Sunday, November 3, 2013

This Is Not the Story You Think It Is... A season of unlikely happiness by Laura Munson

"I don't love you anymore. I'm not sure I ever did."
His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, "I don't buy it." Because I didn't He drew back in surprise. Apparently he'd expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind...I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn't. Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and repeated those words:
"I don't buy it."
You see, I'd recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I'd committed to "The End of Suffering." I'd...decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

When Laura Munson's essay appeared in the "Modern Love" column of The New York Times, it created a firestorm. Readers sent it to their friends, therapists gave it to their patients, pastors read it to their congregations. People everywhere were struck by Munson's wisdom. But how was she able to implement this strategy? How was she able to commit herself to an "End of Suffering" at such a critical time?

At forty years old, certain parts of Munson's life were going exactly as planned - she had two wonderful children, a husband she adored, a cherished home. Yet she and her husband, the once golden couple, weren't looking so golden anymore. While she had come to peace with her life, her husband had not.

Poignant, wise, and often exceedingly funny, [this book] recounts Munson's journey. Shaken to her core after the death of her beloved father, and having sought guidance and solace in stacks of books and hours of therapy, she finally realized that she had to stop basing her happiness on things outside her control. And once she had this key piece of wisdom, she realized she could withstand almost anything.

Well, like they say, don't just a book by it's cover. Or, in this case, it's blurb. I've had this sucker on a to-be-read list since we picked it up for our library system over two years ago, and I was finally at a point to pick it up, give it a shot.

I made it to page 104 and quit.

I'd read Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin, and this book sounded like it might be in the same vein. I really liked the whole "you are responsible for your happiness and no one else" attitude that was covered in the blurb. But once I got started, I realized this really wasn't the story I thought it was. And neither was the author this "wise" person that the blurb made her out to be.

She says in the very beginning to flip to the back and check out the list of her books that she's reading/refers to in her happiness/finding herself endeavor. There's something like 36 titles! I mean, I'm a bibliophile, don't get me wrong - but I usually have a max of four books at my bedside. And often those are what I think of as "fun" titles, in that I'm reading for my entertainment - not for enlightenment.

The husband's revelation comes pretty quickly, followed by chapter after chapter of her waiting for him to contact her after he leaves their marital home. She talks about their childhoods, how they met, how lucky they have been to have good, stable, middle-income families, how they went the bohemian route somewhat once they got to college, how they finally decided to make it legal, blah blah blah. There's a whole chapter about her father, and while I am completely sympathetic to her desire to please her father, being a bit of a daddy's girl myself, a whole chapter of paternal love was a bit much.

Then there's her incessant droning on about how she could have taken a job at some point after they started having kids and such, but she's an author and she needed her time to write. Never mind that she'd never been published. Never mind that she has many, many "good" rejection letters, the kind that tell her how wonderful her work is but it's "just not right" for that publisher, etc. I mean, I get wanting to do what you love, but when the big economic crash hit us all - when you're own economic crash hits - you've got to look at reality. Rejection letters don't pay bills and won't buy groceries.

The last chapter I managed to slog through was entitled "The Italy Cure". Evidently, Munson had done an academic year abroad, in Italy of course, while in college. And according to her, it was the best year of her life; the food, the culture, the love of the family that hosted her, etc. Well, not too long before her husband tells her he doesn't love her anymore, she listens to a therapist who tells her that instead of whining about how going to Italy would make her feel better, she should just GO. And she does just that, originally offering it up as a family vacation. Hubby declines, and the son isn't keen on the idea, so it becomes a mother-daughter trip. I could live with that, even though I'm still thinking to myself that it isn't a good idea, given that their finances aren't good at that moment. But when she talks about taking this trip so she can "recontact her soul" - I was done.

I don't know if the author and her husband make it or not. At this point, I don't care. What I had hoped would be an interesting look at marriage, and the idea of happiness and such, turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of pretentious twaddle. Maybe that's due to my upbringing, what I bring to the book. I don't know. But I do know that I'm firmly in the one-star or less camp that I've found on some review sites. And that I'm not inclined to look for any more works by Ms. Munson.

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