Getting Real About Being ‘Fine’

. June 30, 2019.
family-matters

Local Author Camille Pagán Depicts Midlife Marriage in Her Latest

Author Camille Pagán’s new book, I’m Fine and Neither Are You may resonate with the overextended mothers of today’s world.

A busy mom of two living in Ann Arbor, Pagán purposely stays away from autobiographical storytelling, although her ideas are stoked by real life interactions. Striving to create relatable characters, this latest book is her fifth, with another due out next year and one more in the works. “A lot of people say that (reading) my books are like having a candid conversation with a good friend.”

Penelope’s story

The newest story centers on Penelope Ruiz-Kar, a wife, mother and breadwinner for her family, trying desperately to hold it all together. Meanwhile, her friend Jenny Sweet seems to have the perfect life until tragedy strikes and the veneer of perfection is shattered. Penelope reacts by trying to inject radical honesty into her own life and marriage which causes its own brand of upheaval.

Pagán says the character of Penelope grew out of a conversation she had with a good friend several years ago whose mother was going through cancer treatments. At the time, Pagán was working full-time as an editor and trying to finish a book. Her son wasn’t sleeping through the night and she had a lot going on. When her friend asked how she was, she answered the way so many women answer—“I’m fine.” “I didn’t want to say I wasn’t fine because I was measuring my pain against hers.”

“She looked at me and said: ‘Camille, I didn’t ask you to be nice. I want the honest answer. It’s okay if you’re not fine,’ and she said ‘you know that right?’ I think I knew it logically but not emotionally.”

Facade of fine

Pagán said she wanted to bring the spirit of that interaction to life in story form knowing many mothers wear the facade of being “fine” when they really are not. The other theme of the story came to her when she heard about a distant acquaintance who had died of an opioid overdose.

“Everyone in her life was really surprised because she looked like she had it all together,” Pagán said. As a health writer for 20 years, she had been hearing about the opioid epidemic for a long time and the personal story of the acquaintance hit her especially hard.

Her book is a meditation on midlife marriage, describing mothers trying to do it all and sometimes losing themselves in the process. The fact that her characters are similar to her and her husband in terms of life stage is really where the similarity ends, but she writes with an understanding of the overextended lives of working moms. “I just think everyone is stretched thin and exhaustion is almost a default state as a working parent.”

Pagán counts herself lucky in being able to work from home as a writer. She also has a supportive husband, JP, who does much of the cooking and is a very hands on parent when it comes to their children, Indira, 11 and Xavi, 8.

Ann Arbor author and mom Camille Pagán offers a fictional depiction of a woman struggling to be ‘enough’ in I’m Fine and Neither Are You. Photo by Myra Klarman

Ann Arbor author and mom Camille Pagán offers a fictional depiction of a woman struggling to be ‘enough’ in I’m Fine and Neither Are You. Photo by Myra Klarman

Q&A with Camille Pagán

Favorite local spot to relax with the family: Our front porch. We live on a one-block street, and we’re a tight-knit little community. When we’re out on the porch, we often wind up having neighbors stop over.

Where do you do your most productive writing: My home office. That’s where I do 99% of my writing.

What is your favorite children’s book to read to/with your children: The Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. All four of us quote them all the time.

Favorite Ann Arbor-area restaurant: Morgan & York is my go-to hangout for lunch and coffee (and now wine! They just opened a bar). The owner, Tommy York, knows all of his regular customers.

Best outdoor recreation spot within 20 miles of your home: The Arb! I loved it when I was a student at UM. I lived right near there, and all these years later, the appeal hasn’t worn off.

To find out more about Camille and her upcoming book This Won’t End Well, visit her website at camillepagan.com