Mommy Dearest and other Literary Gurus

I can have an entire conversation with my mother and never say a word.  Hold on, before you get all settled in your cozy chair and starry eyed expecting some mother/daughter tale of the bond eternal, wait.  This is not that story.  True, my mother and I both like to talk.  Growing up, I have countless memories of her singing in the kitchen as she washed the dishes, spying on the neighbors through the windows, acting as her own personal neighborhood crime watch captain; she could talk the hind leg off a mule about anything.  There were endless stories of distant cousins I never have, and never will, meet in far away places like Arizona.  There were stories that went something like, “Did you ever meet John Hussey, the man that lived down the street from Aunt Judy and Uncle Vern (who weren’t really my aunt or uncle) and used to come to the restaurant all the time?”  “No,” I’d answer.  “Well, he became terribly ill about six years ago…  Was it six?  January, February, March, April…yes, it had to be at least six years ago.  Suffered from vertigo, but then he got cancer in his liver.  Well, he survived and Dad ran into him the other day.  Dad had to go shopping in Janesville.  He was gone for four hours!  I had no idea where he was and all day the phone was ringing.  Well, John is moving to Florida!  I can’t imagine…”  I’d lose interest somewhere after that.

This is how phone calls are with my mother.  Only, I get a second edition a day later in print.  Yah, first she calls me and tells me all the news she can recall, and then the next day, I get the same news in a letter from her.  She likes to peek her audiences’ interest on the phone with lines like “Well, I wrote you about it yesterday, but you’ll never guess who I saw at the grocery store!  She was in your class and she had a boy with her, actually I think they’re engaged now…”

The mark of a phone call with my mother is this:  sitting down trying to eat or watch a movie with the phone up to your ear.  You will not be talking.  You will hold the phone up to your ear till your neck aches.

Occasionally, I have placed my mother on speaker phone.  She despises this.  “Well, I just wanted to ask you what your roommates thought of their Christmas presents, but not if someone’s listening in.”  As if it would matter.  On speaker, I’ve discerned, my mother can hear nothing from my side of the line.  I will ask a question, and she will continue to talk right over me.  This will repeat three times until I am yelling something stupid like, “Well, why do you have to take hummus to the dinner party?!”

My in-law siblings have all come to know this phone call ritual.  Whenever they see one of us walking around the house trying to multitask, nestling the phone in the crick of our clavacles, they know.  We are on a kind of hold, a hold that does not play elevator music, but talks about people we don’t know with great enthusiasm.

What brought on such a rant about the woman who gave me life, you might ask?  Well, I can hardly say I’m nothing like her.  From childhood, I was nicknamed “Chatterbox.”  I have a terrible habit, albeit one I’m workin on, of interrupting people.  What inspired me to write about my mother is the new book I’m reading called Only as Good as Your Word:  Writing Lessons From My Favorite Literary Gurus by Susan Shapiro. 

The book’s introduction begins with a quote from Shapiro’s mother, “You made me sound like a bimbo, and I’m writing a rebuttal about a daughter who lies about her mother all the time.”

Well, this could be me one day.  If I ever write about the people I love, inevitably their quirks that make them who they are will come out.  And in Shapiro’s words:

That was the message my mother left on my answering machine right after I published my first personal essay, about our close albeit complex relationship, in Cosmopolitan.  Getting paid $5oo from a national glossy women’s magazine was a very huge deal for a twenty-three-year-old Midwestern girl who’d dreamt of being a writer from the age of three.  I had assumed Mom would be proud and get a kick out of being immortalized.  Listening to her less-than-thrilled reaction, I was shattered.  Yet what could I do – but steal her line?

“You’re funny, I’m gonna quote you on that,” I called her back to say.

This week’s resolutions for writing on The Happiness Project:

  1. Definitely read more Shapiro.
  2. In fact, read for pleasure every day for one hour.
  3. Write and record at least three family memoirs.  Challenge:  Be brave enough to post them on your blog.

What are your writing resolutions this week?

Just for fun, check out:

Margaret Reyes Dempsey

Albert Berg


7 responses

  1. My parents have been warned: Anything you say or do may turn up in my blog. They’re beginning to enter into the spirit of it. Case in point, the photo of dad hanging upside down while reading my book The Benefactor on his Kindle from last week’s blog. He called me the next day and indicated he was thinking of turning up at the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Club Plunge at Coney Island in a Speedo screen-printed with the cover of my book. You see, they come around. 😉

    1. Hmm, so you’re saying if I ever do publish my memoirs, I should just make my book cover into note cards my mother could mail out to all her friends?

  2. Hahahah. Your mom sounds cute! My mom does that to me sometimes. I think it’s a mom thing? And Shapiro sounds funny/interesting. I’ll have to check her out, too. Thanks for the link as well!

  3. Do I have to watch what I say now? Awe who cares. You know it’ll most likely be rants about republicans or hiking/travel related adventures. Oh yeah and I built a birdhouse. Also you should read the nyt story about what happens to our digital personas after we kick the bucket. All those photos and videos and words. – big bro.

  4. Great. Now I’m too intrigued not to get the book.

  5. That was great. I totally understand this. I call my mom with a quick hello and she goes off like a rocket. As for myself, I am totally a chatter box, except its about writing. “Ok, so I had this idea of…” And I will go on as some of my friends start to drool, because I am always hashing out new ideas. This book sounds useful, I will definitely look into it. Thanks for the suggestion and the laugh.

  6. […] more Susan Shapiro, Only as Good as Your Word – in […]

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