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November 24, 2015

My Rules to Live By --- And Break --- Guest Post by Kate McGovern

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Rose, the protagonist of RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES, isn't the only one who lives by a set of rules. As it turns out, her creator --- debut author Kate McGovern --- has the same tendency. Below, she outlines her own rules to live by --- as well as a few she's trying to break.

Be sure to check out Kate's post, below, as well as the book itself!


I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret about me: I’m a rule follower. Always have been. I don’t even like to look like I’m breaking a rule.

One of my earliest memories is of sitting in “morning meeting” in kindergarten, and having pins and needles in my foot. I didn’t know what the feeling was --- I’d never had it before --- so I thought there was something in my shoe. I kept taking my shoe off and shaking it out, until one of the teachers asked me to settle down.

Settle down --- me? I never had to be asked to settle down. I remember feeling horrified that I had been caught breaking a rule (even if, after all, I was just trying to get something prickly out of my shoe).

In RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES, Rose is also a rule follower by nature. And because she’s facing a set of incredibly difficult life circumstances --- her mother has Huntington’s disease, a fatal, neurodegenerative condition, and she has a 50/50 chance of getting it, too --- Rose develops a set of rules to help her make smart choices for how to live her life. It gives her a sense of control.

I won’t give you any spoilers here, but I will tell you a few of my rules to live by --- plus a few rules that I’ve learned are better off broken.

Rules I live by:

·         Everyone has a story to tell, so listen well. I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of college volunteering at a women’s shelter. I served dinner every night and interviewed the residents for a documentary play I was writing. They were unbelievably generous with their stories. It struck me that it doesn’t take much to ask someone about their day, and to really listen to what they have to say.

·         Ride trains. I get it; airplanes are far more efficient for long-distance travel. But like Rose and her mom, I’m a firm believer that trains show you pieces of the world you might miss otherwise. When I crossed the country by rail in 2012, I was astounded by how little I understood about the landscape and geography of this country. I’m an east coast, city girl. Watching the expanse of the middle and west of this country unfold out the window blew my mind. Whenever I can, I’ll choose a train over a plane or a car.

·         You do you. I’ve been through phases --- like all of us --- of trying to be someone different. In my case, that meant more extroverted, more risk-taking. As I hit my thirties, I started to feel pretty comfortable in my own skin. I’ve learned what kind of risks are for me --- hey, like writing books --- and which ones just aren’t (like motorcycles or anything involving long-distance free-falls). I’m good with that.

 

Rules I’m learning to break:

·         Always be polite. I’m learning that polite doesn’t always cut it. Sometimes you have to advocate for yourself or for someone else, and sometimes that means ruffling feathers. As I get older, I’m trying to be braver about feather-ruffling when it’s the right thing to do --- even if it means dropping the “please” and “thank you” and “if you don’t mind,” or voicing an unpopular opinion.

·         Apologize for yourself. Women tend to do this a lot, I think, and I’m no exception. We apologize when we haven’t done anything wrong. We use qualifying words when we ask for things we need, like all those emails that start, “I’m just writing to ask…” We preface our ideas with “I think” or “I feel.” It’s not easy to break these habits --- they’re well ingrained. But I’m working on it. (At work, for example, I’ll edit qualifying words out of my emails before I send them. So far no one seems to think any less of me.)

 

·         Avoid conflict at all costs. I hate fighting with people I love or disagreeing with colleagues or friends. I’m not comfortable with it. I attribute this, in part, to growing up as a pseudo-only child (my brothers are so much older that they were out of the house for most of my childhood). I never learned to argue with a sibling and then get over it. But I’m learning --- or trying to learn --- that it’s okay, healthy even, to voice disagreements, and that people who love and respect each other can disagree and still, you know, love and respect each other. Duh.

 

McGovern has taught theatre and language arts to middle schoolers in Boston, New York, and London. A graduate of Yale and Oxford, she currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was born and raised. Rules for 50/50 Chances is her first novel.