My Monday Post, a Day Early
My Mother had a profound influence on my writing. Her influence was active and passive, glancing and permanent. She is the basis of many characters, motivations and plots. Today, Mother’s Day, I’ll explore this a bit.
I remember sitting on the floor in front of my parent’s HiFi. I studied it for days, maybe it was months or just hours, I was barely walking, so my memory is based on that of an undeveloped toddler-brain with no concept of time. In that place, my first epiphany –the letters on the Hi Fi contained the same letters used to label my gifts under the Christmas tree! ‘cHriS’ -my first concept-gasm! I took a marker and wrote my name everywhere! On the floors, on the walls, in the Bible, in my mother’s Raymond Chandler books and on my arms. I showed the other little crawlers, my sisters. They were under-impressed. My first poem –a name painting that covered every surface of my world with my first possession, my name.
Fortunately, my parents raised me according to the rules laid out in a book written by Dr, Spock, long before he was the science officer on Star Trek. Mom and Dad were only twenty-ish, so any guidance at all, was appreciated. I remember my parents sitting on the sofa under the clock with big spikes reading the guidebook and deciding not to spank me for defacing our home. LLP, Dr. Spock! (yes, I know it are not the same guy but for a brief time I didn’t and was relieved to believe I was raised a Vulcan.)
My mother subscribed to the Raymond Chandler Book Club. I had my own own monthly subscription to the Dr. Suess Club. Each month, our precious books arrived and we’d sit together on the sofa where we became lost in other worlds. I learned all about gentle concepts like compassion and understanding from silly colorful characters. My mother learned that she’d never get away with murdering her drunken, cheating husband. I can still see Mom sitting on the sofa with her back straight, ankles crossed, knees together and looking very proper just like Mrs Kennedy, as she read her book. This slice of time is trapped and treasured in my mind, it goes on forever. My mother was beautiful and she was aware of her beauty -she placed all her value on beauty. To my father, her beauty was valued above all other things and he judged his daughters by how closely they measured on her yardstick of beauty.
The last time I visited my mother, she refused to let my husband into her home. She claimed that she was too old and ugly and couldn’t bear it if he saw her. I remember thinking that she was so so beautiful. Even with her grey hair and wrinkles, she looked like Maggie Smith. Her neck was still long and graceful but she hid it with her hands and hurried to find a scarf. She put on large Jackie-O sunglasses to hide her crow’s feet.
My mother never saw me as pretty but often remarked on her relief that I had her brains, so I had something of her. I wish my mother had learned somehow and somewhere that all beauty was inside. It emanates from your soul and oozes out your pores into your chakras. But, she never knew real beauty. I tried to explain it once but she only smiled and said it was nice that I found a sanctuary in my mind, since God had not blessed me with beauty. A part of me wanted to bitch-slap her but I chose some forgotten, smart-ass response instead.
Our last conversation was a misdial, I was calling my sister and dialed her instead, –a wonderful gift of serendipity. She was cheerful, yet uninterested in what was usually our common ground: signs of spring, the first robin or drives to the beach. My mother and I loved the New England coastline during all the seasons but springtime was especially wonderful. I tried to talk to her about moving to the beach and living where she was happiest. She told me she would never see the sea again. I rolled my eyes and told her to never say never. She had become a recluse and refused to leave her home. She complained that my sister bullied her into eating healthy, which made me laugh.
My mother came from that segment of her generation that lived on cigarettes and black coffee. As we ate dinner, she’d eat dry toast. Her tiny waist, graceful hands and long neck came at such a price. I was enthralled by my mother’s beauty, it was so ethereal, so magical. A week after our conversation, I dreamed about a girl who’d fallen on the jetty rocks at the beach. The seagulls screamed at us and I struggled to reach her, to help her. But, she refused my help and then I was shocked to see that she had no arms or legs. She told me that she wanted me to see her like this, to see that she was broken and understand why I couldn’t save her. I woke frantic to understand this dream. A day later, my sister called to tell me that our mother had died of an overdose. I wasn’t surprised because I finally understood that she had reached out to me and tried to explain.
I still get frustrated by the damage we cause to ourselves and each other. We let little girls think that beauty is a worthy goal. When I write, I describe my heroines in ways that glorify their souls and inner strengths. One of my characters may ‘feel’ pretty or sexy but I try not to describe them that way. I don’t want to perpetuate these crazy ideas that young and new women need to be pretty to catch the handsome hunk. Hell, I caught two handsome husbands in my less than pretty life! That they should avoid math and science in college, because it’s not a girl-thing. I am so sad to read the snarky comments made at actresses as they age. How can you see your matriarchs as ugly, when they earned each wrinkle and gray hair living a life. One day you will be in their shoes, will you embrace it or feel a loser?
For my mother, who was smart, clever and funny, I develop women characters who will not feel like failures when their boobs sag or their necks wrinkle. I want women to know that they are half of the species and arguably the most important sex since they create life and perpetuate this species. I reject the idea that sexy has to be a person welcome at Abercrombie and Fitch. For my mother who should not have left this life so early and feeling like she lost. She refused the gift of an additional forty years because she would not be young in them.
- My Mirror-free Checklist:
- Does my character comment on someone’s weight or age in a negative manner?
- Does my character react to another character solely on media-biased stereo-types?
- Would my character like me and every one of my friends?
- Does my character wear a girdle to bed? (this is a metaphor…)
- Does my character like herself?
- Does my character feel at home in her skin?
- Does my character make assumptions based on physical appearances?
- Does my character embrace aging like Shirley MacLean?
What kind of role models are you writing for the next generation? Do you feel a responsibility to show women embracing life and not a mirror?