Rules for Moving

September 1, 2019

From best­selling author Nan­cy Star comes a deeply mov­ing nov­el about the truths we hide from oth­ers and the lies we tell our­selves. To the out­side world, beloved advice colum­nist Lane Meck­ler has all the answers. What no one knows is that she also has a secret: her life is a dis­as­ter and it’s just got­ten worse. Her hus­band, whom she was plan­ning to leave, has died in a freak acci­dent. Her six-year-old son, Hen­ry, has stopped speak­ing to every­one but her. Lane’s solu­tion? Move. When she was grow­ing up, that was what her fam­i­ly did best. But when she and Hen­ry pack up and leave, Lane real­izes that their next home is no bet­ter and she final­ly begins to ask her­self some hard ques­tions. What made her fam­i­ly move so often? Why has she always felt like an out­sider? How can she get Hen­ry to speak? On a jour­ney to help her son find his voice, Lane dis­cov­ers that some­where along the way she lost her own. If she wants to help him, she’ll need to find the courage to face the past and to speak the truth she’s been hid­ing from for years.

Discussion Questions

Ques­tions cour­tesy of Nan­cy Star

  1. Grow­ing up, Lane Meckler’s moth­er Sylvie tells her, friends are over-rat­ed and then adds, It’s not your fault. They’re not our kind.” Lane spends hours pars­ing out what Not our kind means. What was their kind? Her first guess is peo­ple who move a lot. Her sec­ond guess is peo­ple who are Jew­ish. Did it sur­prise you that being Jew­ish was one of her guess­es? Do you think that was part of why she felt dif­fer­ent? Is being dif­fer­ent always a neg­a­tive thing?

  2. When Lane real­izes Hen­ry has stopped speak­ing to every­one but her, she’s con­cerned that he’ll end up being seen as oth­er than”. What do you think about the way Lane han­dles Henry’s dif­fi­cul­ty in speak­ing? In what ways is his silence impor­tant to the sto­ry? Do you think the advice Lane gets from ther­a­pists and oth­ers is help­ful? Do you think dif­fer­ent cul­tures, eth­nic­i­ties and reli­gions have dif­fer­ent atti­tudes toward silence?

  3. There are sev­er­al chap­ters in the nov­el told from Henry’s point of view. Did see­ing events through Henry’s eyes change how you viewed Lane? What do you think you would find out if you saw the world through the eyes of peo­ple in your fam­i­ly, through your friends’ eyes, or your neighbors?

  4. In the pro­logue, we learn about Lane and Hen­ry from anoth­er char­ac­ter. Have you ever had the expe­ri­ence of hear­ing about some­one before you met them? What was the effect on your rela­tion­ship with them? Lane lives in three very dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties yet gos­sip is present in all. How did gos­sip dif­fer in each loca­tion, if it did? Does it count as gos­sip if peo­ple are say­ing good things? How do you define gossip?

  5. When Lane meets Aggie, Aggie tells her, if you want to know who a per­son real­ly is, watch how they treat some­one who’s dif­fer­ent.” Do you agree? Who in the nov­el seemed sym­pa­thet­ic to peo­ple with dif­fer­ences? Who seemed most put off? There are many kinds of dif­fer­ences in the book. Which ones did you notice? How does your com­mu­ni­ty embrace peo­ple with dif­fer­ences, and how could it do better?

  6. The nov­el is full of mis­un­der­stand­ings and mis­tak­en assump­tions. Many peo­ple in the sto­ry are not as they first seem. Were there char­ac­ters you made assump­tions about who sur­prised you once you learned more about them? Are you quick to make assump­tions about peo­ple? Do you think we all are? Is this some­thing we can change?

  7. Many of Lane’s Rox­ie read­ers treat her as if she were their wise Rab­bi but her father Mar­shall thinks it’s crazy for peo­ple to take advice from her because she’s a stranger. Lane responds by telling him that not every­one has some­one safe to ask. What do you think about peo­ple tak­ing advice from advice colum­nists? Do you think Rox­ie gives good advice? How do you think Lane is able to give con­fi­dent advice while being unsure of how to behave in her own life?

  8. In one of the Ask Rox­ie columns, Rox­ie tells a read­er that we can nev­er real­ly know what goes on behind the closed doors of oth­er people’s homes. Yet we often act as if we do know. When you meet some­one, do you assume they are pre­sent­ing their authen­tic self to you or are you skep­ti­cal? Are you slow to reveal your­self or are you an open book?” How do you nav­i­gate between the per­son you present to the world and your pri­vate self.

  9. In Lane’s fam­i­ly there is an ear­ly event that is dam­ag­ing to every­one. Though they each deal with it dif­fer­ent­ly, they nev­er direct­ly speak of it. Why do you think that is? Why do you think fam­i­lies keep secrets? How do you define the dif­fer­ence between what’s pri­vate and what’s secret?

  10. Lane has moved a lot but she’s nev­er felt at home. Why do you think that is? What do you think makes a house a home? By the end of the book do you feel that Lane has found her home?


Tikkun Middot/​Mussar Dis­cus­sion Guide

Author’s Note: How did I come to write a nov­el that explores many of the themes in the Tikkun Mid­dot cur­ricu­lum devel­oped by Rab­bi David Jaf­fee at the Insti­tute for Jew­ish Cul­tur­al Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty? My sub­con­scious did it! I dis­cov­ered this lay­er of the nov­el after my book-launch talk for Rules For Mov­ing, when a mem­ber of my syn­a­gogue, present at the launch, called to ask if I’d ever tak­en our rabbi’s Tikkun Mid­dot class. She was tak­ing the class, about cul­ti­vat­ing whole­some qual­i­ties of the heart and mind as a way to help repair the world, while read­ing my nov­el and she noticed many attrib­ut­es stud­ied in the class were woven through the book. 

As usu­al, the read­er is nev­er wrong! I took that class a few years back at the same time that I was writ­ing the nov­el and with­out notic­ing it, attrib­ut­es stud­ied in the class snuck into the book. 

Tikkun Mid­dot class­es are held at many syn­a­gogues and Jew­ish Cen­ters. The class I took was led with open­ness and kind­ness by the wise rab­bi, Elliott Tep­per­man, at Bnai Keshet in New Jer­sey. While I am not trained to teach this class (though I did co-facil­i­tate) I offer this dis­cus­sion guide as a way to look at Rules For Mov­ing through the lens of Tikkun Middot. 

The ques­tions below are all pre­ced­ed by a con­cept or attribute that is part of the Tikkun Mid­dot cur­ricu­lum. Some are more direct­ly con­nect­ed to the nov­el than oth­ers. My hope is you take it in with the spir­it of curios­i­ty and mind­ful­ness that is part of the Tikkun Mid­dot experience!

  1. Hit­lam­dut
    This is the prac­tice of being aware with­out judg­ment; of cul­ti­vat­ing a spir­it of open curios­i­ty. There’s a lot of the oppo­site hap­pen­ing in this nov­el! Peo­ple make quick judg­ments based on mis­tak­en assump­tions. In one of Ask Roxie’s advice columns woven through the nov­el, Rox­ie takes this on direct­ly with a read­er whose ques­tion reveals that she’s mak­ing assump­tions with­out hav­ing enough infor­ma­tion. Roxie’s advice: More lov­ing, less judg­ing.” Can you talk about the ways in which neg­a­tive judg­ments become prob­lem­at­ic for Lane, but those of oth­ers and her own?

  2. Behi­ra Point
    These are choice points in our lives; moments when we have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to stop and mind­ful­ly choose our best response to a sit­u­a­tion instead of let­ting our­selves be car­ried along mind­less­ly by habit. Lane faces sev­er­al Behi­ra Points in the nov­el. When these moments are big, we tend to see them as cross­roads. But even small moments of choice can be con­se­quen­tial. Did you notice any moments, big or small, when Lane neglect­ed to take a moment to con­sid­er how to pro­ceed? Did you notice any moments when she stopped and reflect on the best action before pro­ceed­ing? What was the dif­fer­ence in the outcomes?

  3. Anavah/​Humility
    This looks at how much space peo­ple choose to take up in a room. Some peo­ple take up too lit­tle, some too much. Find­ing the right bal­ance can be chal­leng­ing (but use­ful). In the nov­el, we learn ear­ly on that Lane has a soft spot for what she thinks of as Perime­ter Peo­ple. What did that mean to you, when you read it? Who in the nov­el could use to take up a lit­tle less space? Who would do well to put them­selves out there a lit­tle bit more? Does any­one in the nov­el (or in life) get it just right?

  4. Savlanut and Ka’as: Patience and Anger.
    Who in the nov­el seems the most patient? Are they patient with some peo­ple or in some sit­u­a­tions and not oth­ers? Who in the nov­el has prob­lems with anger? How can express­ing too lit­tle anger be prob­lem­at­ic? Does any­one in the nov­el (or in life) get it just right?

  5. Hesed: Lov­ingkind­ness.
    In the nov­el, some peo­ple try to help Lane in ways that are not help­ful. When you noticed this, were you sur­prised or did it feel famil­iar? In an Ask Rox­ie col­umn, a read­er com­plains that a friend who’s suf­fered a recent loss is not accept­ing her help even though she’s known to be a good helper. Were you sur­prised by Roxie’s answer? Have you ever tried to help in a way that wasn’t want­ed? Has any­one ever tried to help you in a way you didn’t find help­ful? Who is helped, when the help offered is not the help wanted?

  6. Shti­ka-Shmi­rat Ha Lashon: Silence, thought­ful speech, gossip.
    The book looks at dif­fer­ent kinds of silence, and the many ways that peo­ple speak, both mind­ful­ly and through gos­sip. In addi­tion to Henry’s silence, what oth­er exam­ples of silence did you notice in the nov­el? Did you notice any char­ac­ters who prac­ticed mind­ful care­ful speech? There’s gos­sip in all three com­mu­ni­ties in the nov­el (in Man­hat­tan, in New Jer­sey, in Mass­a­chu­setts). Did you find all instances of gos­sip equal­ly harm­ful? How do you define gossip?

  7. Bita­chon: Trust.
    Lane finds it hard to trust peo­ple. Why do you think that is? Lane uses dis­tance as a way to avoid being hurt. Is being cau­tious always wrong? Can set­ting bound­aries be help­ful? How have Lane’s bound­aries gone wrong for her? How have they been help­ful? Did you notice any moments (Behi­ra Points!) where Lane decides to take a chance on trust­ing some­one? What hap­pens when she does?

  8. Emu­nah: Trust­wor­thi­ness and Integrity.
    Do you think Lane is a trust­wor­thy per­son? Why or why not? Do you think peo­ple who are trust­wor­thy toward some and not toward oth­ers, can be con­sid­ered trust­wor­thy? Are there any char­ac­ters in the book who are good exam­ples of peo­ple with integri­ty? Did your opin­ion of anyone’s trust­wor­thi­ness change through the course of the nov­el? Has that ever hap­pened to you with some­one you met?

  9. Seder: Order.
    What about Lane’s life was order­ly? What wasn’t? How did Lane’s moth­er Sylvie try to impose order and why? How does Lane try to impose order? Can there be too much order? In your opin­ion, what’s worse: too much order or not enough? Does every­one need order? What do you think the oppo­site of order is? Dis­or­der? Chaos? Spon­tane­ity? Indi­vid­u­al­i­ty? What’s your com­fort lev­el with order or the lack thereof?