Reading with Mom and Writing for Mom

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.

little-meI 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.)

Mom at 18, me inside waiting

Mom at 18, me inside waiting

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.

mom hikingThe 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.

Mom with her Dad

Mom with her Dad

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.

Me & Mom

Me & Mom

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.

8th grade graduation scowl

8th grade graduation scowl

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?


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. deniseleton
    May 20, 2013 @ 14:08:44

    Cris, this is an intensely personal post; thank you so much for sharing with us.

    I love the idea of the mirror free checklist. I am making an effort to write “real” female characters. I have one that looks like a sterotypical petite, blonde, perky cheerleader type, who always is pre judged as such when in reality she is a hard core comic book nerd. Love her!

    My men are not run of the mill guys…but they are all strippers, so they are expected to be a bit unrealistic, I think. 🙂


  2. CristineGzr
    May 20, 2013 @ 16:43:22

    Denise, I am so intrigued by the men in your stories! Thanks for the read!


  3. natalieratcliffe
    May 20, 2013 @ 19:18:31

    Hey Cris, even though it may be belated, I’m sorry for your loss.

    Sadly, I think this is something that today, so many women still struggle with, about not feeling comfortable and beautiful in their own skin and not knowing what true beauty means. There’s been a lot of articles lately on the updated version of Merida, the Disney/Pixar princess from “Brave.” Essentially, she was Barbie-fied; she was given a teeny waist with curvier hips, tamer hair, an amplified bosom, and she somehow lost her bow and arrow. There was a huge outcry that Disney had sexified Merida and that this would damage the psyches of little girls everywhere.

    And I agree up to a point.

    Everyday, both men and women are constantly bombarded with ads and television shows (thanks “The Swan” which I don’t believe is on the air any more) that show all of the things that are wrong with women. We’re losing our hair, but it doesn’t really matter because our hair is the wrong color, or style, or type, or length, or cut, especially for our body type. Our faces and bodies are riddled with scars from teen acne, stretch marks from pregnancy or losing/gaining weight, accidents from life, which means our faces and our bodies couldn’t possibly be road maps of where we’ve been or the hardships we’ve endure or the victories we’ve had. We’re never the right weight, never wear the right clothes or shoes or make-up or perfume. And if you are a single women, look out. If you could just fix all of these things, surprise, Prince Charming would barrel through your door, sweep you off your feet, and you would live happily ever after.

    So it’s no wonder why, occasionally, we look in the mirror, tug at neck or move an eye to get rid of the wrinkles that have formed. But what needs to change, because I doubt the media and advertisers are going to change, is the conversation. Both men and women need to have conversations with the growing generations and let them know that despite everything they hear, everyone is beautiful. That there is something inside all of us that makes us beautiful. That beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that when any one of us looks in the mirror, we must see what is beautiful about our own individuality.

    And I do understand the pain of looking in the mirror and not being “enough.” It was something I struggled with a great deal in high school and college and there are even those days were I struggle to remember what really beauty is and struggle to try to find a sense of beauty in the mirror.

    Thanks for sharing such a touching story.


  4. CristineGzr
    May 20, 2013 @ 20:44:04

    Thanks Natalie. You are so right, I hated being single. I remember being asked to dye my hair because it was similar to an ex-wive’s color! It’s a miracle I met my husband, GamrMan, I was so cynical. My husband actually sees the beauty inside people. He helped me change how I looked at beauty. If someone is rude, mean or shallow they become ugly to him and he can never see them differently. And conversely, he sees the beauty in people others overlook. Of course, he is an odd duck. Like you, I can still be swept right back to high school insecurity! A friend told me that we all should just be cats, they have such high self-esteem!


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