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Reflections, newsworthy items, and inspiring thoughts from author and award-winning radio commentator Jessica Bram.

If you’re awake early Saturday morning …

October 15, 2011

Getting up early Saturday morning? You’ll find me at 7:13 a.m. being interviewed live on WTNH Channel 8 in Connecticut. I’ll be speaking about Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey.  Divorce, it seems, has not gone out of style.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee and join me.

Well, duh.

July 22, 2011

Now that was annoying.

I couldn’t help being good and ticked off this morning when The Today Show ran a segment Why More Couples  Refuse To Divorce.

The author being interviewed, who just came out with a book called In Spite of Everything, went on to argue that Gen-Xer’s,  so many of whom were the children of divorce, are staying married longer because they don’t want to do to their children what was done to them.

This really ticks me off.  Like we didn’t want to stay married? Like we DIDN’T try to make it work?

Or maybe I was just jealous because she got her book on the Today Show, and I didn’t.

Taking that first courageous step

January 21, 2011

Someone told me recently that she  typed a paragraph from Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey to send to a friend.  It’s on page 250, and I thought I would share it with you again here:

I tell my friends, who feel trapped in bad marriages but terrified of divorce, to fear not.  Divorce means a second chance, or maybe even a third or fourth chance, at happiness.  Divorce is not the problem but a solution, when all else fails, to irreparable marital unhappiness.  Facing a divorce, calling a spade a spade, minimizing one’s losses, cashing in the chips when the alternative is to lose it all – whatever one wants to call it – is one of the most adult, responsible actions a person can take in life.  Facing up to divorce means no longer allowing oneself to regret the past or whine about the present.  Divorce means taking that first constructive action, no matter how hard, expensive, or demoralizing that can be, toward building a new future.  Not just for oneself, but for one’s children as well.  Because children deserve to live in a home of peace, loving feelings, and tranquility.

If you are in the neighborhood of Greenwich, Connecticut next Wednesday, January 26, please come to my talk and book signing at the Greenwich Arts Council at 299 Greenwich Avenue at 7:30 pm.  A  relaxed and casual conversation will follow my talk, and the event is free.

It’s never too late to be happily ever after divorced

November 24, 2010

I came across an interesting article in Life and Health Advisors Online by Lili Vasileff, CFP, CDFA, president of Divorce and Money Matters, LLC, and President of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners.  In “Are gray divorces exploding?” Lili explored the financial and social ramifications of what is reputed to be a growing trend among Baby Boomers like Tipper and Al Gore for late-in-life divorces.

Lili A. Vasileff

I found the article thought-provoking, especially since I have quite a few friends who have recently fallen into this category.

Although divorce at any age is rarely without pain,  late life divorce is that it is immeasurably easier because child custody issues are not involved.  But mostly I’m glad to be reminded that even in one’s late fifties and sixties (the current demographic for Baby Boomers, hard as that is for this Baby Boomer to believe), there is still the opportunity for a great many happy and fulfilled years ahead.  I was especially reminded of this not long ago when, after speaking to a group of seniors, a couple in their mid-80’s introduced themselves to say that after late life divorces for each of them,  they had been now been happily remarried to each other 32 years.

My only quibble with the article?  Calling these divorces “grey.”   For a lot of us in this age group, “grey” is something easily taken care of.

I’m just saying.

I’m speaking in Denver this Friday

August 10, 2010

I’ll be speaking about Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey in Denver, Colorado this Friday, Aug. 13 at 7 pm, at a get-together of the Wildflower Women’s Foundation.  They are an organization created by women to support women in the transitions of divorce and widowhood. 

I love the name of their organization – don’t you? – wildflowers being those things that somehow manage to bloom beautifully, no matter where they are scattered by wind or circumstance.

If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by. Admission is only $10 an all proceeds benefit the Wildflower Women’s Foundation.

Letter to a reader

June 2, 2010

Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey hit #6 in the Divorce category on Amazon’s Bestselling Books today, which must explain why I’ve been recently receiving a whole lot of e-mails from appreciative readers.  That’s the absolutely, undeniably best thing about having had a memoir published – knowing that one’s own experience has given a moment of encouragement or comfort to someone else.

But sometimes it works the other way around: I find enormous validation  when  someone puts in words the very thing that I myself have thought and felt.   Here’s my reply to a reader who wrote to me yesterday, describing her feeling of powerlessness to leave her marriage for her children’s sake:

I was so glad to hear from you, and thank you for writing.  Let me just say to you that the situation you describe is EXACTLY where I was for most of my marriage – certainly since I had children. When one of our biggest fights erupted in his saying “I’m sick of hearing you’re unhappy in this marriage, Jessica.  If you want a divorce, go get a divorce!” my answer was “I can’t. I have three children.”

 It was as simple as that – or so I thought. So I know exactly where you are coming from.

 I also completely identified with your sentence “I have wanted a divorce for so long I can’t remember not wanting one.” Wow, that was me for nineteen years. 

 First, I want to let you know that my book is not at all a “light-hearted look at divorce”.  Divorce is never light-hearted.  There were lots of very tough moments, including guilt about “taking my children away from their father”.  But the point of the book is that my actual experience, once I faced the fact that the marriage had to end, was not only not nearly as bad as I had expected it to be, but we all actually thrived and did fine afterward.  The stories in Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey are about things like learning I could love my alone time, learning that I enjoyed my time alone with my children, the thrill and terrors of learning to stand on my own two feet in lots of ways, and eventually dating and finding love again. (I just remarried: did you see the NY Times Vows article?)

I don’t tell anyone what to do in the book.  I just recount my own stories, and I think people figure out how to make that apply to themselves.

I hope you read it, and especially, I hope that it helps you find the courage to claim your happiness.  You deserve it.  And it’s what your children want for you, truly.

 Keep in touch, and let me know how it’s going.

Jessica

About Tipper and Al … or was it, John and Elizabeth?

June 2, 2010

A reporter/producer from CNN.com called me yesterday afternoon to find out why I thought couples who have been married 30 or 40 years get divorced.  As author of Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey, I’m now considered some kind of authority on divorce.

As though I knew anything about anyone’s divorce besides my own. Which I do not.

 The reason for her call, I later realized, was the surprise announcement that after 40 years of marriage, Tipper and Al Gore are filing for divorce.  Being at least a few news cycles behind, I completely mis-heard when she asked what I thought about the Gore’s breakup.  I could SWEAR I heard her say John and Elizabeth Edwards.  That was the only long-time married couple I knew of whose marriage problems came to light not that long ago. 

 Silly me. I now realize that “not that long ago” is the equivalent of “about a century ago” in today’s rapid-fire news world.

So like a complete media dolt I went on to give the reporter my thoughts about the breakup of John and Elizabeth Edwards.  Look, I said, sometimes even good marriages just run their course.  They were, after all, very united in their support of his political future.  I’m sure her illness was a stress factor on the marriage.  (This met with complete silence from the reporter, who was probably frantically Googling “Tipper Gore illness” to see whether she had missed something.) The fact that they are now getting a divorce, I said, doesn’t mean their entire marriage was invalid.  People grow apart, even after 40 years.  

And sure enough, there I am, quoted in the article.

She did find it interesting when I posed that when a very long-term marriage ends in divorce, my experience is that it’s usually the wife who decides to make her move.  Women grow, they change, and they find their strengths, especially when they put child-raising behind them.  Men settle in.

Truth be told, I was feeling more than a little uncomfortable about being asked to gossip about someone’s else’s divorce.  I don’t know the first thing about Tipper and Al, (or, for that matter, Elizabeth and John.) Who am I to speculate?  Who is anyone?

The funny thing is, I realize now that it doesn’t matter whom I was talking about.  Because in my mind, just about everything I did say applies to the Edwards, the Gores, or just about anyone else who have decided to end a marriage.

I believe that there really is a time for every purpose under heaven. Why does the end of a marriage have to carry the stigma of blame? Why the suggestion of failure?

Give them a break.  Let’s just hope they find happiness on whatever separate paths  might lie ahead of them.

Still, it’s a good thing I didn’t say anything about Rielle Hunter.

How I Know I’m Married

May 19, 2010

Ever since I started telling people that I would be getting married this spring – which wasn’t that long ago, since we only set the date a month or two before – I have had the strange feeling of living in some strange, alternate universe from the one in which I’ve resided these past fifteen years. 

As a separated and then divorced single mother all this time, I had gotten used to the “I’m so sorry” response to any mention of my status.  Checking the “Divorced” box has always meant skipping over the first-place “Married,” second-place “Single,” and third-place “Widowed,” in a placement that seemed to suggest, “Let’s see, what’s left?”

Now, instead, I’m greeted like some kind of heroine. The Men’s Warehouse saleswoman turned from dour to positively radiant the instant I mentioned that the shirt I was here to buy was one I needed my son to wear at my upcoming wedding.  Running into an old married friend who hasn’t invited me to her house in years, instead of “Keep in touch” I hear, for the first time in years, “When can you and your husband come for dinner?”

I’ll admit to mixed emotions. When a fundraising event invitation arrives with a $75 admission charge, I realize, with some dismay, that the evening will now cost me $150. It’s been decades since the words “I’ll ask my husband” have crossed my lips – not even when addressed to an auto mechanic or construction contractor.  I haven’t used that one yet.

Old habits are hard to lose.  When I received that notice last week that my Triple-A membership was up for renewal, I reflexively wrote out a check for my individual (plus one driving son) membership, completely losing sight of the fact that most memberships include spouse. 

But here’s the hardest part.  When people now refer to “your husband,” I get a small, uneasy start. That word has had so many negatives attached to it for so long.  Ownership. Conflict. Marital Rights.

In truth, I’m having a hard time getting the H-word out at all.

I suppose I’ll get the hang of it.  But this all does feel a bit weird.

Westport Writers’ Workshop Expands, Launches New Space

May 13, 2010

The room was packed.

The Westport Writers’ Workshop had a standing-room-only crowd at the launch of our new space at 3 Sylvan Road South in Westport Friday.  The excitement generated by our new venue where writers can gather with writers, write alongside other writers, and develop their craft, was unmistakable.  For me, it’s truly a dream come true.

The first hour was just a lot of catching up and schmoozing over wine and appetizers.  Then several members of the faculty – Suzanne Hoover, Matt Debenham, Valerie Seiling Jacobs, Patricia Hermes, and I – read from our own work. Our members told us it was a delightful opportunity to hear from us, for once, rather than the other way around.

Matt Debenham read from his newly published short story collection "The Book of Right and Wrong" while Suzanne Hoover looked on.

It also reminded me one basic fact about writers: we write in order to be read.  Or in this case, heard.  Published or not, serving as willing and appreciative readers for each other is how we writers keep ourselves motivated to keep writing.

Here’s a great article in today’s Westport Minuteman that explains what we’re all about and how we came to be.

How we got in “Vows”

April 19, 2010

Photo by Thomas McDonald for the NY Times

“I thought you wanted our wedding to be private,” Bob said, when I told him I had pitched the story of our wedding to the NY Times for their 800-word Sunday wedding feature “Vows.”

Yes, I did, which is why we kept the guest list to strictly family.  Originally we were aiming for about a dozen.  But our five sons (my three, Bob’s two), our siblings, and our siblings’ kids brought the number to 28. 

Which made 30, when you included the Times reporter and photographer.  Oh, yeah, very private.

My reason, of course, was to promote Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful JourneyAs every published author knows, once you’ve written a book your job has just begun – kind of like having a baby.  For the rest of your life you’re always thinking up ways to help it succeed – or in this case, bring it to the attention of readers.  It seemed like a story with a twist, which is how I pitched it to Weddings@nytimes.com

Wouldn’t make an interesting story, I asked, for the author of a book  heralding the rewards of the single divorced life to decide to remarry?  Wouldn’t it make for a compelling testament to the institution of marriage itself, which the entire Times Weddings section seems to stand for?

It wasn’t just about selling the book.  I really believed this. If my central purpose of writing Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey was to encourage people suffering in bad marriages, or facing divorce, that no, divorce is NOT the end of the world – which is exactly what my mission was – wouldn’t the example of my own happy ending – finding a wonderful guy, falling in love, and taking a chance on remarriage – be the ultimate proof?

They agreed, and we had a reporter, Eric V. Copage, assigned to write the story.

Luckily, he was a really great guy, and a pro, which actually made the process almost pleasant, although at times grueling. We began with an excruciating two-hour telephone interview on a Sunday, in which Bob and I on separate phone extensions, told the story of our meeting and courtship.  As a personal essay writer who is accustomed to telling the personal details of her life to the immediate world, I was all right with this.  It was no doubt more of a challenge for the more private Bob, but he was a good sport about the whole thing. 

It was tricky, because I had already told much of the story in two chapters in Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey, called “Opening My Heart” and “Then Comes Love.”  Eric had warned me that the Times would be unwilling to rehash material already in the book.  In addition, having worked with the Times before, I knew how careful we had to be to ensure that the facts were absolutely accurate. A cruise to Bermuda could not be called a cruise to the Bahamas.  Had three months or four passed between the networking meeting and the day that Bob first contacted me, and was that first contact by phone or by email?

We got into a bit of a tussle when Bob reported his job title at Fidelity. His actual title is “Director of Architecture,” which is an understood term in the software development world to mean someone who conceptualizes and designs software systems, but does not actually engage in the programming. But the Times editor refused to use the word “architecture,” insisting Bob come up with a less misleading title.  This was plenty tricky on the other end, with Bob unwilling to invent a whole new title for himself on the chance that someone at Fidelity – like the entire Compliance or HR departments, for example – might read the Sunday NY Times.  You see the problem.

NY Times reporter Eric Copage, top right rear, tried to look inconspicuous.

Our relatives were a bit puzzled when two nicely dressed but complete strangers, Eric Copage and a Times photographer, Thomas McDonald, showed up at the wedding ceremony on our back yard patio. By then neither Bob nor I, preoccupied with other matters, was paying much attention.  They even followed us to the restaurant afterward, which made me feel a bit guilty as they stood for two hours alongside the window refusing anything but a soda.

Later that afternoon, when everyone had left, Bob and I set out for Newport, Rhode Island for our so-called “honeymoon” (which we preferred to call “a few days break,” there being no cans tied to the back of the car).  The fun resumed early the next day – that’s right, Marriage Day One –  when Eric called at a pre-arranged time to follow up with “a few more questions” which turned into an additional hour or so of questions and diligent fact-checking. 

On Day Two, our afternoon scenic hike along Newport’s Cliff Walk was only briefly underway when my cell phone rang.  It was Eric again, back with more questions and fact-checking. I fielded them while Bob found a seat on the rocks, briefly took in the view, and then absorbed himself using his BlackBerry to research how the world’s oceans had formed. 

Bob and I felt entirely amiable about this, and not the slightest bit resentful of the interruption.  How could I, when the poor Times reporter was working so hard?  I found myself wishing that the Times paid their reporters by the hour instead of by the story (or however they do it).   But of course this was out of the question. When you included Eric’s previous interviews of our closest friends for “background”– three each, not a word of which made it into the story – it became clear that this would send the paper into even quicker financial ruin than that to which it is already headed.

Over our three days in Newport, the cell phone rang regularly, as Eric followed up with more questions posed by his editor, his editor’s editor, the copy editor, and the copy editor’s editor. That was before a fifth editor, returning from a trip of his own later that week, sent over yet another question or two, which resulted in bumping the story another week.

In the end it all came out fine, and we loved the article, of course.  The only inaccuracy turned out to be a minor matter of the groom’s name.  Apparently the nickname-eschewing New York Times copy edit department, in their wisdom and ultimate authority, decided that Bob should be called “Robert,” a name he does not use.  So be it.