9 June 2013

This is long, it’s whiny, and it’s self-serving, so…you’ve been warned.

The amount of work I’ve gotten done over the last week amounts to zero words written, other than stuff on Facebook, and that doesn’t exactly count as work. Max’s book has come to a screeching halt, because every time I sit down and try to write, everything else starts clamoring for active space in my brain, and I can’t hear his voice.

Odd as it sounds, that’s how I write for him. I listen for that voice, the exasperated, snark-laden, sometimes compassionate but often bemused Max-voice. He’s just been very quiet this last week, and I’m not sure if it’s apathy or sympathy.

I suspect it’s because there are 1001 things that want to slip from my brain to my fingertips, and most of them are either boring, self-serving, unimportant, or unkind.

That last one, I try to avoid that more than the others.

A couple of evenings ago, I mentioned to a friend that I couldn’t seem to get started again; I have, somewhere in the back of my brain, most of the things that will eventually comprise Max’s next book, but I can’t reach them. Whatever is in the way refuses to move; it’s allowing for quite a bit of clutter to swirl around it, but it won’t get out of the way.

Grief does that, she stated simply. You wrote eloquently after your father-in-law and then when your father died. Maybe you need to sit down and write about your mother.

I’ve tried. But like I’ve said before, ours was a complicated relationship, and there’s no easy way to separate the good from the bad, or the pain from the joy.

I know. Sometimes it really is about the cookies, isn’t it?

And with that, she nailed it on the head.

I’m choking on cookies from when I was eight years old.

Look, I know we all screw up our kids. It’s a part of parenting; there’s no required class to take before you bring offspring into the world, no test to pass, no license to assure that you get it right. We’re all kind of floundering around, testing out our personal parental theories on the kids we spawn. We’re often wrong, sometimes horrifically wrong.

I cringe at some of the scars I likely left on my son. I don’t know any parent who doesn’t have a psychological trunk-load of mistakes, at least not parents who are honest with themselves. There are far too many instances of words I would like to take back, reactions I wish I hadn’t had, and stupid things I did.

For every one of them, I am a kind of sorry that there really are no words for.

I was filled with a lot of anger in my early 20s, anger that seeped into my 30s. I don’t think I realized it until the Boy was pushing 10 or so, and I don’t think I got a good grasp on it until he was a teenager; I don’t think I was really able to pinpoint where it came from until he was nearly grown, when I was trying to construct some simmering anger and uncertainty in a character I was writing for.

After one line in a book, where one character asks a specific question of another, and the answer that he responded with was not the answer I originally intended but one that burst out of me like a spent bubble, far too many pieces of my very own puzzle of angst fell into place.

When I wrote It’s Not About the Cookies part of my intention was to exorcise some of my own demons. Weaved into the fiction of that book is an incredible amount of truth; some of it is exaggerated, but much of it is not. My mother hated that book, and I understand why. What was supposed to be somewhat cathartic for me was pretty much like having her face shoved into a giant pile of Thumper-colored truths. As exaggerated as the realities spread through that book were, she recognized the kernels of truth, and hated them and hated that I would display them for public consumption. She was more than a little unhappy that anyone reading the book would think it was 100% true, and thought it painted her in an unfavorable light.

No matter how many assurances that 1) people are able to understand that there is always truth in fiction, but in the end it’s still fiction and 2) at least half the people who have read it hated it, too, and didn’t believe it was anything but a giant whine-fest with no truth to it, I don’t think she ever really forgave me for that book.

I’m all right with that. My intention was never to shove deep into her heart any daggers of my own insecurities and anger, but the facts woven into the fiction were undeniable. If she had been able to admit to any of it, she would have acknowledged that I barely covered the bases; if she had been able to see how big the little things really were, it might have made a difference, but I suspect her disappointment in the mere idea that I would publish anything at all like that clouded her vision.

Oh, hell yes, I am responsible for how that book made her feel. I don’t deny it. But I have to be all right with it, because in the end I wrote that book for myself. I’d hoped it would help me work through some of the issues I have.

It didn’t.

If anything, it’s created more gristle for me to chew on, tasting things I’ve never been able to swallow. It pulled open in my head doors that I had shut, and pushed forward memories I wanted to keep boxed and taped closed. And when that happens, when the scars you have are throbbing, it’s hard to feel anything that was good.

So yes, my relationship with her was complicated; I want to write about the myriad of good that made up most of my childhood and teen years, but I haven’t been able to see past the scars in a very long time. There are still things that echo in my brain that I can’t get rid of; words that were probably never meant to sting but instead left knife-like wounds, and off-hand comments made that later elicited firm denials but are carved into my deepest sense of self.

And all of that, everything I’ve written to this point…that’s my baggage. It’s the detritus that’s kept me from being able to really write about my mother.

I can tell you this: I know, without a doubt, that she loved me. She didn’t like me—and no, I don’t need anyone to tell me that she did, because I’ve heard the truth right from the source—but she did love me. And I know that more than half of the things said to me through my childhood and teen years were only symptoms of her own unhappiness, and she either didn’t realize how much of that she was pouring onto her kids or just didn’t see it.

I honestly think she didn’t know that a lot of what she did wrong was wrong, and I suspect that she would have taken it back if she had.

The legacy she left was rich. In spite of everything, she sent out into the world some pretty terrific kids. My sisters are people with whom I would choose to be friends even if I hadn’t been raised with them. We’re all vastly different people, but in good ways.

My sisters have raised kids who are everything a parent wants; I raised a son who is a good man, and he’s exceptional in spite of my own parental shortcomings. I think we were able to do that because we had an idea of what not to do, but more than that, we were able to raise such wonderful people because we all knew that no matter what, we were always, always loved.

I suspect that I will write more about it all later, while I work through it. Just know that in spite of how this all sounds, I know my issues are my own; I know she loved me, and I truly, deeply, loved her.


debzy said...

It's hard to find words to say back to you about what you wrote, but I will just say that it really touched me. You really do have a way with words, Karen. The parent/child relationship is a challenging one at best. Nobody is perfect. At some point when you grow up you realize that your parents are just people doing the best they can. Sometimes their best is good, sometimes not so good. I'm glad you feel comfortable enough with us to share this. I sincerely didn't think it was whiny. It was obviously from the heart.

Carolyn said...

debzy said what I was going to say. This also touched me... my Mother as well as my Father... oh, baruther. lots of issues... makes me tired to think of such.

I always felt loved but disliked. I'm glad to hear someone else say that. It's a very strange realization. I never ever pleased them, but I knew they would always be there for me. I didn't like either of them but I took care of both of them when they were dying. love was always there … even through the hate periods…

I like reading about real people. I think that's what made me come back to your blog many times... well, plus your blog name... hahaa..

whiny? hah! I rant and whine... it's what I do.

Angel, Kirby and Max said...

We all struggle with the aftermath of our raising. My mother could be so hateful to my sister that it embarrassed me and I told her so, often. That does not mean we did not love each other. My husband, on the other hand, never heard the words 'I love you' till he had children and then it was spoken to them!After she passed, he realized how she had treated me, much the same way he was treated. There are very few people that can say that they truly did not love or like a parent, but he is one of them. Even after 13 years, he has not found any forgiveness for her.

Kitty said...

Parents can be...interesting. I remember someone saying that you may love your family you don't have to like them. That's the way I am with my mother. I love her but I can never say that I actually like her. How many women do you know that tell their daughters on their wedding day that they looked like they could have "used to lose a few pounds"?

For me, writing the stuff down has helped. It is a form of therapy. I know it won't get rid of the demons but it will make them seem a little less vicious. And yes, there will be new issues that come up. Some of us have a lot of demons that need to be dealt with.

Thank you for sharing this with us. Just know that there are quite of few of us who fully understand where you are coming from.

P.S. A writer friend of mine just went away camping to help fuel her writing. Do you think maybe a change of environment will help get rid of the block?

Mighty Kitty said...

Your writing is not whiny nor is it unusual. I believe that there are many many people living with exactly what you wrote about. You do have a gift with words, Karen, and the best thing that you can do is to share that gift in the best way possible. I grew up with a mom who said she loved me but left deep scars with her abusive words and her lack of time for me. Even she admitted that if she could do life again, she would have spent far more time with her daughter! I loved her but I still find it tough to say that "like" was there! Your honesty is a gift also! You will write again and Max will accomplish his book. I think he is a very wise kitty and knows you have healing to do in some form or another!Max will speak when he thinks you are ready to write again. What goes in will come out....eventually.