Wednesday, January 27, 2016


The theme for February's Writing Lab is PASSION. If you're participating in the Writing Lab in February -- or even if you're not! -- here are some prompts to get you going. Writing prompts are posted at the beginning of the month so you can plan ahead, Monday to Friday. (Weekends are for free-writing!)

Writing Lab Prompts

Monday, February 1, 2016
Start something you're passionate about this month. Tell us what hobby you want to begin.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016
How do you find a new passion?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Is your career your passion? Are you in love with your job or your field of work?

Thursday, February 4, 2016
If your work is not your passion, what stops you from pursuing a different field?

Friday, February 5, 2016
What would you want to learn if you could find someone to teach you? Double points if you read another person's post and teach them that skill.

Monday, February 8, 2016
Love is in the air this week: Tell us about one person you are passionate about.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Are you in a relationship? What would you tell your former self about to leave on that first date knowing what you know now?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Did you send any Valentine's Day cards this year? Whom did you send them to?

Thursday, February 11, 2016
Dredge up a childhood memory: What did you do for Valentine's Day back when you were in school?

Friday, February 12, 2016
Do you celebrate Valentine's Day? Do you have Valentine's Day plans this weekend?

Monday, February 15, 2016
Which political issue do you feel very passionately about?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016
If you were running for office, what would be the key issues on your platform?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Have you ever helped out on a campaign? What made you volunteer?

Thursday, February 18, 2016
What are your thoughts on the current US election?

Friday, February 19, 2016
Tell us which candidate you love and why.

Monday, February 22, 2016
What do you think is more important for getting things done: passion or steadfastness?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Do you think passion is enough to reach your goals, or can passion only take a person so far?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Would you encourage every child to follow their passion? Can it be detrimental to follow your passion?

Thursday, February 25, 2016
Do you have a passion for learning? Do you feel like you are constantly trying to learn new things?

Friday, February 26, 2016
Is passion and motivation the same thing? How are they different?

Monday, February 29, 2016
It's not a usual day, so tell us about an unusual passion you have.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Navigating the Land of If

Melissa spills more ink thanking me in the book than I truly deserve and this is the rare opportunity for me to publicly THANK HER for writing this book. I am a big believer in living a fully integrated life – what is important to our core values should be central to our work, should be central to our family and spiritual lives. In writing this book, Melissa has created tangible evidence of just that sort of integration – her deep compassion for those who suffer; her faith in knowledge and learning as being a path through hard experiences; her generosity in sharing everything she knows and learning more so she can share that too; her certain knowledge that families come in all different shapes and configurations and all are equally sacred; her ability to keep a sense of humor through it all; her deep ethical well and emotional honesty. This is a book written by a person I am lucky to call my wife, whom my children can be proud to call their mother. I am so proud of all the hard work she did. People, she worked so hard. And through it all never let the blog or her family slide. She deserves a victory lap.

With that dose of sincerity, here are my answers:

Q: Did you read the book from front to back, or did you turn immediately to a certain chapter? If so, which chapter? Are there any chapters that you purposely avoided?

I read this book the same way I read every book I pick up: I turned immediately to the last page to see whodunit? (Spoiler Alert!) Apparently this book ends with a photo of the author taken by me, and her bio -- most of which I already knew. While I have the greatest respect for the author’s work and all the fine writing that precedes this awkward dénouement, I must state from the outset that she could have done better with the ending. Perhaps a more highly qualified photographer? Even better, maybe she could have revealed on the last page that the Land of IF existed only in the mind of an autistic boy staring vacantly into a snow globe? Oh, that would have been rich!

Q: In the appendix, Melissa volunteers a supportive note to get us through our journeys, particularly those hard times like baby showers. Because there are just as many emotional pitfalls for our partners and spouses that might not be as overt to us, what note would you write to your partner to also support them through their part of this journey?

Just as Melissa wrote the note she wished she had with her during the hardest times of our sojourn in the Land of IF, what follows is the note I wish I had on-hand at those times.

Dude – This sucks. It sucks all day long and then when it’s done sucking it sucks some more. And it is okay to say that. Not to add having to talk about your feelings to the list of things that suck, but the simple admission that it sucks is something you owe yourself. Not just that it sucks for your partner, but it sucks for you. A manly thing to do is quote Winston Churchill, who said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” So get through the shittiness that is today and at the other end you’ll purge it all in a good run, or a great movie or a killer microbrew. And yeah, that won’t make the shitty disappear for good, but you’ll feel better for awhile. Be good to your partner. Be good to yourself. Keep going.

Q: I kept wishing, as I read the book, that certain people could have read certain parts while I was going through IF. To help THEM understand better what I was going through. Which part(s) did you want to show and to whom? Your RE? Your nosy neighbor? Your insensitive co-worker? Maybe even your spouse/partner?

Funny you should mention that, because the original idea was a book that infertile people could hand to their friends, relatives, whatnot and say, “Please read this.” But the book world being what it is, there’s no real category to sell that book in. It’s not self-help, it’s more like a “Help Me, Help You, Help Me.” So agents and publishers weren’t so stoked with that concept. They liked the idea of a book written for people going through infertility, easier to classify, so that’s what Melissa wrote. But it was always her hope that it would be a book you could hand to your mother, mother-in-law or best-friend-from-college-who-has-five-kids-and-can’t-let-her-husband-even-look-at-her-funny-or-she-gets-pregnant.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Moose by Stephanie Klein.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Questions for Book Tour Fifteen: Harriet the Spy

1. Would Harriet have been a blog writer or just a blog reader? Do you think she would have ever commented on other people’s blogs? If she did write her own blog, do you think she would have written about her own life or do you think she would have replicated her spy notebooks and only written about other people?

2. If you read Harriet the Spy as a child, what aspects of the book did you still remember? What did you totally forget?

3. Harriet's parents almost entirely delegate all parenting tasks to Ole Golly or Cook. Did you have any particular reaction to their uninvolved parenting style? Was your reaction influenced by your own infertility/journey toward parenthood?

4. Reading this book reminded me about my teenage years. Those muddled years of when you know "everything" but don't really know "everything". Those years when you "hate" everyone and everything and then "love" everyone and everything. When you really become introspective to the point of often not knowing what is "really" going on around you. Harriet chose to write a lot of those feelings and observations down in her journal. Did you write a journal when you were a teenager? Have you looked back at those years (journal or not) and wondered what was going on in your brain? (I know I do!)

5. I was also struck with how Harriet's parents (and other adults) treated her. This book is set in the 1960s, so some of the distance between her parents and Harriet is because of the social situations of the time. But, as Ole Golly leaves, Harriet's parents do make efforts to get to know Harriet. Does Harriet try to get to know them? Are their efforts to reach her successful and what could they do differently? Do you have a plan to help the teenager in your life relate to you?

6. Obviously, this book brings up many questions on privacy and journaling. At one point, Harriet journals all day at school instead of doing her work. Has anyone worked on their journal/blog at work? And been caught? When do you blog/journal? Do you do it when you should be doing something else?

7. In the beginning of the book, Harriet is explaining the game Town to Sport. She goes thru a list of typical town places from the 1960's. What places/professions do you think a savvy Harriet in 2008 would have in her town?

8. When Harriet questions Ole Golly about solitude she responds with quotes and cliches but doesn't really tell her anything. When was a time that someone responded to a situation or question in your life in a similar fashion but it impacted you? Have you ever responded in a similar fashion to someone else and felt that it impacted them? What was it and how did you know what you said mattered?

9. When Ole Golly leaves after her engagement, Harriet notes that things feel the same but she seems to have a little hole in her heart. When was the first time you remember feeling a similar loss and does it still remain with you today?

10. How much of Harriet's behavior in the latter half of the book do you think was a direct result of Ole Golly's leaving? Would she have gotten so out of control if Ole Golly was there for her to talk to about the lost notebook?

11. When you read it, do you read it as an adult reading a child's book or do you forget that you're grown-up and think of it in the part of your mind that is still 12?

12. How do you think Harriet would have upgraded for the new tech? Would she be blackberrying instead of the notebook?

13. This book was written in 1964, when gender roles & stereotypes were much more rigid than they are today. In Chapter 4, Harriet & Janie feel the pressure to conform, to go to dancing school and be steered away from "unfeminine pursuits" -- while later in the book, Marion, Rachel, Laura & Carrie imitate their mothers by playing bridge & drinking tea in the clubhouse. I was reminded of Carol Gilligan's work on how girls' "voices" change as they become adolescents. What do you think happened to Harriet & Janie as they became teenagers? Do you think young girls today still feel similar pressures to conform?

14. After her visit to Dr. Wagner, Harriet's mother takes away her new notebook immediately, and Harriet is described as feeling empty on the ride back home. Many people, especially bloggers, seem to use writing as an outlet. What would you do if someone took this outlet away from you during a time of difficulty? How would you cope if you had no notebook?

15. What would you have done in Harriet's position after her friends discovered her notebook?

16. For some reason, although I've read Harriet the Spy literally dozens of times over the years, this is the first time that I realized why I love it so much. It's because, to me, this is a story of the pain of growing up. The pain of being in between childhood, with the deep, intimate connectedness that entails, and adulthood, with the separation and independence and freedom and responsibility that come with it. Re-reading this book now reminds me that although I had thought as a child that someday I would be done the work of growing up, I don't feel like I am done, and I wonder if I ever will be. So the question is this: what is the experience of growing up like for you? And is it something that you think is ever complete?

17. Ole Golly tells Harriet, "Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth." Are we always truthful with ourselves? Should we be? Is it ok to sometimes lie to others and why shouldn't we lie to ourselves? These two sentences have a tremendous impact on Harriet. How do you feel about them as an adult? If you can remember, how would you have felt hearing them as a child Harriet's age?

18. Why do you think the author painted the home lives of Harriet and Sport the way that she did?

19. Do you think Harriet kept her notebook for the same reasons we blog?

Questions for Book Tour Fourteen: Eat, Pray, Love

Group 1

1. Gilbert had many beautiful sentiments/ideas. What was your favorite and why?

2. At the start of the book, the author states that she will not go into the details of her divorce. Could you accept this and move on to the rest of the book, or did this lack of explanation influence your opinion of the entire book?

3. When my IRL (in real life) book club discussed this we had widely differing opinions on the tone of the book. Some thought it was "all about me, poor, poor me!" and "whiny" while others saw Gilbert's self-focus in as a fascinating journey to becoming a better person. What would you say?

4. In the end, is Gilbert a better person? Why/why not?

5. Elizabeth Gilbert's spiritual crisis was brought to a head by a failing marriage and the dawning realization that her desires were not nearly on the same track as some seemingly powerful, external expectations about how her life should unfold. What defining 'disasters' have triggered you to course-correct your life? Did the crisis(es) sneak up on you or did you see it (them) coming, but deny it for a while? What expectations did it force you to challenge -- either your own or external ones? How hard was that for you personally (as in, are you the kind of temperament that is naturally rebellious? Or not so much? Do you have a hard time letting go of control? Or are you at ease with improv on a grand, spiritual level?)

6. "... in my own life, I can see exactly where my episodes of unhappiness have brought suffering or distress or (at very least, inconvenience) to those around me. The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all of your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people." Have you reached a place ... or can you at least envision a peaceful time ... where/when you feel that the 'disaster', the 'crisis' is ultimately redefined as a more or less positive, creative force in your life? How have your challenges made you smarter?

7. Do you believe in reincarnation and that a soul chooses its lessons before each lifetime? Or do you believe it's all just random challenge? Do you believe you are doing a good job dealing with the cards you've been dealt? What do you think your challenges are trying to teach you about the big picture that other people might miss ...that you might have missed if your life didn't take these turns?

8. In Elizabeth's journey, she meets several characters ... Richard (who calls her 'Groceries') and Ketut and Italy itself ... who see her 'from outside of the frame,' who offer her valuable, catalytic perspective and they help her to penetrate her misery. Who are the characters in your own life that have performed/perform this role for you? What have they helped you to understand? ... Sometimes perspective can come from a book, rather than a person IRL ... so if it was a book that gave you this gift, which one(s)?

9. In chapter 13, the author talks about what type of traveler she is and other traveling personalities. What type of traveler are you? Does it vary based on the trip or do you approach every trip the same way?

10. On pages 94-95, Elizabeth discusses the continuity of and our positioning in our family as it relates to fertility/childbearing and the idea of finding purpose and the feeling of "being relevant" if we choose to not have children or are not able to. Does your infertility struggle affect your perception of your position in your family hierarchy? Why or why not? Has this affected your involvement with family events? If so, how?

11. Have you had a breakdown like Elizabeth Gilbert's scene on the bathroom floor (near the beginning of the book)? How did you come out of your crisis? Did you adjust yourself to the situation, did you change your situation, or did you find a third alternative?

12. Which of the three settings (along with associated activities -- eating, praying or loving) resonated most for you? Why?

13. There are many, many angles to take on this book and the questions that may lead from it, the more obvious being of the spiritual nature. But one bit that caught my attention was in chapter 50 when Liz is told by her friend, the counselor, that “There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? And who’s in charge?” I’ve thought about this a great deal, and thought about it not so much on a global level but in how it pertains to my relationships. I can see similarities in many ways – can you?

14. Elizabeth Gilbert writes that "when you're lost in the woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize you are lost. For the longest time you can convince yourself that you've just wandered a few feet off the path...then night falls again and again and you still have no idea where you are, and it's time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off path that you don't even know from which direction the sun rises anymore." Have you had a similar experience and if so, when did you come to realize you were lost and how did you find your way back?

15. The author writes that hard as it was she is "choosing happiness over suffering" and "making space for the unknown future to fill up my life with yet-to-come surprises" but still laments the loss of her lover...
Have you ever found living with suffering to be more familiar, more comfortable than making a change even if you knew (rationally) that change would be better in the long run. Has inertia prevented you from making a difficult decision or instituting change?

16. In one passage, Gilbert describes the typical life experience: "first you are a child, then you are a teenager, then you are a young married person, then you are a parent, then you are retired, they you are a grandparent--at every stage you know who you are, you know what your duty is and you know where to sit at the reunion...watching over your progeny with satisfaction. Who are you? No problem--you're the person who created all this...If I have done nothing else in this life, then at least I have raised my children well." If you're an infertile person, possibly or definitively unable to have children, how did this passage make you feel? What emotions or conflicts did it evoke?

17. Gilbert talks about finding herself again and feeling a glimmer of happiness when she started studying Italian, "a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt--this is not selfishness, but obligation."
After living through a dark time, what was it that brought you a glimmer of happiness? How hard was it to hang onto?

18. In the Ashram, Richard points out to Elizabeth that "nothing pisses off a control freak more than life not goin' her way." He counsels her to "let go" or she'll "make herself sick" and "toss and turn forever, beatin' on yourself for being such a fiasco in life." Are you a control freak and, if so, how do you manage when life doesn't go your way?

19. In a follow up discussion, Richard suggests that "if you want to control your life so bad, work on the mind because if you can't learn to master your thinking, you're in deep trouble forever." Gilbert notes that it's about "admitting to the existence of negative thoughts, understanding where they came from and why they arrived and then--with great forgiveness and fortitude--dismissing them." She goes on to point out that it takes practice and constant vigilance to do so..."it's a sacrifice to let them's a loss of old habits, comforting old grudges and familiar vignettes." Did these passages resonate for you in any way? If so, how?

Group 2

1. “Prayer is a relationship; half the job is mine. If I want transformation, but can't even be bothered to articulate what, exactly, I'm aiming for, how will it ever occur?" -Eat, Pray, Love (p. 177). I've found it easy to just get caught up in praying/hoping for a baby, a baby, a baby. But I can sometimes lose myself in this, and have had to learn to approach my prayers with a broader goal. How do you approach personal transformation in terms of your infertility journey, specifically in terms of your spirituality or emotional/psychological growth?

2. During her sojourn at the Ashram, Gilbert speaks of the fight with herself to find her meditative path. Personally, I have lost touch with the spiritual side of myself, so this kind of intrigues me. I wanted to know (if you are willing to share): How important is spirituality in your journey through if?

3. While I don’t believe infertility can be cured by positive thinking, do you think the impact it has on out life could be minimized if we learned to control our thoughts like she talks about in chapter 58?

4. What is the word that defines your city? workplace? home? yourself? Why?

5. Which of the three sections of the book -- Eat (Italy), Pray (India) or Love (Indonesia) -- could you most relate to & why?

6. As Elizabeth Gilbert is writing her letter to G-d about divorce, she begins saying names of individuals who 'signed it'. She says, "I became filled with a grand sense of protection surrounded by the collective goodwill of so many mighty souls." As you blog about IF, parenting, life, and love; in what ways do you feel protected? How in your journey has 'the collective goodwill of so many mighty souls' guided you? Who are those mighty souls?

7. On page 92 of the book, the author says "Not all the reasons to have children are the same, and not all of them are necessarily unselfish. Not all the reason not to have children are the same either, though. Nor all those reason necessarily selfish." In the IF community we are bound by the same desire - to have a child, our child, and endure much physical, psychological, emotional, and oftentimes financial, duress to achieve that. What are/were your reasons? Do you think they were selfish, unselfish or a combination of both?

8. The author, because of personal traumas, decides to go on a spiritual/emotional journey. Have you ever gone through such a journey because of a personal trauma? And what did you learn about yourself?

9. The author learns Italian for the pure love of it (no real practical reason). Have you wanted to learn something just for the pure sake of the knowledge? Did you pursue it and how did it make you feel once you had done it?

10. In chapter 25, on page 75, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how “the Augusteum in Rome warns (us) not to get attached to any obsolete ideas of who (we are), what (we) represent, whom (we) belong to or what function (we) may once have intended to serve.” Through our struggles with infertility and/or loss many of us have had to revisit our ideas about what our life would be like and who we thought we were supposed to be. How have your ideas about your identity and purpose in life changed since your began your journey to have a child(ren)? Have you been able to make peace with your new found identity and/or purpose if it doesn’t embody the dream you originally had for yourself at this point in your life as an adult and/or parent?

11. In Chapter 60, the plumber/poet from New Zealand gives Liz some Instructions for Freedom. #7: "Let your intention be freedom from useless suffering. Then, let go." To what extent has any suffering you've experienced in response to your own struggles (such as infertility, loss, illness) been inevitable? Natural but unhelpful? Useless? Does the suffering serve any purpose for you? Is that purpose enough to justify ongoing suffering?

12. One of the criticisms frequently leveled at this book is that it is "self-absorbed" and that its author is "selfish." Interestingly, these same labels have also been applied to infertiles, particularly those of us who blog about our infertility. Do you think this criticism is warranted in either case (i.e., by the book/author and by infertiles/infertility bloggers)? Do you think being an infertile and a blogger influenced your reaction to the book? In what ways?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mr. Linky Testing

This is what a post will look like using Mr. Linky

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Questions for Book Tour Thirteen: The Empty Picture Frame


  1. Depending on where you are on your IF journey, how did this book affect you? For example, if you have a child/ren after IF was it easier or harder to read? If you are in the middle of your IF struggle did the book help or hinder? Give me your thoughts on how you were affected reading the book no matter where your IF journey has taken you so far.

  1. On p. 141, Jenna describes hiding out in the bathroom during her nephew's third birthday party but then realizes, "I couldn't even come close to having fun. I hate myself for that... I don't want to turn every moment into a moment about me and my sadness. It is never my intention, but it is always my impact." She describes how she doesn't like the person looking back at her in the mirror. Have you had a similar "mirror moment"? If so, describe it. Did this realization result in a lasting change in your outlook or relationships with others? How much of the responsibility for "impact" lies on the infertile person's shoulders?

  1. At several points in the book, Jenna describes how she felt that motherhood was a "calling" for her -- the conviction that she was "called" to be a mother and that she would achieve that goal someday, somehow. Do you feel the same sense of "calling" in your pursuit of parenthood?

  1. What one line from The Empty Picture Frame did you identify with and why?

  1. On page 134, the author talks about the failures bringing repeated pain to their families. In what ways did your treatment affect your extended family?

  1. On page 145, the author says, "Infertility can definitely be the process of losing oneself, but it can also be the process of finding oneself." In what ways have you lost yourself, and in what ways have you found yourself?

  1. On page 147, the author talks about being more aware of the pain of others. How do you feel your infertility has affected your relationship with others?

  1. Toward the end of the book, the author talks about things people have said - in what ways have you dealt with the inevitable statements that people make to those trying to conceive?

  1. The last chapter is a guide to the fertiles reading the book on how to respond and not respond to a situation. Some of the reactions and commentary has happened to many people. What was the best reaction you got to your story and what was the worst?

  1. Did your clinic have a Baby Day like Jenna described? Even if not, did you ever have a moment like that in the clinic, with newborn babies being brought in, or a woman cycling who brought her child with her? How did you deal with it?

  1. Did you struggle with your friendships during your infertility journey? Did you lose friends you thought were good ones, or gain close friends in unexpected places?
  1. Jenna discusses how difficult it became for her to go to family events which centered on children while she remained childless. Have you had this experience too? How have you managed to cope with family gatherings?

Questions for Book Tour Twelve: Water for Elephants


  1. I have heard that the book has subtle hints and parallels to the Bible, specifically to Genesis and the story of Joseph. I must have missed them all! Could someone speak to what those parallels are? What parts of the story reflect the biblical Joseph and his story, or any biblical story?
  1. Originally forced to share quarters, Kinko (Walter) seems to have an intense dislike for Jacob. One day, Jacob helps Kinko's dog Queenie and Kinko becomes his friend because of this small act of kindness. Has someone performed a simple act of kindness that changed your feelings toward them? How did this small act affect you? Can just a small and simple thing have a profound effect?
  1. What does the title mean to you? Why do you think Sara Gruen chose it as the title?
  1. The author said in interviews that the Biblical story of Jacob was the backbone for this book. Besides the name, what parallels do you see between the two stories?
  1. What is your favorite circus related memory?
  1. On page 109, old Jacob complains about how his family keeps secrets from him: "And those are just the things I know about. There are a host of others they don't mention because they don't want to upset me. I've caught wind of several, but when I ask questions, they clam right up. Mustn't upset Grandpa, you know... Why? That's what I want to know. I hate this bizarre policy of protective exclusion, because it effectively writes me off the page. If I don't know about what's going on in their lives, how am I supposed to insert myself in the conversation?... I've decided it's not about me at all. It's a protective mechanism for them, a way of buffering themselves against my future death..." Reading this, I could see myself in both Jacob & in his family members, both in respect to our infertility situation and other matters. Whose viewpoint do you relate to most in this passage and why?
  1. (From the discussion questions at the end of the book) Looking at himself in the mirror, the old Jacob tries "to see beyond the sagging flesh." But he claims, "It's no good....I can't find myself anymore. When did I stop being me?" How would you answer that question for Jacob or for yourself?
  1. Something that struck me about this book in particular was the rich, descriptive way the author handled Jacob as an elderly man. His frustration was so apparent, his physical manifestation so perfectly described, that of all of the elements of this book Jacob the Elderly is what stays with me. You had the sense that Jacob didn't foresee his latter years being the way they were, and his almost "ride off into the sunset" ending perhaps what he had envisaged for his end. Do you think about what's at the end of the road someday? When you think about it, what do you see for yourself?

Questions for Book Tour Eleven: Mistress's Daughter

Group A:

  1. How did having a daughter change her thoughts on her interactions with her biological mother?
  2. A feeling of the "subtlety of biology," a lovely aphorism, is not something that Homes necessarily welcomes. I sometimes feel that biology raps me over the head when I look at biologically-related family members. How has infertility affected our feelings about the "subtlety of biology"?
  3. Notwithstanding what happens in the book, most adoptions from the 1950s' and 60s' are closed, with birth records sealed except upon a courts' finding "good cause" to open them. In light of Homes's experiences, does this seem to be the appropriate method for handling adoption records?
  4. The author talks about searching for information on her ancestors and realized that many of the people searching were not adopted. She realized from that the question of "who am I" is not unique to adoptees. At what point in your life, have you felt the same way?
  5. When the author is first getting to know her birth parents, she finds a number of characteristics about her father appealing. Despite posing tough questions about his behavior prior to her birth and at the time of their reunion, she seems to give him a pass on many of these questions. At times she seems to side with him against her birth mother, for example with the use of the Dragon Lady designation. Years later she revisits many of these questions when a friend suggests that her birth father's behavior towards her is not new, but is, in fact, very much in character. A.M. Homes then compiles those questions and others into a searing mock deposition of her father. How did you react to the author's changing perceptions? Did you simply observe, or were you compelled to "argue" with her at some point?
  6. AM Homes seemed to have a lot of angst that she attributed to growing up as an adopted child. Is such angst inherently a part of being adopted, or rather, is having angst about ones childhood an inherent part of being a child, and adopted children simply pin their angst to being adopted while children raised by their biological parents pin their angst to whatever other issue they perceive as the "problem" of their childhood?
  7. In the book, A.M. Homes writes about being adopted into a family that had recently lost a nine year old son. She says "I always felt that my role in the family was to heal things, to make everything all right - to replace a dead boy." Grieving mothers of this generation and others, were often told to "forget about their lost child, have another one right away, move on" What, if any, of this is helpful advice and why/why not? Is this attitude something that might give a subsequent child the burden of feeling that they would not have been wanted had their sibling lived - particularly in the case of adoption, where the child was specifically chosen and might not have been otherwise?
  8. The story about Ellen's boxes and the fact that the author was unable to go through them for several years struck a cord with me as I have my own boxes that are hiding in the house waiting for unpacking. Have you experienced something similar with a project, book, or other item that plagued you with emotions that prevented you from tackling it? What was the situation? How did it resolve-- did you become zealous about something you discovered during the resolution (like the author's quest for her genealogy) or did it just all fade away?
Group B:

  1. Why do you think the author's biological father went through the DNA testing if he was still going to go along pretending she didn't exist? How did you react to that emotionally as the reader?
  2. There are several instances in the early chapters where AM is struck by references to her arrival in her adopted family as a "gift" or a "present" one that's wrapped in pink ribbon at that. As an adoptee, I too have felt somewhat commodified in my adopted parents' retelling of my arrival into the family. We waited and waited and then you were handed to us... And this is something I worry about when I think about sharing origin stories with our (hopefully, someday, maybe) child. Will they feel like they were a commodity? More so than other children? What are your thoughts on this?
  3. Genealogy -- the quest to learn more about her birth family's history -- forms a large part of the latter half of the book. On page 152, the author notes, "I remind myself that the quest to answer the question Who am I? is not unique to the adoptee." How much do you know about your own family history? Is it something that interests you? How has it influenced your decisions related to infertility treatment (if at all)?
  4. On page 150, the author says, "The desire to know oneself and one's history is not always equal to the pain the new information causes." Reading about her sometimes rocky relationship with her birth parents, I scribbled on a sticky note, "Be careful what you wish for." Whatever your views or background regarding adoption, how do you feel about disclosure in cases of adoptions that took place some years ago, when secrecy was the norm? How much openness would you personally be comfortable with in an adoption situation today?
  5. Reading the book encouraged me to think of my own family "secrets." For example, most members of my extended family want to hush up any discussion of IF, as though it's a contagious disease. Do you think that secrets strengthen a family or tear it apart and, how does your family process secrets?
  6. Our community often speaks of the injustice of the homestudy process. From our parent-in-waiting eyes, is seems incredibly unfair that some can become parents at the drop of a trou, while infertiles to have to go through the judgments by a third party of their innermost selves to prove themselves worthy. Homes' book, however, shows not the parent perspective but the adopted child's. She talks about the effects of coming into her parents' home just months after their son died, about the burden she felt to heal her family. "I grew up doused in grief." She wonders (a few times) why an agency would give her parents an infant so soon after a child had died. Does reading from the adoptee perspective change your opinion on the homestudy process? Who is responsible for making sure hopeful parents are ready to parent a child borne to others? To what degree should hopeful parents be cleared of their grief, and who should determine this? How should it be determined? Should people stuck in grief NOT pass a homestudy? How should the desires of the hopeful parents be balanced with the rights and needs of the child?
  7. AM Homes has a way of writing so distinctive, so enigmatic, that I folded myself into a chair and read the entire book in one sitting. She couldn't not know. Neither could I. Her stream of consciousness style writing had me hooked, and I read each page and kept thinking the same thing: What would it mean to me? What would I do? I am not adopted but I have often battled with that great question: Nature versus nurture. As she says on page 7 of the version I have, "I am dealing with the divide between sociology and biology: the chemical necklace of DNA that wraps around the neck sometimes like a beautiful ornament – our birthright, our history – and other times like a choke chain." How do you feel about your own birthright and DNA – is it a history or a choke chain?

Questions for Book Tour Ten: Embryo Culture

Group A:

  1. The author describes her journey through infertility both in terms of a faith journey and a process of scientific discovery. How has infertility impacted your faith journey and your views of science/technology?
  1. From early in the book, it is clear that the author ends up with a take-home baby. How do you think this affects her perspective on infertility and how did affect your perception of the book?
  1. The author talks about whether there should be an age limit on who should be able to go through IVF. Should there be an age limit?
  1. The author also talks about how many embryos should be transferred at any given cycle. Should there be a limit?
  1. The author mentions that going through infertility and IVF made her think differently with abortion? Has this changed anyone's position on abortion or did IVF change the way you thought about it?
  1. Beth Kohl discusses her fears about how IVF may lead to increased health problems for her children, and she thinks about this in the context of her daughter's surgeries for cysts on her bladder. Do you ever worry that IVF or other ART could compromise the health of your children created through the process? How has that affected your decision to pursue treatment?
  1. At one point, Beth fixates on a typo on a RE clinic's website and decides, "one picayune omission but enough to confirm I'll have to seek my progeny elsewhere. When dealing with things microscopic - egg nuclei and isolated sperm - there can be no margin for error." Has there ever been something "picayune" that has swayed your decision or direction on your path to parenthood? What was it that made that something seem significant?
  1. Beth likens Dr. Frankfurth's office to one that "should have belonged to a family doctor in Anchorage, circa 1950, and not to a late twentieth century endocrinologist." How much do appearances matter? What were your first impressions of your RE's office? Did/does that color your interactions with the RE himself or herself?
  1. Throughout the book, Beth references different ways of how religion plays into her thoughts and some people's beliefs on infertility. I, for one, did not think of religion and God too much as far as my decisions of how far to take ART but I know people understandable do. However, as I do believe in God though not very religious, I often thought my infertility was a punishment handed to me by the higher powers. Even though the issue is MFIF, I felt as though I was the one being punished because of some things I had done in my earlier years. Beth talks of the possibly of this punishment in the last paragraph on page 49: "Or is He a puritanical smiter, my infertility a pox upon me . . ." My question is: have you thought in terms of your infertility as a punishment, some divine destiny that you should maybe not try to change, or not? And why or why not? And how did/does it affect your decisions? As I would probably not give specifics, I am not meaning for you to, but I felt much comfort knowing I was not the only one who questioned if it was a punishment and am curious as to how other people have related religion and punishment to their IF journey.
  1. Beth makes certain that she tracks how she and her husband respond to infertility in different ways - through diagnosis, debates about treatment, and how infertility is perceived in the "normal" world. Do you find such differences between yourself and your significant other(s)? Was it difficult to determine upon a course of treatment due to those differences?
Group B:

  1. The author researched different religious views on ART while she was in the decision process. How did you make your decision to pursue ART, adoption, childfree living etc? Did your religious views play a big part in that decision?
  1. Did religion shape the decisions you made about treatment? And in turn, did your infertility change the way you looked at your religion?
  1. If you have children via ART, did you every wonder some of the same things that Beth wondered? Would they be "different"? Would others who found out they were ART babies treat them differently?
  1. In Chapter 5 ("Professionals"), Beth writes about her clinic experiences. I got a chuckle out of her observation that "my early-morning posse and I seemed to be codelinquents doing time in juvie hall," as well as her description of George, the (male!) u/s tech. How was/is your clinic experience similar to or different than Beth's? Did you meet/Have you met any particularly memorable people (either fellow patients or clinic staff)?
  1. I had a different experience from the author concerning the type of clinic she went to. She went to a big clinic where she was treated as a number, whereas I went to a smaller clinic where there was a more personal touch. What was your experience? If you went to a big clinic, was it by choice? Did you feel like you still were treated as an individual? Did you have to deal with a Carol-like person? If you went to a smaller clinic, did you feel it was adequately staffed, etc. for your needs? Did you research various facilities (or did you do like me--go with the recommendation of my personal doctor)?
  1. I found the author's concern over the spiritual and religious aspects of ART interesting, but could not relate personally to her concerns. For me, there was never a question morally or ethically that ART (or adoption) were just other ways to create a family. However, I can understand that this may have been more of a harder choice for some. How much did your religion play into your attempts at ART? Did you consult your church/temple/religious leader(s) concerning their policies? Did you go against these policies, and if so, how did you justify this?
  1. Many bits of the book hit hard for me, but none more so than what may have been intended as just something that happened in passing. On page 95 of the version I have (second page of Chapter 6- Aspiration) – they're on their way to the clinic for egg retrieval. Gary and Beth are getting into an argument, courtesy of early morning, hormones, fears, a whole blend of it all. Gary calls Beth "a bitch". Beth then says: "He clenches the steering wheel, steeling himself for the fight he assumes will follow calling me this second-most-prohibited of names. I remain silent, reassessing whether I really want to have kids with this name-calling douchebag." Did you/have you/can you foresee getting into such a minor situation with your partner and immediately jumping to the same conclusions as Beth, that maybe where you are isn't where you should be?
  1. On page 254—255, Beth writes about…well…us. She writes about bloggers and the way we speak about infertility, embryos, et al. How did you take the description of our community? How did you feel about the way she put the word mother or mommy in quotes?

Questions for Book Tour Nine: The Jane Austen Book Club


1. Sexual roles, identity and orientation seem to be one of the themes of this book. Grigg is often compared and contrasted with his sisters and Allegra's sexual orientation, while not fully explored, is mentioned. What are other examples of sexual roles/identity presented in the book? Did you find yourself identifying with the role(s) of any of the women/men? BONUS: Were these roles similar or different to roles/identities presented in Jane Austin books—give an example.

2. Did you find the allusions to the various Austin books distracting or helpful in understanding the characters in the book? Were there enough similarities to Austin's characters for you to distinguish who was who (i.e. Jocelyn = Emma)?

3. On page 5 of my edition, at the end of the Prologue, the narrator says: "The six of us -- Jocelyn, Bernadette, Sylvia, Allegra, Prudie, and Grigg -- made up the full roster of the Central Valley/River City all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club." Each of the six is featured in the book, and voices intimate thoughts & memories, yet throughout, the narrator maintains the voice of "we." Which of the characters is the narrator telling the story/writing the book? And if you don't know or have an opinion, which character would be the most likely narrator & why?

4. Happiness seemed to be a reoccurring topic throughout the book. Sylvia and Bernadette seemed to be polar opposites in how they reacted to things in life and how they viewed happiness. Do you identify with one of these ladies over the other? Explain. Did another character speak to you instead? Who and why?

5. Which character in the Jane Austen Book Club did you most relate to? And what is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?

6. Jocelyn and Sylvia are closer than most sisters. Their relationship has withstood many tests. Do you have a particular friend who has stood by you through thick and thin in ways that stand out from most friendships, and if so what brought you together and what keeps the relationship so special?

7. Sylvia described her MIL as affectless, polite but distant until she lost her son when she watch her "crumple like paper." Are there those in your life who have been affectless or polite but distant and then surprised you with their emotional depth?

8. Allegra is described as "liking being an aunt. That it offered all the kid time she needed. Probably. All she wanted mostly." If you don't have your own children, but are an aunt how important is that role to you and, what special rewards does it offer?

9. The author writes in an off-handed way something I imagine would be highly insulting to gay people ..."there would certainly be something challenging in a genetic code that made you gay but left your reproductive urge fully functional." I know gay people who have a strong urge to parent and have gone on to do so with more care than many self-absorbed heterosexuals.

10. Corinne stole Allegra's stories and passed them off as her own. Yet despite this deep betrayal of trust Allegra went back to her. Why do you think that is? Has anyone ever betrayed your trust and how did you handle it?

11. In one part of the book, Jocelyn and Sylvia were discussing happiness. One of them said that "Happiness in marriage is mostly luck..."

12. What are your thoughts on happiness? Do you think that our happiness in life is mostly luck? Do we have some control over how happy we are?

13. Which character in the book could you most relate to, and why? Which one could you least relate to, and why?

14. Bernadette asks that the club be made up of women only: "The dynamic changes with men. They pontificate rather than communicate. They talk more than their share." What differences did having a man bring to the group? If you have close male friends, how do they differ in relating to your infertility/everyday struggles?

15. When Corinne stole Allegra's stories, she both lied by omission as well as stole pieces of Allegra. Do you believe Allegra was more upset about the lie or the fact that someone stole her stories?

Questions for Book Tour Eight: The Handmaid's Tale

Group A

1. How close do you think this dystopia is to a possible future reality? The author has written ''In Canada, 'they said, 'Could it happen here?' In England, they said, 'Jolly good yarn.' In the United States, they said, 'How long have we got?' '' British readers almost saw it as a history novel, Canadians saw it as a warning and Americans saw it as an accurate prediction of the future. What's your take?

2. People very often cope with death or uncomfortable situations by resorting to euphemisms. In The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood quite deliberately chooses instead to refer to infants with disabilities, or infants that have died, through the use of a dysphemism (an unpleasant or derogatory word or expression substituted for a pleasant or inoffensive one) - "shredder." How did this term affect you? Did you even take note of it? Why might Atwood have chosen such a word? How does it reflect or not reflect the contemporary discourse around pregnancy loss, still birth, and infant death as you may have experienced it?

3. Aunt Lydia describes the handmaids as "a transitionalgeneration," that has the especially difficult job of normalizing the new fertility practices(chapter 20.) Do you think that infertile women today can be called a transitional generation? If so, in what ways were things different before, and how do you think things might be different after?

4. On p. 73, Atwood writes, "Each month I watch for blood, fearfully, for when it comes it means failure. I have failed once again to fulfill the expectations of others, which have become my own." Do you believe the narrator wants a child because she knows not having a child will literally be her death, or do you believe the narrator mourns her lack of fertility because she misses her daughter, having a child, being a mother? Becoming pregnant is the only way to get that back--even just for 9 months.

5. Aunt Lydia promises the girls that "Ordinary is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will be come ordinary." Has infertility ever become ordinary or commonplace to you? Do the shots and procedures and blood draws feel more familiar than life before this time? Can a person truly get accustomed to anything?

6. In chapter 6 (page 33 in my book), Atwood writes a train of thought that runs through the narrator's mind: "I look at the one red smile. The red of the smile is the same as the red of the tulips in Serena Joy's garden, towards the base of the flowers where they are beginning to heal. The red is the same but there is no connection. The tulips are not tulips of blood, the red smiles are not flowers, neither thing makes a comment on the other." The narrator does this to exercise her mind, maintain the distinctions between things and states "I need to be very clear, in my own mind." In times of crises, it is easy to have things melt together--to see connections where you may not have noticed them if you were not paying close attention to every detail. Do you think people in a crisis see more slights, more rudeness, more insensitivity than is actually there (is a statement merely a statement without a commentary on the other person) or do you think these slights, rudeness, and insensitivity exists, but we are too caught up in the good times to care or notice?

7. One major theme through this book is the role that religion plays in the new society’s “quest for babies” (arguably, it’s a very sinister role, but a role nonetheless). In fertility treatments, you often hear of the religion playing a role in the lives of the men and women who undergo treatments – some won’t reduce as it’s against their views, some won’t undergo certain types of treatments, and others separate their views on religion from their views on the science of fertility treatments and options. What role did/does religion play or not play in your fertility treatments or child-rearing choices?

8. This question comes directly from the book, the last sentence of Chapter 16 (p. 123 in my version) immediately after the Ceremony: "Which of us is it worse for, her [Serena Joy] or me [Offred]?" We've discussed the Pain Olympics in previous book tours, with books told from the infertile perspective. Handmaid's Tale, however, is told from the (supposedly) fertile point of view. So, how would you answer the question? Could you choose either of these wretched creatures as the slightly more wretched?

9. I was quite bothered that the Handmaids took on the names of their Commanders (Ofglen, Ofcharles, Offred). Seems so domineering, de-personalizing -- another tool in taking power away from women in Gilead. So archaic, even. Then I realized that we do the same in our culture, but with last names. Does this make it okay? Even women who keep their maiden name (no pun intended) after marriage tend to refer back to their father's name. Do our customs continue to de-power and de-identify women? What would a culture that values the matrilineal look like?

10. On pg. 70, Offred is discussing her past studies of psychology and at this time she mentions a study done on three pigeons trained to peck at buttons for grain. She states: Three groups of them: the first got one grain per peck, the second one grain every other peck, the third was random. When the man in charge cut off the grain, the first group gave up quite soon, the second group a little later. The third group never gave up. They'd peck themselves to death rather than quit. While reading these lines, I could not help but identify with the third group of pigeons. Sadly, I think I've come to a point where I will never give up, even if it means death before success. How about you? Do you identify with one of these groups? What do you think Atwood's intention was in including this bit of information?

11. On pg. 112, during the birth day while Ofwarren is in labor, Offred is thinking about the baby that is about to be born. At this time she also talks about the unborn babies and the fact that they had no way of telling until birth what type of baby would be born. She states: There's no telling. They could tell once, with machines, but that is now outlawed. What would be the point of knowing, anyway? You can't have them taken out; whatever it is must be carried to term. While reading this, I found myself thinking back to my first pregnancy where I wound up with conjoined twins. Then and even now, I wonder if I would've been better off not knowing. I miscarried, so I did not have to make a choice, but in light of that, ignorance may very well have been bliss. How do you feel about the abundance of technology when it comes to reproduction and pregnancy? Do you think that sometimes not knowing so much can be a good thing?

Group B

1. What is the role of infertility in creating the world of the Handmaid's Tale? Is the question of infertility or totalitarianism more central to the story, and does Gilead represent the logical outcome of the fate of women in a religiously dominated society affected by mass infertility, or something else entirely?

2. Handmaid's Tale is a first-person account in which only some aspects of life are illuminated completely or even at all. Is there an aspect of the story, something that perhaps requires factual elucidation, that you wish you could know more about? If yes, what is it and how do you feel that knowledge would add to your understanding of a character, a group of characters, or life in Gilead in general?

3. The structure of the civilization in the book seemed really eerie to me (and quite difficult to figure out). Even though the copyright in my book was 1985 and set in the 21st century, it seems to reflect some of the fears we have today. I found myself wondering if our country could really be in for a drastic "take-over" as represented in the book. What are your feelings about the society described in the book and do you think it is possible to have something like that happen in our country?

4. At the end of the book, the black van comes for Offred. Nick says it's Mayday, but she is not sure. What do you think happened to her after she was taken away in that van?

5. Even though the rampant infertility is acknowledged to be largely due to environmental pollution, Gilead refuses to acknowledge the possibility of male infertility; if a Handmaid is unable to conceive with three Commanders, it is assumed that she is at fault and she is reassigned to the Colonies. How did this double standard resonate with you, if at all?

6. In an interview, Atwood said that "This is a book about what happens when certain casually held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions. For example, I explore a number of conservative opinions still held by many - such as a woman's place is in the home. And also certain feminist pronouncements - women prefer the company of other women, for example. Take these beliefs to their logical ends and see what happens." In your time dealing with infertility, what "casually held attitudes" regarding ART have you encountered? How have you responded, either to the opinion-holder or internally? Is it conceivable (pun not intended) that these opinions will change for future ART patients and what do you think may need to happen to make that possible?

7. For all that the Handmaids are supposed to be serving the society's greater good and should be honored for that, they are looked down upon by just about everyone. Wives resent that the Handmaids do what they cannot, Marthas resent the time spent caring for them, Econowives resent them for the ease of existence they feel the Handmaids must enjoy. And the reverse is true as well, Handmaids resent the other women for having little freedoms they do not enjoy, whether it's control over a household, the ability to hold a knife and make radish roses, or to simply not be a possession without a name. Does this mutual resentment exist in the world of infertility? Do "fertiles" resent "infertiles" and vice versa? If so, in what way?

8. In one scene (it's after midnight and we all have different editions, but you know the one I mean without a page number, right?) Offred observes a funeral procession for a miscarried pregnancy. Comment on the inclusion of this type of ritual in the daily life of the community.

9. The Handmaid's Tale is set against the backdrop of a dystopian society wherein religion and feminism has combined to lay down a strict set of roles for women. In what ways are your reproductive choices shaped by religion and/or feminism? In what way do you think religion and/or feminism shapes the way society views infertility? Is it plausible to you that religion and feminism could ever produce the type of society described in The Handmaid's Tale? Why/why not?

10. You may have read The Handmaid's Tale before, perhaps for a class or your own pleasure reading. If you did, what was it like reading this book for the second time, specifically thinking about it from an infertility angle? Did your thoughts and feelings about the book's premise or any of the characters change? Did any things strike you differently the second time around?

11. I have often wondered what happened to Offred after the events in the book. There was speculation in the lecture notes, but if you were to add to that speculation---what happened to her after she was taken away? Did she work with the underground? Was she pregnant? Did she try to find out what happened to Luke and her daughter? What would you want for her to accomplish (if anything)?

Group C

1. I found it interesting that although Offred would be unable to raise any children she had, she still yearned to be pregnant. It seemed like more than just the fear of what would happen to her if she wasn't successful. Where do you think her desire for a baby stemmed from?

2. Doctors that had performed abortions were now criminals according to the newly formed government, penalized by death. Obviously, infertility had become an epidemic by that time. Do you think that there is a justification for criminalizing abortions if the future of humanity were at risk due to infertility?

3. In the beginning of the book, the Aunts discuss two facets of freedom: "freedom from" and "freedom to". While the old government's laws provided both types of freedom, the new government limited women's freedom to "freedom from". Do you think that "freedom from" is truly a freedom, or is it just the government's way of subtly taking away rights?

4. In Chapter 12, she is talking about her body and states: "I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it's shameful or immodest but because I don't want to see it. I don't want to look at something that determines me so completely." Dealing with infertility we face many challenges, and one is coming to terms with our body's short-comings. How do you view and deal with your body now, compared to pre-IF (or lack of knowledge on IF), does it determine you, and do you except it or avoid it?

5. Did you find it conflicting that the book showed a male-dominated culture, even in reference to reproducing, when in our culture it seems that women take the brunt of the responsibility? Even though male
infertility was ignored in their culture and females were given stints with new commanders ("tours of booty," as I came to think of it) did you feel the men were still in charge of procreation? How does this
differ from our reality?

6. The notes at the end of the book talk about how the fertility "crisis" was caused by environmental things like nuclear power plant accidents. While there are a number of causes of infertility that could not possibly be related to environmental factors, what do you think the likelihood is that some of them (i.e.: ovulatory dysfunction, male factor issues, unexplained) could be caused by things in our environment today? If you have these as your diagnosis have you ever done anything to change any environmental factors in your life to try to affect a change in your fertility?

7. One thing that continually struck me as I was reading was exactly how easily and smoothly the Giliadean government robbed women of their economic power and, ultimately, any semblance of freedom. All it took was a few keystrokes and (implied) threats to their employers to throw women back into chattel status. I kept wondering, where was the opposition? And what about the men? Offred mentions that even her partner was initially unbothered by what was happening to her. One gets the impression that a well of misogyny lingered below the surface of Offred's society, waiting for an excuse to be released. Do you think this aspect of the novel rang true? How might the citizens in Offred's culture have fought against the Gileadians' plans? Or was the takeover inevitable once it began?

8. One of the things that struck me about the book was how the women managed to find ways to express themselves and be creative, even though so much was denied them & their roles were very rigidly defined. For example, Offred improvises pats of butter in lieu of hand cream. In particular, I was struck by Serena Joy, the Commander's Wife -- she (like me) cannot create life (a baby) -- she no longer has a television career as an outlet -- so she knits. Besides your blog, do you have a creative outlet that helps you cope with your infertility and other life stressors?

9. It was at one time hard for me to put myself in the Wife's shoes, but having dealt with infertility on a more personal sense, I find that I can sympathize with her and her role in this society. If you had to be in this society, how could you cope with your role in it? Would you be a Wife or a Handmaid? Could you sympathize with your counterpart?

Questions for Book Tour Seven: Happiness Sold Separately

Group A Questions

1. On pages 51-52, Elinor discusses her abortion experience. She says choices are a fairytale and that she had always been pro-choice but now realized she had no choice. Has your stance on abortion changed at all since you began suffering from infertility?

2. In the beginning of Chapter 4, Elinor finds it difficult to look at a newborn and its mother in the seat next to her. She says she isn't so much sad that she can't have a baby of her own but that she can't give her husband a child. Do you find your infertility more painful because of your desire to experience pregnancy and childbirth or because of your desire to see your spouse as a father?

3. Elinor states that there is a difference between sadness and insanity. How do you differentiate between the two during infertility treatments?

4. One of the parts of the book that brought me to tears was when the oak tree that Elinor loves is chopped down. The tree had become a solid source of support for her, something that gave her comfort following the failure of fertility treatment and the separation with her husband, so its loss was devastating. Have you found something inanimate that has provided you with such support? What happened (or what would happen) when you lost that support?

5. At the very close of the book, having discovered her balanced translocation, Elinor likens herself to a screwed up silverware drawer. "Yet there's solace in discovering something is tangibly wrong. A diagnosis rather than you're old" Have you ever felt like this? Do you have a diagnosis for your fertility problems? Was it a relief? If your problem is unidentified, or age is against you, do you wish that you did have a reason?

6. I feel like the author was trying to show all sides of these complicated relationships, wanting you to sympathize with Elinor, Ted, Gina and Toby. Did you find yourself able to sympathize, or at least not dislike, all of these characters?

7. Elinor's thought on page 47 really struck me: "When Elinor was paying attention to her career, she should have been paying attention to her biological clock. When she was paying attention to her biological clock, she should have been paying attention to her husband." It made me wonder: Am I paying attention now to the things I should be paying attention to now? Are you?

8. Both Elinor in this book and Amelia in Love and other Impossible Pursuits are uber-sarcastic. Come to think of it, Peggy Orenstein (Waiting for Daisy) is, too. Do you think the experience of being infertile makes one sarcastic, or do you think such high levels of sarcasm lower one's infertility? Obviously, I say this tongue-in-cheek, for the latter scenario is ridiculous. But as for the former, do you find yourself more sarcastic as a way of dealing with IF? If so, how does sarcasm help?

9. Elinor takes up laundry and Ted works on the hutch. What new hobbies did you pick up or abandon during treatments?

10 How did you feel about Toby? Do you think he manipulated the situation too much? Was it strange to you that Ted was willing to be a father figure to Toby, but did not want to talk about adoption with Elinor?

11. Lolly writes that Elinor wouldn't mind "pressing charges ... against God for taking her baby" .... and that one of the things she doesn't like about practicing law is "forever trying to enforce justice, to fight life's unfairness. It takes so much energy, and somehow seems to miss the point." How does this relate to your experience? Do you find yourself consuming lots of energy trying to fight life's unfairness? If so, how do you fight it? Does it seem to miss the point? Or do you see your fight accomplishing something?

12. Lolly describes how Elinor became superstitious in her attempts to conceive. "At one point she thought they should throw out the unlucky mattress...That's when she and Ted started checking into hotel rooms on weekends, trying to make getting pregnant fun." Did you ever engage in rituals to get around superstitions. How did you alter your behavior or possessions to improve your odds?

13. Elinor finally finds out there's a reason for her pregnancy problems, "a balanced translocation," and finds "there's solace in learning that something is tangibly wrong." How does (or would) a definitive, action-able diagnosis affect your ability to adjust or come to terms with your infertility? How would it affect your emotional response? Would it provide some closure? Alternatively, if you're in the unexplained category how does that ambiguity affect your decision-making and desire to keep trying?

14. Elinor participates in a book club meeting following her miscarriage and finds that "no one gets her"...and thinks "why should they? She's a barren, bitter, self-pitying grouch. She hates this book club. She smiles and loosens the grip on the stem of her wineglass, afraid she might snap it in half." Do you find yourself having similar experiences? Would the infertility struggle be easier for you if you felt that people "got you" or not? Please elaborate. [added by Melissa: I hope this book club doesn’t do that!]

Group B Questions

1. Elinor seemed to turn all of her books on the subject of infertility backwards on the bookshelves, where Roger found them while cleaning. Why do you think she did so? In what ways do you think people who are struggling with infertility help in keeping infertility such a "taboo" topic? Do you see infertility ever becoming a more accepted or understood topic?

2. "Warren" the old oak tree in Elinor's front yard is a symbolic character in the book. Ted and Elinor's unexpected pregnancy was conceived under the fateful tree. What were your thoughts on Warren's symbolism? Do you have a similar touchstone in your life for times of turmoil?

3. The end of the book was left open to the reader. Do you think that Elinor and Ted stayed together, or that they really finally separate? Did she pursue adoption on her own, or did they do another round of IVF with PGD? Do you think she ended up happy, or did she continue to struggle?

4. The book explores different kinds of love. It seems that their battle with fertility (and really Elinor’s battle with herself) has changed the type of love Ted feels for his wife. Has your journey with infertility and/or loss changed the love between you and your spouse?

5. Elinor seeks the comfort of odd places. At first it is in the laundry room, and then later changes to the oak tree in her yard. I think we all try to find comfort to help us make it through the bad patches. What were/are your sources of comfort?

6. Did you see a parallel between Elinor and Toby beyond their relationship with Ted?

7. What role does Roger (the cleaning guy) play in the book? What is the significance of the items left between Elinor's sheets?

8. What did you imagine happened to Elinor and Ted after the book ends? If you were Elinor, Ted and Gina, what do you think you would have done?

9. On page 66, Elinor reveals that she was more disappointed about not being able to have Ted's child versus not having a child at all. How did you react to this revelation? Can you understand her feelings and if so, how do they relate to your own?

10. One of my favorite parts of the book was when she threw all of her IF books into the mulcher. Most people would have thought she was crazy! Her thoughts about all of the books were so similar to mine. I guess my question is who else sees themselves in Elinor? On the surface it seems like the symbolism is pretty obvious but I think it went much deeper. Anyone else? Any other thoughts on this section?

11. Lolly circles back repeatedly to examine the peculiar dynamics of a marriage plagued by infertility. In particular, she focuses on the conflicting desires for closeness and distance that Elinor experiences. Why do you think Elinor "is irritated by her husband when he was attentive, and then resentful when he stepped back to giver her room?" (p. 12). Even during difficult treatment cycles, Ted was not a source of comfort to her (p. 26). Why?

12. As we see glimpses into Ted & Elinor's relationship after their unsuccessful fertility treatments, we discover that Ted seeks solace in the garage and the gym -- places where he can "fix" things. Elinor finds refuge in the laundry room and by re-reading classic novels from college. Why do you think Elinor is drawn to these activities? What activities do you engage in as a way to soothe your soul during your fertility quest and why do you think you are drawn to them? What about your partner - does he/she have places or tasks that provide some refuge?

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Mistress's Daughter

Josh's thoughts on the book:

I really liked this book. I remember reading Homes's article in the New Yorker a few years ago and being blown away by the early bones of this story. I met her a little while later and had one of those foot-in-mouth encounters where I tried to tell her how amazing I thought her article was but I think ended up only making myself look like an idiot and her feel awkward to be confronted by my fawning.

A feeling of the "subtlety of biology," a lovely aphorism, is not something that Homes necessarily welcomes. I sometimes feel that biology raps me over the head when I look at biologically-related family members. How has infertility affected our feelings about the "subtlety of biology"?
It's given me ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, the amazing narcissism of seeing parts of yourself in your children is amazing, but on the other is the knowledge that as we grow our family, we may choose to do so through third-party reproduction either through donor gametes or adoption. When I think about that not-yet future child, I would never want them to feel less because there isn't that genetic tie. As I like to tell Mel, I love her more than anyone in the world and we're not genetically related.
The author talks about searching for information on her ancestors and realized that many of the people searching were not adopted. She realized from that the question of "who am I" is not unique to adoptees. At what point in your life, have you felt the same way?
Interestingly, I recently read Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost which also deals quite a bit with genealogy. Until I read that book, I'd always been more interested in the history that people could tell me--people like my grandparents. But now, I think I am interested in exploring further.
AM Homes seemed to have a lot of angst that she attributed to growing up as an adopted child. Is such angst inherently a part of being adopted, or rather, is having angst about ones childhood an inherent part of being a child, and adopted children simply pin their angst to being adopted while children raised by their biological parents pin their angst to whatever other issue they perceive as the "problem" of their childhood?
I can't speak for whether being adopted leaves you more prone to angst than any other kid. However, I am reminded of what I told a person who came to see a film I showed about life on a kibbutz in Israel that portrayed that life in a pretty unflattering life. The person was from a kibbutz and felt that the filmmaker was pinning all their emotional baggage on the kibbutz and that plenty of people grow up and are happy on the kibbutz and happy later in life because and not in-spite of growing up on a kibbutz. Rather than get into a debate about whether the filmmaker is being fair or not, I told this person, that the filmmaker is an artist with an artistic disposition. Artists tend not to fit in wherever they are, it is part of what makes them who they are. I'm not sure if this is the case for A.M. Homes, but I'd be willing to bet that her artistic temperament is an important part of how she filters her adoption experience.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Jane Austen Book Club Discussion by Pamela Jeanne

This post is written by Pamela Jeanne of Coming2Terms and posted by Melissa to the Annex. You can leave a comment for her here or go over to Coming2Terms to continue the discussion.


It was fun to imagine being a seventh member of the Jane Austen Book Club. I’m a devoted fan of Jane Austen. For a time when I was 17 years old, I emulated her writing in letters to friends if only because I was intrigued with trying to imagine what life must have been like when she was alive. My fascination continues because I more than likely would have been a close friend of hers if we had lived at that time. Like her I would have used whatever devices were at my disposal to maintain my independence or to express my ideas or opinions. I shudder to think how limiting life for women was in Jane’s era, and for that I respect her tremendously.

Happiness seemed to be a reoccurring topic throughout the book. Sylvia and Bernadette seemed to be polar opposites in how they reacted to things in life and how they viewed happiness. Do you identify with one of these ladies over the other? Explain. Did another character speak to you instead? Who and why?

I identified more with Bernadette and her idea of happiness. Happiness for me has become less dependent on circumstances around me and more about how I choose to perceive what comes my way. I’ve learned to appreciate happiness as a state of mind that’s in my control. I found Sylvia’s weakness was in subjugating herself to her immediate family. By seeking happiness in my own right I think I do more to help those in my life. Bernadette and I also share a sometimes naïve desire to see the good in people. I want to believe that people will surprise me with their goodness.

Which character in the Jane Austen Book Club did you most relate to? And what is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?

Jocelyn is the character I most related to in this novel. I’m allergic to animals but if I wasn’t I could see having a close relationship with cats or dogs because they seem in their own way to be more accepting than humans. While neither Jocelyn nor I have children and we share strong independent streaks, Jocelyn and I also have definite nurturing aspects.

As for my favorite novel, it’s by far Pride and Prejudice. I adore Elizabeth Bennet and imagined as a young woman that we were very like each other. I appreciate her pragmatism but I also relate to her closet romantic side. She wasn’t one to buy into the marriage game of her day and saw the absurdity of a smart woman settling for a lesser mate. She was intellectually equal to men (thanks to her progressive father) and wasn’t about to sell out for an uneven match-- my kind of girl.

Jocelyn and Sylvia are closer than most sisters. Their relationship has withstood many tests. Do you have a particular friend who has stood by you through thick and thin in ways that stand out from most friendships, and if so what brought you together and what keeps the relationship so special?

Friendships grow and change challenged by life’s experiences. I’m in a hiatus of sorts with two of my best friends – one from my childhood, the other from my early 20s. In the case of the former, we shared the premature death of her mother and in the case of the latter sad and regretful divorce – each of which forced us to grow but the pain was diminished with the closeness we shared. Sadly, their graduation to mommyhood has created a large gap in our ability to relate to each other today. I expect that much like Joceyln and Sylvia who had their own differing experiences we’ll come back together at some point but I am very aware that I am next to impossible for them to understand. They have the larger challenge in trying to figure me out and yet I have high hopes my differences won’t prove to be the end of what was once a great ability to read each other’s minds.

Intrigued by the idea of a book tour and want to read more about The Jane Austen Book Club? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Brigade by visiting the master list at Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #10 (Embryo Culture by Beth Kohl with author participation!) and all are welcome to join along . All you need is a book and blog.