In the Prologue, Doyle describes taking her daughter to a cheetah run. Afterwards, back in the field, Doyle thinks that the cheetah holds its head higher when its away from the zookeepers. The zookeeper insists that the cheetah has a good life at the zoo, but Doyle sees it and feels sad for the cheetah. Doyle imagines that, if asked, the cheetah would say that it knows it should be grateful for the life it leads, but something is missing (“I have this hunch that everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this.”) and that it longs to be wild.
Part I: Caged
This first part is about how Doyle became “caged.” In this intro, Doyle explains that she was married with three kids, but then fell in love with her now-wife, Abby. She has felt limited and caged in a lot of ways her whole life, likely contributing to her bulimia (“It was where I refused to comply, indulged my hunger, and expressed my fury”). She ended up in a mental hospital briefly. Now, she’s going to look at how she ended up in that state.
In Apples, Doyle describes going on Wednesdays to Nativity Catholic Church to learning about God as a child. She learns about Eve’s original sin, which was doing what she wanted to do instead of what she was supposed to do.
In Blow Jobs, Doyle explains that she and her husband started seeing a therapist after he admitted to cheating on her. Eventually, she tells the therapist that she’s fallen in love with a woman named Abby. Her therapist assures her that it’s not real. Doyle disagrees, in tears, saying that she doesn’t want to sleep with her husband again. Her therapist suggests giving him blow jobs instead.
In Directions, Doyle is looking at the products in her kids’ bathroom, and talks about the difference in the packaging (and marketing messages) of women’s and men’s bath products. Men’s are verb-heavy and hard, telling them what to do. Women’s are full of soft adjectives, telling them what to be.
In Polar Bears, at school her daughter Tish learns about how polar bears are dying due to global warming. Her daughter becomes very concerned about this and talks about it all the time. Doyle feels so irritated about it until one night, Tish says that no one cares about the polar bears, and one day “it’s going to be us.” Doyle realizes her daughter is sensitive and that’s a good thing.
In Tick Marks, Doyle talks about how in high school the kids on homecoming court are the Golden Ones. She describes how she was in their periphery, but not really one of them. Somehow, she gets voted onto homecoming court. She’s now finally admitting that she cheated to get on. She realizes how much she’s done in her life to strive to be Golden.
In Algorithms, Doyle admits to being very indecisive about whether to stay with her husband after the cheating. Finally, she gets a piece of advice that it’s not the big decisions that hurt kids, it’s the indecision. Her kids need to know what she’s going to do. She tries to ask friend and read books to figure it out. She types in “What should I do if my husband is a cheater but also an amazing dad?”
In Gatherings, Doyle checks in on her teenage kids, and asks if they are hungry. The boys say yes thoughtlessly. The girls look around at one another, and finally one says “we’re fine, thank you.”
In Rules, Doyle’s friend Ashley goes to a hot yoga class. The heat makes her feel ill. Afterwards, she vomits from the heat and asks herself, why did she do what she was told and stay in the room to suffer?
In Dragons, Doyle talks about her friend Megan who is a recovering alcoholic. Megan married a man she didn’t love since it was easier than disappointing everyone around her and then drank to forget about it. Doyle compared is to a snow globe she had with a dragon inside that she used to have. We’re all trying not to let the snow settle enough to face what’s really inside. Doyle thinks about when she realized her own secret she was keeping hidden, that she wanted to be with a woman.
In Arms, Doyle’s book Love, Warrior (“the story of the dramatic destruction and painstaking reconstruction of my family”) is about to be released, and she is about to embark on promoting her book. She remembers promoting her first book, which was about giving up food and booze for marriage and family. She admits how angry she was when her husband admitting to cheating, because it messed up the narrative she’d been selling. Doyle admits that she’s not sure how much of Love, Warrior was about her forcing her marriage back into a coherent narrative. When Doyle goes to a promotional event in Chicago, she meets Abby and she feels a connection immediately.
Part II: Keys
In the intro, Doyle explains the restlessness she felt while she was building the life she thought she was supposed to be building. She explains that her boiling point is when she saw Abby standing in the doorway.
In Feel (Key One: Feel It All), six days into sobriety, she attends her fifth recovery meeting and addresses the group, saying she feels like she was doing it all wrong. Afterwards, a woman makes the point that she’s not doing anything wrong. When you allow yourself to feel, you feel everything including the bad stuff (“being fully human is not about feeling happy, it’s about feeling everything.”)
In Know (Key Two: Be Still and Know), Doyle thinks back to the results of her Google search about what to do about her husband. The articles all had different opinions about what is “right” or what she “should” do. Doyle realizes that “should” and “right” are the bars that keep people caged. Finally, a friend of hers gives her a card that says “Be Still And Know”. Doyle starts to work on exercises to calm herself. It helps her to find a deeper level of personal understanding (the “Knowing”). It’s about learning to trust herself.
In Imagine (Key Three: Dare to Imagine), when Doyle is 26, she finds out she is pregnant. All evidence points to it being a bad idea, but inside it says “Yes. Me.” and it’s same as the feeling she had when she meets Abby (all the evidence points to know, but inside she knows it’s right.) Doyle discusses her faith as “a belief in the unseen order of things.” She encourages women to “let go of the lie” of what life is “supposed” to be and live instead according to their imagination. She encourages them to write down their plans (“Before imagination becomes three-dimensional, it usually needs to become two-dimensional”).
In Let It Burn (Key Four: Build and Burn), Doyle discusses how in order to let herself be transformed, she needed to let go of a lot of ideas she had before, to let them burn. This includes her idea of her traditional family structure and the idea that selflessness is the pinnacle of womanhood. (“For me, living in faith means allowing to burn all that separates me from the Knowing so that one day I can say: I and the Mother are one.”) She acknowledges that she will continue to evolve and let ideas burn so she can travel further and see farther.
Part III: Free
In Aches, Doyle discusses being 13 and bulimic, which started when she was ten. On Fridays, she goes to see a therapist. Doyle describes an Ache she feels and the feeling of being half dead from the bulimia. Bulimia keeps the Ache at bay in private, but Booze does it in public. By 25, she has been arrested repeatedly. It’s not until finding out that she’s pregnant that she wants to get sober. In her sobriety, “This is hard. We can do hard things” becomes her mantra.
Ten years later, she is married with kids and learns that her grandmother Alice is dying. She feels that Ache again. But she then goes to Virgina where her sister has given birth to a baby names Alice and she reminds herself that this will pass, and it’s all part of being alive rather than just trying to be “fine”.
In Ghosts, Doyle says that in her twenties she was haunted by a ghost of the perfect version of what she was supposed to be. In her thirties, she decided to own being a hot mess, adopting a “broken and beautiful” identity. The problem was, it still assumed there was a perfect version of herself, even if she was choosing not to pursue it. Doyle resolves to stop chasing ghosts and to stop describing herself as broken.
In Smiles, Doyle describes going on a trip to Paris with her sister and parents. She marvels at how old the city is and how calm and certain it feels. They go to see the Mona Lisa. A woman explains that it was painted after she lost a child, but had gotten pregnant again. She’s half smiling because it’s celebratory, but she’s still sad over the loss of the other child. Da Vinci wanted her to smile more, but she refused.
In Goals, Doyle describes desperately trying to be “good” and still ending up anxious and unhappy. She was striving to be a good wife, to be a good mother, and to be a good Christian. She followed the beauty trends, tried to raise funds for charities and lost tons of sleep responding to letters from her readers. She realizes none of it worked. She thinks of the Steinbeck quote “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good” but decides to live by a different mantra, “And now that we don’t have to be good, we can be free.”
In Adam and Keys, Doyle talks about how Alicia Keys decided to stop wearing makeup. When Adam Levine spots her putting some on, he teases her saying “Oh! I thought Alicia doesn’t wear makeup” and Keys responds that “I do what the fuck I want.” That’s it, Doyle thinks.
In Ears, Doyle explains that her daughter Tish was raised when Doyle was trying to be a perfect parent. Emma was raised with Doyle trying a more hands-off approach. As a result, Emma is much more independent. Doyle describes taking the girls to get their ears pierced. Emma does it, but Tish decides not to. The piercer tells Tisch to be “brave”, but Doyle realizes she doesn’t like the way people use the word “brave.” She doesn’t think being “brave” should be about ignoring your fears. Instead, bravery is a personal decision. Doyle thinks her girls are brave in different ways because they are different people.
In Terms, Doyle describes a meeting Liz (Elizabeth Gilbert). They strike up a conversation and get along. Doyle thinks about how she is not good at being friends because of the maintenance that it requires. But Liz offers friendship without obligations, and so they become friends. Liz goes to visit her. Doyle has been feeling desperate after meeting Abby (she’s still married to Craig at this point), and she finally opens up to Liz about her feelings for Abby. Doyle wonders whether the Abby thing is real enough to uproot her life for. Liz suggests that either way, maybe it’s an “Abby-shaped door inviting you to leave what’s not true enough anymore.”
In Erikas, (as an aside, Doyle talks about how calls and texts are annoying because of the obligation and demands of responding.) Doyle then talks about her friend Erika. Erika wanted to be an artist, but didn’t pursue it because she was convinced it was selfish (because of her family). Doyle questions why women are taught to dismiss and mistrust themselves. She assets that it’s taught early on as a way to control them. They don’t trust their bodies, their opinions or their voices (“a very effective way to control women is to convince women to control themselves”). Instead, women need to stop fearing themselves and trust themselves instead.
In Beach Houses, Doyle responds to the idea that it’s “irresponsible” to trust your desires. Doyle talks about a friend who has struggled with her finances, but wanted a beach house. When asked why, the friend says that it’s would be a place to get her family to connect with each other. In the end, her friend buys a two-dollar basket and tells her family to surrender their phones into the basket for an hour each weeknight. By doing so, they are forced to talk and reconnect each day. Her friend’s desire to connect with her family is legitimate and was a (non-irresponsible) solution to be found.
In Temperatures, Doyle talks to her friend about her fears regarding leaving her marriage. Her friend tells her to get out of her own head. She asks her to consider whether being with Abby makes her feel “warm” or “cold” and trust in that.
In Mirrors, Doyle talks about being overprotective of Tish when parenting her and treating her like an egg that might crack. As Tish brushes her hair in the mirror, she realizes that when Tish sees Doyle, she is seeing herself. And when Tish asks questions, she is trying to understand how to be a woman.
In Eyes, Doyle discusses how she looks herself in the eye and realizes she needs to stop using her children as an excuse not to be brave. Why do we put the burden of this on the shoulders of our children? Instead, Doyle needs to stop teaching her children to be martyrs (“My children need to watch me save myself”). Doyle decides to leave her husband, and she admits that it’s because of Abby. The next few months are difficult, but Doyle and Criag try and struggle to have grace for each other. After telling her kids, they cry, but Craig gives the kids permission to love Abby. They then tell their family and friends.
In Gardens, Doyle talks about how she learned early on how to make herself desirable to men. But she did not understand her own desire until she met Abby. On her way to see Abby after leaving Craig, Doyle is nervous. She’s never even kissed a woman before. At the hotel, Doyle enters and their eyes lock and they melt into one another.
In Vows, Doyle talks about the word “Selah,” which is found in the Hebrew bible. It indicates that the reader should pause reading for a moment. It’s a moment of quiet contemplation. Doyle then talks about her daughter Patricia, Tish for short. Wheras Chase (first child) was easy-going, Tish was born concerned and scowling. Later, Doyle had to tell herself not to try to force Tish to act happy. Doyle notes that Tish notices things and slows them down. She’s their family “Selah”.
When the divorce happens, Tish falls apart. Doyle had to continually assure Tish that she wouldn’t lose her. However, Doyle notes that that’s a lie. Instead of trying to protect Tish, Doyle wants to allow her to be brave. Now, Doyle promises Tish that “You’re never gonna lose you.”
In Touch Trees, Doyle watches a survivalist TV show. The Survivorman says that in order to survive, a person lost in the woods needs to found. They need to find a Touch Tree, a “home base,” for them to leave and return to. Doyle has felt lost for a long time because she has always made external things her Touch Tree. Now, she sees herself as her Touch Tree.
In Buckets, one night Tish talks about feeling lonely and alone. Doyle talks about the buckets of water a little girl had separated out on the beach earlier that day. Doyle says they’re like those buckets of water. Once they were all part of the ocean, but now they’re separated into buckets, but eventually perhaps they all return to being one. But for now they are in their own little buckets.
In Attendants, in the middle of the divorce, Doyle is worried about the affect it’s having on her family. Liz tells her it’s like her family is on an airplane with turbulence. When turbulence happens, people look to the airline attendance for reassurance. What Doyle needs to do for her family is to provide that reassurance. In explaining this metaphor, another friend of hers brings up the fact that sometimes planes do go down. Doyle thinks about a friend whose teenage daughter got cancer. Unfortunately, it happens that turbulence sometimes does bring the plane down. You can’t control what happens, only your response. Parenthood means being that steady force.
In Memos, Doyle thinks about how each generation is given a different message (memo) about how children should be raised. It used to be simple (take it home and watch it grow), but now there’s a complicated set of instructions about what you “should” do as a mother. There’s an idea now that you shouldn’t allow anything difficult to happen to your child. Doyle thinks that it’s a terrible message, that’s making kids suck and making parents neurotic and exhausted. Kids are “overparented and underprotected” because they don’t know how to struggle and become better people.
In Poems, Doyle talks about how Chase used to draw maps, write poems and write song lyrics. At thirteen, they get him a cell phone and it fades away. Doyle thinks it’s unfortunate because it makes it too easy for them to stop being bored. Because when kids get bored, that’s when they dive inward and try to discover themselves. Doyle was afraid of making him different by taking away his phone, but that fear is a bad way to parent.
One day in freshman year, Doyle tells Chase that she’s thinking about taking away his phone. Chase thinks about it and tells her that he’d probably be happier without it, since he feels like he has to check it all the time. Chase and Tish agree to quit social media. Doyle makes the point that this story is not about phones, but about Knowing what’s right for your child, even if it goes against the grain.
In Boys, Doyle talks about gender roles. She has raised her daughters to be feminists, but boys are kept in cages too. By telling boys that they must be powerful and that having women is a form of validation for them is bad for boys too. They may lie, cheat, or lash out if they feel they are falling short of what society tells them they must be. Doyle says gender is just a bucket of traits that someone slapped a label on. Doyle realizes she should have nurtured her son’s freedom to be sensitive and fully human the same way she nurtured her daughters. But should also require him to serve his family by not doing his chores for him, too.
In Talks, Doyle talks about looking at magazine covers with Tish. They chat about what the magazine covers are telling women and later Tish announces that she’s writing a petition to “help save humanity” by changing how magazines portray women.
In Woods, Doyle talks about porn. Her friend Mimi is worried that her middle-schooler is watching porn. Doyle thinks she should talk to her son, since even if it’s awkward it’s better to say something. And kids should know that what they might find on the internet is misogynistic and violent which is not real sex.
In Cream Cheeses, Doyle recalls how parents for her kids’ athletic team take turns providing breakfast. One mother is concerned that some parents weren’t providing enough cream cheese options for the kids. Doyle states “Five flavors of cream cheese is not how to make a child feel loved. Five flavors of cream cheese is how to make a child an asshole.”
In Bases, is about the border crisis and the policy where children are being taken away from their parents. The Together Rising team (Doyle, her sister and Liz) has helped fundraise and work with other organizations to help reunite families, eventually raising millions. Doyle notes a conversation with a woman who was unhappy with her involvement. The woman says she should be protecting Americans instead of “illegals.” The woman says the asylum seekers shouldn’t be putting their children at risk by coming here. Doyle thinks “You can’t imagine risking it all—doing whatever it takes—to give your child a chance at safety, hope, and a future? Perhaps you’re not as brave as these parents are.” Doyle notes that it’s important to use you imagination to try to understand other people.
Later when Amma is frustrated that another student, Tommy, keeps forgetting his homework which prevents her class from getting a pizza party. Doyle reminds her to imagine that maybe Tommy has circumstances at home that might make it more difficult for him than it is for Amma.
In Islands, Doyle addresses a reader question about how to deal with grandparents visiting that might shame their daughter who has recently told them that she’s gay. Doyle notes that she likes to imagine that she’s on an island where she doesn’t allow the trolls and other negative messages in. But it’s more complicated when your loved ones show up at your island carrying those same messages and fear. Ultimately, Doyle realizes that even though her mother loves her, Doyle had to trust herself. Doyle had to tell her mother that she couldn’t be with them until her mother was ready to let go of her fear.
In Boulders, Doyle addresses a reader question asking how to love a child if they never experienced motherly love themselves. Doyle explains that love is like a river and it can be impeded, but it’s still there. Other people cannot remove the boulder because the Removal is something between the person who is impeded and their god. When the boulder is removed, it can flow again.
In Bloodbaths, Doyle explains that she starting telling the world about Abby because her One Thing is her sobriety, and that requires integrity. She didn’t want to be split in two parts by having to hide it. Doyle encourages people to focus on whether their own lives are “true and beautiful” enough rather than judging whether others are or worrying about what others think.
In Racists, Doyle discusses her teaching herself about racism and her experiences in trying to be an advocate. When Doyle sees an image of a white woman marching, she takes a hard look at if she would have been that woman. Doyle starts to wonder if the white moderate is a greater obstacle to racial equality than the Klu Klux Klaners because they think order is more important than others’ civil rights. Doyle starts to read more and unlearning what she thought she knew about marginalized people.
Doyle starts getting involved and is invited into a webinar to help bring white women into the movement. Doyle discusses how she was trying to explain to white women that sometimes they get involved too early in their learning process and then demand gratitude, which results in pushback. The webinar results in Doyle receiving criticism for trying to teach others instead of pointing to women of color to do so, and most notably she’s called a “racist.” Doyle acknowledges there is more that she needs to learn and unlearn when it comes to race but that she wants to do the work to keep fighting racism.
In Questions, a woman asks her at a town-hall event “Why is everybody so gay all of a sudden?” Doyle welcomes the question, making the point that unasked questions becomes prejudices. Doyle explains that people feel more free now to be themselves because freedom is contagious.
In Permission Slips, Doyle talks about a friend expressing indignation that Doyle is being punished for something she can’t change (being gay). Doyle doesn’t entirely agree with this sentiment. Instead, she wonders, “what if I demand freedom not because I was “born this way” and “can’t help it” but because I can do whatever I choose to do with my love and my body from year to year, moment to moment—because I’m a grown woman who does not need any excuse to live however I want to live and love whomever I want to love?”
In Concessions, Doyle talks about how saying that “We love you…no matter what” in response to someone coming out implies that they’ve done something wrong.
In Knots (for Abby), Doyle directs this section to Abby, it’s about them going to get married. Doyle believes in God, but Abby does not. Doyle says as they are getting married that God will continue with them.
In Decals, Doyle talks to a preacher about their stance against homosexuality and abortion. The preacher tells her that her faith should lead her to trust him, but Doyle disagrees with his notion that she should trust him over herself. However, Doyle does not see him as the proxy of God and she does not trust anyone who tell her to trust them instead of herself. Doyle discusses the origins of the anti-gay and anti-abortion movement, and she identifies that it has more to do with racism and greed. Doyle no longer calls herself a Christian, but remains compelled by Jesus’s story.
In Girl Gods, Doyle briefly addresses why she refers to God as a she. She explains that she thinks it’s ridiculous to think of God as gendered, but that it’s a problem that people can’t imagine God as a woman.
In Conflicts, Doyle discusses a friend’s conflict between wanting to love her unconditionally, but still thinking gayness is wrong. Doyle says: “When choosing between something you Know and something other people taught you to believe, choose what you Know. As Whitman said, ‘Re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.'”
In Streams, Doyle discusses her activism. She says people need to commit to activism downstream, but also going upstream to fight the policies and people that create problems downstream. Otherwise, people risk being complicit in those downstream problems.
In Lies, a friend gets angry when Doyle makes a joke about “leaving her family”. Her friend makes the point that she needs to be “careful with the stories you tell about yourself”. She didn’t leave her family, she left her marriage.
In Deliveries, Doyle discusses difficult feelings. She compares difficult feelings during her sobriety to a doorbell. The doorbell is unpleasant, but sometimes you are left with a package, something new like information about yourself you didn’t have before. Doyle describes the anger she felt towards her husband that she couldn’t let go of until she divorced him. She says that anger can be an indication that a boundary of yours has been crossed, and it’s up to you to assess whether that boundary is legitimate or needs to be adjusted.
Doyle attributes heartbreak over the tragedies in the world is clue to what things you should pursue or causes you should dedicate yourself to. Doyle also discusses grief as a cocoon where you can transform and emerge anew.
In Invaders, Doyle discusses her depression and anxiety, describing them as body snatchers, and her advice on how to deal with it. She strongly recommends taking medication if you need it and taking notes (when you’re down so you can express it to your doctor, or when you’re up to remember what it feels like). She also says know your “buttons” — there are easy (bad shortcut) buttons and reset buttons (real fixes). Finally, she says to remember that “crazies” are the best people, since they are often very alive and artistic.
In Comfort Zones, Doyle talks about choosing joy instead of resting in self-denial and martyrdom. She also acknowledges that the world likes a suffering woman more than a joyful happy one.
In Elmer’s, after the divorce Abby (a soccer player) thinks soccer will get her out of her head. Doyle is scared that Tish won’t be good enough, but Tish makes the team. It eventually becomes part of Tish’s identity and helps her to gain confidence. She gets the nickname Elmer’s from her coach, because the book sticks to her like glue, and proudly recounts this to her family.
In Luckies, Doyle posts a picturesque image online and someone comments how lucky she is. Doyle thinks that it’s true, and that “the braver I am, the luckier I get.”
In Buzzes, Doyle talks about falling in love and how the initial buzz wears off. Love changes, but now she’s in love with a person and not a feeling.
In Sandcastles, Doyle talks about how people define themselves (as mothers, wives, etc.) but sometimes those identities are taken away from her, so it’s important to live a life of your own separate from the roles you’re given.
In Guitars, Doyle talks about the importance hobbies and doing stuff for fun. She takes up guitar.
In Braids, Doyle talks about meeting Craig’s girlfriend and including her with her family, acknowledging how it’s not entirely easy for her. Doyle has always thought of girls with braids in their hair as being well-loved because it takes effort for someone to do that. She comments on how the girlfriend braids her girls’ hair.
In Seconds, Doyle talks about being controlling. She admits that she is controlling because of her fear. She tried to control the narrative of her first marriage, but other people have their own ideas. She admits that she has tried to be controlling with all the people she loves, telling them what they should do and assuming she knows better, and tries to call that love. She is learning understand that you cannot feel and know and imagine for other people. Even if she thinks she knows better, Doyle has to “fake it til she makes it” when it comes to learning to let go. She expected things to crash and burn as she lets go, but instead stuff keeps going on.
Doyle is realizing that control is not love, because it leaves no room for trust and respect for others’ ideas. Instead of pushing people towards her vision, she needs to ask what others envision for themselves and ask what she can do to help.
In Ideas, Doyle recalls how she and Craig had briefly considered not getting married after she became pregnant. However, she thought marriage was the “right” thing to do was. Doyle acknowledges that Craig was right to suggest that maybe they should just raise the baby together without getting married.
In Sidelines, Doyle talks about how people are often surprised because they haven’t encountered families like hers.
In Levels, Doyle talks about how she “will not stay, not ever again—in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself.” Sometimes you have to stay in situations to figure things out, but when you Know it’s time to go.
In the Epilogue: Human, Doyle asks herself what she is (a Christian? Brave? Weak? Strong, etc), but ends with simply saying “I am.”
I stumbled across this book being a loving husband making the bed. Shifting my wife’s bag to the edge it fell out.
What a shitty feeling.
What a whore of a selfish women this writer is.
She knows nothing, makes things up, changes her mind from boom to book but people are pivoting Thier lives on what she says that she makes up based on nothing, hear say and ” because I feel like it”
Meanwhile it’s sole destroying for me to see my wife hiding reading a book teaching how to devorce. How to forget everything you stood for, how to think in your twenty + years of life you know more then anyone on the planet.
How do wankers like this get to write books
I don’t think the book is about planning a divorce — the author explains her own path, but I’m personally not married or planning a divorce and I still feel like there are lessons to be learned from this book! I wouldn’t fret — maybe your wife was just embarrassed to be reading a pink-colored book or a self-help book?