• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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In My Life I Love You More

I received over one hundred emails today — my inbox runneth over. I’ve heard from old bosses, booksellers, colleagues, friends, writers, beloved clients. I ‘ve heard from people I barely remember and people I slept with. I’ve heard from friends of the family, and family. I’ve heard from England, Holland, Italy, France, Korea, and Japan. I’ve heard from scouts, movie people, even other agents. I’ve heard from people I can’t stand who have treated me like crap and people who mentored me and helped me grow. I’ve heard from people I hate and people I love.  But of all these friends and lovers, there is no one compares to you.

My mother congratulated me and then said, “why do you think it won?” And that, my friends, is all you really need to know about me.

What do we need to know about you?

62 Responses

  1. That I kept my mother in my dish cupboard in a metal box for three years. I was supposed to be the one to scatter her ashes to the wind. I was too afraid of inhaling her.

  2. When I told my mother I was working on a second novel she said — why would you do that? You couldn’t sell the first one.

  3. aw b, you just broke my heart.

    i emailed you the second i finished reading patti’s story. i think it was the weekend after valentines. i was crying over the last chapter (the whole book really) and had to thank somebody for it right away and you were the first email i could find. since then i’ve been following you on here and am a little starstruck that i get to leave comments for someone who won the national book award.

    today i stood in front of 650 people and told them my story about being sexually abused when i was a kid. now that i’m able to talk about it, i sometimes feel like i can’t shut up about it. (seriously, looking where i’m talking about it now.) i guess because of where i am right now, that’s what i need people to know.

  4. Lost somewhere in New Mexico, bizarre illuminated landscapes cut to fit the car windows flipping by, empty of people, all open space and absence. Semis one after the other, dinosaur bodies lumbering beside us from truck stop to truck stop. Palaces popped up in the distance, golden lights in the foothills. Over there someone slept in a bed, people lived a regular life.
    Mama had just refilled the car at a gas station and was looking for the entrance to the interstate when she totally lost it, blasting away, cursing more than our current predicament, cursing her destiny, cursing her life, especially her children, “How will I ever find my way with a carload of kids dragging me down?” An angry spirit set loose in the car, bellowing as she drove. “I’m lost. I’m trapped. I’ll never find my way now.”
    I sat behind her, horribly awake, a sibling’s sleeping head in my lap. I covered his ears with my hands. Stay asleep. Stay asleep. Don’t hear this. Don’t know what I know.
    She always said, “They’re mine”, “My kids”, said it like we were possessions, collectibles she packed and unpacked with every move, valuables she could get money for; useful people she didn’t want to lose. Even then I knew that ownership wasn’t the same as love, and that love was not always found in circles of kinship or clan.

  5. You don’t need to know anything about me. Congratulations to you for this and all your other successes, and for sticking to what you love. Your dedication, skill, passion and honesty are gifts you give to the world, and the world, when it is wise and generous, gives of its infinite store of good to you in return.

    • You’re always a class act, Tetman.

      • Yes he is. I usually read one of Tetman’s reticent comments a minute after I’ve said too much.

        Congratulations again, Betsy. I plan to read Just Kids with a copy of Patti’s speech as a bookmark.

    • Congratulations, Betsy!
      I didn’t want to clog your swamped InBox with another email — we’re SO PROUD of you — what dedication to brilliant writing, what a platinum example you are of being a selfless and tireless advocate for a talented writer …
      You go, Girl!

  6. My mom caught me crying over a tough scene recently and I felt silly. I said ‘I know it’s not real but it’s just so sad.’ And bless her she said ‘but it is real. They are real people for you.”

  7. Congratulations on your win! 🙂 My mother is much like yours…when I told her I was planning on a sequel to my first novel she said “I wouldn’t start writing before your first one is even published.” ZING! I wish I would have gotten a response like SpringChicken’s mother gave her. Bless her Mother’s heart! 🙂

    • She’s an amazing lady. So many people just don’t get it and I’m very lucky that one of the people closest to me really and truly does.

      I hope you kept going anyway- I hope it made you want to write a dozen more.

  8. It won because you and Patti are both brilliant in the depths of your confusion, fearless in the face of your neuroses, eloquent in the jumble of your stutters, and honest, vulnerable, and loving in pulling through and creating such a beautiful tribute.

  9. And I’m just happy because for ONCE I get the song reference.

  10. Betsy, I’m so happy for you, and not at all surprised that Just Kids won. Patti Smith really brought that time and those people, the “kids” that they were, to life. Art has always been a crucible wherein the sacred and the profane have mixed, along with glamor, drugs, and the plague of our times, AIDS, to unpredictable and galvanizing results. Mapplethorpe was a standard-bearer for all that. He was beautiful, decadent, driven, and lost, which seemed to pretty much define the Eighties for me. That he died almost at the very end of the decade was a fitting, if premature, coda to those years. But how could somebody so on fire not burn out so young? He was high priest of the era, and his works were his church. Patti Smith had entry not just to his artistic spirit, but to the tabernacle of his human heart.

    Greetings from Vrindavana, India.

  11. As as recovered psychiatrist I can officially say that it’s your mother’s fault. My mom is the queen of the insult disguised as compliment and hurtful innuendo. More to be pitied than blamed I always say.

    Never mind, congratulations on everything-Patti’s book, your books, all your client’s books, a daughter, a husband, surviving illness, the blog, the whole shebang. This is a really fine moment to be in.


  12. My mother told me before she died, as her body was ravaged by pain, to live my life. She had no advice, no judgements. Who was she to judge? she said. I was 28. And like most things about her, I’m only starting to understand.

    Congratulations, Betsy.

    • So sad Deb. I can’t imagine losing my mom so young.

      • Thanks. She was quite a woman. Grew up in a house of drunks on the wrong side of the tracks. A common theme throughout her childhood was the hypocrisy of the pious and their treatment of her and her siblings. Her escape came in the handsome, young Bostonian who my father once was. She was supposed to live happily ever after. Little did she know he would go to war 3 weeks after their wedding and come back damaged goods.

  13. They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    Philip Larkin

  14. Congratulations! It won because it was the best in show. *nods*

    My mother is lovely. Though she always does ask me if I’m going to go out “looking like that” . . .

  15. A couple months ago when I told my mother my memoir was bought at auction by Knopf, she said, “But, what have you done?”

    Betsy, put your head back and enjoy the warmth, even if it ain’t maternally based. In rock ‘n roll parlance, you gotta just Keep on Truckin’. But you already know that, right?

  16. My father died in February, his body ravaged by cancer, his brain a soup of dementia and morphine. He’d been a big, healthy man, 6’4″, 250 lb, full head of salt and pepper hair even into his eighties, prodigious teller of long, rambling jokes. Now he weighed in at 160 tops, almost bald from the chemo, barely recognizable. I spent more time with him over the previous few months than I had in years, though he lived several hours away. I loved him, but we could never talk much, couldn’t talk deeply, couldn’t connect the way I now try with my own kids. The last time I saw him before he died, he whispered that he wanted to tell me something only for me to hear. It was The Moment. I held his hand, leaned in close to hear him, his lips just inches from my ear, and he mumbled something totally incomprehensible. And that was it.

  17. That my jealousy and anger and shame prevents me from basking in the reflected glow of a friend’s success.

    • Laughing. I adore you. But, as you know, I’m not buying your bitter curmudgeon act for a hot second.

      • You’re perfectly right, of course. I’m basically a marshmallow: white and fat and sweet.

        However, in my defense, the only blog comment I posted about the recent triumph was so mean-spirited it was rejected by the moderator. That should count for something, right? (That was on a different blog, of course. And after I lost the ‘100-word story for Betsy’ contest. I clearly shouldn’t post anywhere else.)

      • Well, there’s no accounting for taste – or absence of, August. I would be happy for you to post anything when I get my new site up.

    • Pretty sure if you got on Babblefish and set it to translate ‘August’ to ‘English’ it would tell you that this means: ‘Congratulations, I’m so proud of you.’

  18. I’m a sore loser. The last time I called my mother to tell her I’d lost something, she said, “I hope you were a good sport. You’re not a very gracious loser.” She’s right.

    Congrats again, Betsy. Bask in the glory as long as you can.

  19. When my mother was lying in a hospital bed where she spent most of her last three months, she apologized for not being the greatest mother. I did the best I could, she said, crying in a way I had rarely if ever seen her cry–from the heart instead of wherever that martyr space could usually be found. My immediate (silent but furious) response was, your best wasn’t even close to good enough. Then I decided to believe her and I told her so. It made all the difference going forward.

    • Mary, when my mother was dying I pretended she said what your mother said . I decided it all needed to end right there so I forgave her — if she heard me through her coma she might have been confused as all hell, forgives me? for what? but I don’t care — and, as you said, that has made all the difference going forward.

      Betsy, given what your mother said, given all we really need to know about you, given that, I have to tell you that your choosing every day to go forward in spite of, irrespective of, having to mutter under your breath, perhaps, as I did, “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you,” is an act of courage we can all aspire to.

      And would you look at where it got you? How f’ing cool is that!

  20. Both my parents are dead and I don’t have kids. So it ends here, thank god. Unless you count my dog, who is needy, totally food motivated and prone to biting strangers for no apparent reason.

  21. Despite being published by a very small publisher with a very small advance, my mother brags to everyone that I am an author with prodigious talent who will make her mark in the writing world. I just love that woman.
    To all of you who wrote those heartbreaking posts about the heartbreaking comments from your mothers: if you are now a mother, get off the computer and go be the kind of mom you always wanted.

    • Yikes. Empowerment doesn’t come from a smile and a backhander.

    • People with difficult parents sometimes make the best parents themselves because they’re so determined to do it differently: this was definitely true for my dad. Bet it’s true for some folks around here as well.

      To have great parents who are supportive and loving is a huge blessing. Those who rise above having the opposite to give their children what they never had have my eternal respect and admiration.

  22. That question works on many levels. Only those who have been hurt ask why.

  23. “Preserve your memories….”

    My mother could cut me into a million pieces with her tongue…and I wish she was still alive to do it.

  24. Janet Reid also says you’re awesome. Congratulations Betsy.

    In 1989 I was blessed with a surrogate mom, the same age as my own, but with unflagging support for my every endeavor which continues to this day although she lives 2,000 miles away. It has truly been a healing experience and possibly a divine intervention. Miracles do happen.

  25. So excited to follow you and get some timely advice about writing and the publishing process. I am following my dreams and glad to hear about yours.

  26. hey betsy, guess i’m 213th comment, and no, we haven’t slept together. just wanted to tell you that last night i awoke at 3am wondering what the hell i’m bothering trying to get my book noticed by an agent, when …. lo and behold … i picked up “forest for the trees” which had just been delivered via amazon, and now — I am cured! And back to my desk writing queries. thanks for writing that book. not finished yet, and already feel like you’re my new writing-shrink. i’m http://www.lordflea.com blogger.

  27. As they say where I’m from, Bless her heart.

  28. Here’s a poem by Sharon Olds about her mother’s confusion with her.


  29. enjoyed this.

  30. After two excruciating years of suffering with Lou Gehrig’s disease, my blessed mother died. Going through her things later, I found a whole file of my newspaper column clippings. To say the least, she was one of my biggest supporters…..but don’t even get me started on my father.

    Congratulations, Betsy…and btw: I saw a photo of you yesterday and you remind me of someone: Me.

  31. First, congratulations Betsy on Patti’s book, and thanks for all your forthcomingness. Many lovely comments here on mothers. Mine, too, destroyed me early on. When I was four I begged to go to the ballet class she taught and one day she finally relented. Afterward she told me, “You’ll never make it; you have no discipline.” Incredibly enough even then I thought, what great material! My mother had an incredible way with words both entrancing and devastating, but once in a while would flummox me by saying, “You have a tongue like a Wilkinson sword.” What could I have said, mere child? I’m reminded now of that scene in “The Heiress” when Catherine Sloper says, “Yes, I can be cruel. I learned from masters.”

    After I lost my father, he who loved me most, I realized that whatever relationship I might have with the mother who had given me away (to him) at age ten was up to me. So she who has called me fewer times in my life than I have fingers I now speak to as often as I can. For a long time when at the end of the conversation I said, “I love you,” she would say crush me by saying, “Same!” Yet somehow I began to feel it wasn’t so important anymore what she could or couldn’t give me, but rather, what I could do for her. And so I kept trying. Now she not only tells me she loves me, she volunteers it.

    One day out of the blue for the first time she asked me how my writing was coming–the never mentioned book, a fictional version of our story, the notion of which terrifies the whole family–and said, “I could never do what you do.” When I finished the last draft she gave me the first gift in many a year, and talisman: a fountain pen.

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