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Molly Wizenberg Shares Her Story Of Changing Identity In New Book, 'The Fixed Stars'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When Molly Wizenberg was 36, she discovered something new about herself - an intense, undeniable desire to love and be loved by another woman after a lifetime of relationships with men. No matter how hard she tried, it was a desire she could not will out of existence. And as she made space for it, she watched her marriage of almost 10 years disintegrate, as well as the story she once told herself about who she is and what she wants.

Before the rupture, her husband and daughter, their restaurants and her writing career, those were the stars that formed the constellation of her life. But in her new memoir "The Fixed Stars," Molly Wizenberg learns to accept the new shape that constellation takes as she draws new lines, makes new connections, and makes room for self-discovery. Molly Wizenberg joins us now.

Welcome.

MOLLY WIZENBERG: Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here.

CHANG: Well, we're thrilled to have you. I want to start where this story starts - with jury duty - because I want to talk about what went through you when you were on jury duty and you first laid eyes on one of the defense lawyers, a woman in a men's suit. Can you just tell us about that?

WIZENBERG: Yeah. So what was very strange about this moment for me is that I had never had a woman catch my eye quite the way that this woman did. And this woman was a very masculine-presenting woman. And I found myself - unlike any other crush I had ever had, this didn't feel like a light-hearted thing. This felt like it really stuck to me.

CHANG: Yeah. You wanted to memorize, like, every piece of her.

WIZENBERG: Yes. Yes. I had been married for that - at that point for the better part of a decade. I had a daughter who was not quite 3. This crush felt dangerous. I felt, like, changed by this crush. And I felt so much shame because I did not want to - I didn't want this to be happening to me.

CHANG: Right.

WIZENBERG: I didn't want to upend my life or change the way I knew myself.

CHANG: Well, then you and Brandon temporarily decide to sort of rewrite the rules of your marriage. He let you have the opportunity to date women. But looking back, was there a part of you that knew from the very start that this opening that both of you allowed in the marriage would end up dooming the marriage?

WIZENBERG: I think I was afraid of that. I know I was afraid of it. So after jury duty was over and I kept trying to sort of force thoughts of this woman out of my mind - because the other thing is, I really didn't know her. So there were moments when...

CHANG: She was just like an idea in your head at that moment.

WIZENBERG: Yeah. And there were moments when I really questioned my sanity to allow myself to be sort of pulled along by these fantasies about someone I didn't even know. It felt very destructive. But at the same time, I couldn't not talk with him about it, even though there was so much energy behind this crush that I was very much afraid of what it would do to us, that no matter what happened, I was going to burn down our marriage whether I wanted to or not.

CHANG: One central idea that you confront is this false belief that who we become in life is some fixed person. You take that belief head-on. You realize that someone can change in the most fundamental ways - whether it be about who we love, our sexuality - and that a person can only know who she is at that one moment in time that she is in. And I love that idea. It resonates with me, too.

WIZENBERG: It's interesting because, you know, when I hear you describe it back to me, which you did so well, it sounds so groundless, right?

CHANG: Yeah.

WIZENBERG: It sounds like, well, what do we have to count on if at any given time we only know ourselves as well as we know ourselves that moment, right?

CHANG: Yeah. Yeah.

WIZENBERG: It sounds so groundless. And yet I find such relief in the thought that I don't have to expect myself to stay the same...

CHANG: Yes.

WIZENBERG: ...And also a great relief in acknowledging that the people close to me will keep changing, too. I think about this both as, you know, in romantic relationships and also in terms of my parenting. Of course we know our kids will change in fundamental ways. But what a relief to acknowledge that all we have to do is show up and know what we know now.

CHANG: And at the same time, though, there is a loss, right? Like, when you move from one idea of who you are to the next idea, there is a mourning for what you are giving up, isn't there?

WIZENBERG: Absolutely. I felt and I continue to feel waves of this - such sadness for, I think, the hope that my now-ex-husband and I had for our lives. And more than anything, I feel real sadness for what happens to that hope when it doesn't fit us anymore...

CHANG: Yeah.

WIZENBERG: ...Because we were very intentional, and we loved each other very much and wanted the best for each other. And the only comfort to me is that even though it's more complicated now, we still want the best for each other. And in many ways, we express that through the care and work that we put into raising a child as co-parents.

CHANG: So in this moment, how do you feel about the story of who you are right now and the story of who and your partner Ash are together right now?

WIZENBERG: Yeah. It's - so I'm now remarried, actually, to my partner Ash. And so Ash is now, you know, in the constellation, too. Our family constellation - it looks different now.

CHANG: Yeah.

WIZENBERG: And the three stars that I would think of are now me and Ash and June. But the thing is...

CHANG: Your daughter.

WIZENBERG: ...That Brandon is still there, too. Being married again, knowing what I know now, knowing how painful divorce is, knowing how changeable I am, how changeable my spouse might be...

CHANG: Right.

WIZENBERG: ...Somehow, even that unknowability feels better to me than pretending that everything is always going to stay the same. I would rather acknowledge that we are constantly shifting and get to work on how we choose to stay together anyway and how we grow together than pretend that we are fixed. I like the idea that we are supporting each other in growing in ways even if they scare us. It feels good to me to look the truth in the face and choose to hitch up our stars anyway.

CHANG: Molly Wizenberg's new book is called "The Fixed Stars."

Thank you so much for this book and for this conversation. I so enjoyed both.

WIZENBERG: Thank you so much. This was absolutely a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANGEL OLSEN SONG, "THOSE WERE THE DAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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