I Miss You When I Blink (Philpott)

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays 
Mary Laura Philpott, 2019
Atria Books
288 pp.

Acclaimed essayist and bookseller Mary Laura Philpott presents a charmingly relatable and wise memoir-in-essays about what happened after she checked off all the boxes on her successful life’s to-do list and realized she might need to reinvent the list—and herself.

Mary Laura Philpott thought she’d cracked the code: Always be right, and you’ll always be happy.

But once she’d completed her life’s to-do list (job, spouse, house, babies—check!), she found that instead of feeling content and successful, she felt anxious.

Lost. Stuck in a daily grind of overflowing calendars, grueling small talk, and sprawling traffic.

She’d done everything "right," but she felt all wrong. What’s the worse failure, she wondered: smiling and staying the course, or blowing it all up and running away? And are those the only options?

In this memoir-in-essays full of spot-on observations about home, work, and creative life, Philpott takes on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood with wit and heart.

She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don’t happen just once or only at midlife; reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary; and advises that if you’re going to faint, you should get low to the ground first.

Most of all, Philpott shows that when you stop feeling satisfied with your life, you don’t have to burn it all down and set off on a transcontinental hike (unless you want to, of course). You can call upon your many selves to figure out who you are, who you’re not, and where you belong. Who among us isn’t trying to do that?

Like a pep talk from a sister, I Miss You When I Blink is the funny, poignant, and deeply affecting book you’ll want to share with all your friends, as you learn what Philpott has figured out along the way: that multiple things can be true of us at once—and that sometimes doing things wrong is the way to do life right. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Mary Laura Philpott writes essays that examine the overlap of the absurd and the profound in everyday life. In 2015, she wrote and illustrated the humor book Penguins with People Problems, a quirky look at the embarrassments of being human. Her next book, I Miss You When I Blink came out in 2019.

Philpott's writing has been featured in print or online by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, and other publications. She is the founding editor of Musing, the online magazine of Parnassus Books, as well as an Emmy-winning cohost of the show A Word on Words on Nashville Public Television. 

Mary Laura lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her family. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
I've spent my adult life prowling bookshelves for the modern day reincarnation of my favorite authors—Nora Ephron, Erma Bombeck, Jean Kerr, and Lawrie Colwin—all rolled into one.… Good news: I have finally found their successor.… [R]efreshingly honest and funny… [Philpott's] real gift lies in making the connection between the small moments and the big ones, so you feel you've walked into a complicated, glittering web.… [D]elicious.
Elisabeth Egan - Washington Post

Be forewarned that you'll laugh out loud and cry, probably in the same essay. Philpott has a wonderful way of finding humor, even in darker moments. This is a book you'll want to buy for yourself and every other woman you know.
Real Simple

This wonderful memoir-in-essays from Nashville writer Mary Laura Philpott is a frank and funny look at what happens when, in the midst of a tidy life, there occur impossible-to-ignore tugs toward creativity, meaning, and the possibility of something more.
Southern Living

In her memoir-in-essays, acclaimed writer Mary Laura Philpott addresses the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood and that inevitable "stuck" feeling so many of us become familiar with. Part confessional, part pep talk, I Miss You When I Blink is a reassuring read about learning how to accept that doing things wrong can be the way to do life right.

[H]eartwarming if occasionally self-indulgent…. Readers who worry their type-A personalities have led them to be unsatisfied with their successes, or those who yearn for change but can’t pinpoint exactly why, will find this book comforting and reassuring.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) Laugh-out-loud funny…. Mary Laura Philpott's hilarious and comforting essay collection will reassure women questioning their abilities and choices.
Shelf Awareness

A mosaic of a life changing in subtle rather than radical ways…. Readers with their own sets of anxieties should be charmed by the author's friendly tone, warm sense of humor, and relatable experiences.

[I]nviting autobiographical essays.…Warm, candid, and wise, Philpott's book is both an extended reflection on the pressures of being female and a survivor's tale about finding contentment by looking within and learning to be herself. Delightfully bighearted reading.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. "It’s the perfect sentence, but I didn’t write it. My six-year-old did (1)." What did you initially think the phrase "I miss you when I blink" meant and what you do you think of it after reading the book? Do you think it was a good choice of title for this collection?

2. "We all keep certain phrases handy in our minds—hanging on hooks just inside the door where we can grab them like a raincoat, for easy access. Not mantras exactly, but go-to choruses that state how things are, that give structure to the chaos and help life make a little more sense (2)." Do you have one of these? What is it and where did it come from?

3. "For so many people I know, there is no one big midlife smashup; there’s a recurring sense of having met an impasse, a need to turn around and not only change course, but change the way you are (3)." Have you ever felt this way? How did you get yourself out of it?

4. Mary Laura mentions finding her brilliant college notes about Virginia Woolf and feeling detached from that person. What is the version of yourself that you miss most? [Technically, that was a hypothetical "she" who found those notes, but as long as that tiny distinction doesn’t bother you all, it’s fine with me if saying it this way in the question makes it simpler.]

5. Are you a perfectionist like Mary Laura? Why do you think so many women define themselves as perfectionists?

6. Have you ever thought of your life as an endless to-do list? Mary Laura finds herself checking things off, getting to the end of her "successful adulthood" list, but feeling more disoriented than ever, like she hasn't arrived anywhere (12). How can we remain goal-oriented without finding ourselves at this impasse? Is being goal-oriented even something to strive for? Is the impasse inevitable? [just slightly reworded bc "nearing the end of hers" initially made me think it meant "nearing the end of her life" lol]

7. "It wouldn’t be fair for me to say, 'I’m just an average person,' or 'an ordinary' person, because I am also a lucky person. I was raised in a loving home and grew up to have another loving home, and I do not suffer from dire physical, financial, or situational disadvantages that so many people struggle under. But being fortunate doesn’t mean you won’t reach a certain point in life—many points actually—and panic (13)." How can we recognize the privileges we have while still treating our own struggles and feelings with respect?

8. "All of us have one prevalent personality trait, no matter what other qualities we possess. There’s always one ingredient that flavors everything else about us. The cilantro, if you will (16)." Do you think this is true? And if so, what’s yours?

9. Mary Laura writes about the trope of blaming your parents for your flaws: "So there you have it. When I was growing up, my mother was a hard-ass, and she turned me compulsive. It’s all my mother’s fault. Or: When I was growing up, my mother was my cheerleader, and she made me successful. It’s all to my mother’s credit (26)." How do you view the effects your parents had on you? Is there another way to look at this?

10. "In school we’re taught to do our best, but we’re limited by the bounds of what we understand to be right—and ‘right’ looks different to everyone (35)." Do people ever fully learn that lesson? How do you teach kids what’s right and wrong while also teaching them that right and wrong look different to everyone?

11. Have you ever dated a person who was "totally wrong but really fun for a little while (49)"? Spill.

12. Do you believe that the potential selves you could’ve been "exist as surely as my past selves do and as truly as the real, right-now self does, too (85)"? How did reading that make you feel?

13. Have you ever found yourself in a conversation about the weather or traffic and wondered, "Have conversations always been like this (122)?" How do we get into conversational ruts (with our friends or our partners) and how can we get out of them? What do you do to break through the small talk?

14. At the end of Mary Laura’s solo retreat in Nashville, she writes in her journal, "I am too smart to go back to being miserable (172)." How do you feel about this sentiment?

15. Mary Laura believes you can always start over. Do you? Have you? Will you?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2019