment of others in seeing you in a particular stagnant way is no longer hemming you in. What do you have to lose? What's another few hours, a submission, a pitch, a proposal? Ride the waves of that chaos. Channel the bravery of the slightly unhinged.

When everything you took for granted dissolves, the things you most want to manifest have room to appear.