Book Bag: ‘Better Apart: The Radically Positive Way to Separate’; ‘Walking with Thoreau’ by Michael Jacobson-Hardy 

Published: 3/1/2019 8:56:39 AM

By Steve Pfarrer


By Gabrielle Hartley with Elena Brower


A generally accepted statistic is that almost 50 percent of marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation. That figure is even higher — considerably higher — for people on their second or third marriages. 

But even when divorce is commonplace, having a marriage fail can carry a stigma not just for the couple in question but their children, according to the authors of a new book on coping with breakups: “So often, divorce makes a person feel ashamed, damaged, weakened ... shame faces inward. It’s insidious — even you may not notice it.”

But Gabrielle Hartley and Elena Brower, the team behind “Better Apart: The Radically Powerful Way to Separate,” say that divorce can actually be the means for people to reassess their goals and values, and for emerging stronger and more resilient than they were before. Doing so can also make for a better relationship with your ex and for a more open-minded attitude — rather than a fear — about getting into another relationship, they say.

Hartley is a Northampton attorney, mediator, writer and public speaker who says she specializes in a “non-toxic” approach to divorce cases that keeps virtually all her clients out of the courtroom. Brower, of New York, is a writer who teaches meditation and yoga. Both authors are also parents.

Their book combines case studies of people who have dealt with divorce, pragmatic advice about dealing with the legal, financial and child-custody issues of it, and a step-by-step approach for bringing calmness and mindfulness to an emotionally fraught time — through meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, journal writing and more.

One chapter is entitled “Patience,” which outlines just how long divorce proceedings can drag along. Readers are urged to use that time to think carefully about their emotional responses before reacting to unsettling events and news.

For instance, Hartley and Brower write, when your kid comes home from a night in your ex’s home and announces that “dad/mom’s new girlfriend/ boyfriend slept over” for the first time, don’t react with jealousy, anger, or anything else. “Remember your child deserves to have two happy parents, two happy households … Grab your journal when you can and make a list of your possible responses, but do nothing for at least twenty-four hours.” 

Just as they can be for many aspects of life, parents can be good or bad models for divorce, the authors say. They cite a case study of a woman who had witnessed her parents’ marriage end in an expensive, bitter divorce and vowed to “protect herself” by never marrying. But her decision left her constantly wondering what she was missing by steering clear of deep relationships.

It doesn’t have to be that way, Hartley and Brower write: “When two parents choose to create a refined, respectful environment as they divorce, the children are more likely to retain a positive internal narrative about the possibilities of long-term relationships.” (Hartley’s parents divorced when she was a child but still lived close to each other and maintained a good relationship.)

In summing up, the authors also say “You may now officially dissolve your misconceptions about divorce: the battle, the negative legacy, the stigma, the loneliness, the gossip. Starting now, you’ll choose the tone of your approach ... you can choose to be generous, gracious, and aware of the consequences of your actions.”

Gabrielle Hartley will present her new book on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton.



Photographs by Michael Jacobson-Hardy

Foreward by Tom Slayton 

Levellers Press

Many people might think Henry David Thoreau passed his whole life in Concord, including the time he spent alone in a small cabin on Walden Pond. But as the introduction to “Walking with Thoreau” outlines, the famous 19th-century author of “Walden” and other books and essays traveled fairly extensively in New England — to Cape Cod, to Mount Greylock in Berkshire County, to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, to the wilderness of northern Maine.

“Walking with Thoreau,” published by Levellers Press of Amherst, is a photo essay by Northampton photographer Michael Jacobson-Hardy that offers beautiful colored portraits from all four seasons of many of the places Thoreau visited and explored: closeups of fauna and flora; dark woods shrouded in snow; moss-covered boulders; pooled water in a crevice on top of Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire.

The pictures, only a handful of whose locations are identified, are accompanied by thoughtful excerpts from “Walden” and from Thoreau’s journals, from the late 1830s to the 1850s. A photo of a marsh, a meadow and a line of trees, for instance, includes a brief passage from Walden: “We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk … We can never have enough of Nature.”

Tom Slayton, editor emeritus of Vermont Life Magazine and the author of several books, writes in a foreword to the book that due to New England’s “strong conservation ethic, the world of Thoreau is still very present to our senses … All we have to do to experience Thoreau’s world, as Michael Jacobson-Hardy has done, is look carefully, with a sensitive eye and a sincere desire to understand.”

There will be a book launch for “Walking with Thoreau” on Friday, March 8 at the Florence Civic Center at 7 p.m.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at









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