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.
Rules for Moving
Questions courtesy of Nancy Star
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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!
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?
- 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?
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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
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