I Miss You When I Blink (Philpott) - Discussion Questions

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.)

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