• 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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I Can’t For The Life Of Me Remember a Sadder Day — Back by Popular Demand: Guest Post by AUGUST

When I was fifteen, my mother told me she didn’t like me. I refused to doubt that she loved me, though, so I decided that the two things were entirely distinct. ‘Love’ was over here, ‘like’ was over there.

And I admit that there are a few things about publishing I don’t like. I don’t like acknowledgements and twitter and book signings, I don’t like conferences, I don’t like reviews. I don’t like pub dates. I don’t like my crappy sales and I don’t like that strangers read my books. I don’t like idiots who think there’s a trick to query letters. I don’t like fanfic writers, I don’t like self-publishers. I don’t like anyone who NaNoWriMos—and I hate that I know the acronym. I don’t like writers who ‘can’t not write,’ I don’t like editors with unblemished skin. I don’t like independent bookstores, and I hate the chains. The chain. I don’t like that writing a bad sentence is as hard for me as writing a good one. I don’t like Sonny Mehta. I don’t like that publishing is in New York—we’re not even shabby genteel anymore, move your overprivileged asses to Dubuque.

Okay. This is my confession. Betsy said, ‘write about your secret shame,’* and maybe it’s no secret, but here’s my shame.

I hate all those things, I really do. But I love all those people. I love fanfic writers who refuse to say goodbye, I love the jittering idiots who agonize over a paragraph break in a query letter. I love the self-impressed schmucks who take offense if you use ‘magical realism’ wrong. I love those half-formed, smooth-limbed, bookdrunk editors who tell you with an awful dorm room earnestness how much Harry Potter means to them, or Joan Didion, or Donna Tartt. I love anyone who feels the hot prick of shame when a bookstore closes. I love anyone who loves ereaders, though I also like anyone who hates them. I love agents—unfeeling, unknowing, unrequited. I love bloggers and pornographers and Amazon reviewers who give two stars because the cover didn’t accurately reflect the genre. This is my tribe, these are my people: this shit runs deeper than ‘like.’

Did your mother love you (or not)  and how has that  affected your writing?

62 Responses

  1. I like you, too, August.

    My mother loves me. A lot. But she’s never been supportive of writing because it’s ‘silly’ unless I turn out to be Steinbeck. I write commercial fiction, which to her is like saying I make porn movies instead of art films. Even the Very Good Advance I received for my last project failed to impress her.

    I got my first Kirkus review yesterday, and for Kirkus, it wasn’t bad. I sent it to Mom and she said maybe my next book will be successful.

  2. I don’t think my mother was programmed to love openly or widely, nor hand out compliments or acknowledgements which I still sorely crave. It wasn’t her fault entirely.

    I tossed Simone de Beavoir at her at a very young age and said I was leavin.

  3. My mother read all the time. She always had a book with her. Always. A paperback with banged up corners because it went in her purse with her. It was very clear that she would rather be reading than playing with me. I learned books were important. Eventually, I learned the trick of falling into one of them so I that I could escape the fact that my mother would rather read than play with me. I used the thing I resented to escape my resentment.

    When I started writing, I received praise for it. Ah!

    Did my mother love me? She always said she did. Then she went off to her room to read.

  4. My mum told me that she didn’t like me. And I also heard her say once that she wished she hadn’t had children. She said I was a ‘book worm’ and always got my nose is a book, which I think annoyed her a bit because she didn’t see the value of it. But I don’t blame her and I still adore her memory because she was a good person and she did nice things for me and my brothers. I’m sure she loved us but she had her own difficulties. And she was a human being, something I think we don’t understand when we’re kids.
    It hasn’t stopped me writing all the time…or reading lots. And when (if) my book is published, I’ll dedicate it to her. I miss her.

  5. Sorry about the typo. I still get emotional about it. Hope it makes me a better writer.

  6. My mother loves me. She wishes I would drop a couple of dress sizes and write more like J.K. Rowling, though she doesn’t actually read anything I give her that doens’t involve her grandkids, so I’m not sure how she knows I don’t. Maybe Dad tells her?

  7. When my mother gave birth to me she told herself, “Finally! Someone to love.” Every single goddamn day she’d hold me close and tell me how perfect I was, how good I was, but mostly, how proud she was of me. She’s the reason I can write. She’s the reason for all of it.

  8. Not enough for me to be certain during certain crucial years, but certainly enough for me to be.

    I think it was the pointy tail that set her off. And the elfin ears. And the fangs, let’s not forget the fangs. And the forked tongue. And the cloven hooves. Buying tennies was a bitch.

    But when I was a teen she gave me her typewriter, a Remington Quiet-Riter (it was a type “writer”, not a type “speller”) upon which I was to compose my first six hundred and sixty-five unpublishable novels.

  9. My biological mother indadvertedly gave me the title of my book, but she was abusive, alcoholic, and not supportive. But she showed me the value of journaling – she kept notebooks of every time my father molested me, telling me, “I heard him in your room last night, tell me what he did.” She filled up two notebooks but did nothing with the information. I took the title, Tell Me What He Did, and I am using those facts to write a story to reach others.

    My spiritual mother (one who mentors me) encourages me and inspires me to keep writing. She reads and tells me to keep sharing my story which will help others.

    Hoping your day is blessed.

    • Hope you find solace in accepting your survival – know there are many others, quietly reminding themselves of this important fact every day.

      • Karen, thanks, I really am healed and just wanting to reach out to others who hurt. The statistics on abuse are astounding, one in four have been abused, and I suspect the states are even worse than that because this only represents known abuse. I know that, as each person finds healing, the cycle of abuse is broken, and my prayer is new parents do not hurt their kids the way they were hurt. One day my pastor asked me how I was such a good parent. I told him, “It’s easy. I think of what my parents would do and do the opposite.” Have a blessed day.

  10. This teacher mom forgives you for your tantrum, August, because I can still love you even if I don’t like your behavior. Five minutes in the corner wearing the dunce cap or stay after school and clean the erasers, it’s your choice.

    I attended the birth of 54 butt-ugly NaNoWriMoed novels this year, some deformed, some premature, birthed with great difficulty and much heaving and stomping.

    I am happy to report, however, that between contractions, there were moments of magic when the characters took over, when the pages unfurled from their frantic little fingers like so much toilet paper being whipped off a spinning roll.

    Give ’em a break. Some of them now dare to think they could be like you when they grow up. You know, before Betsy deems their work as putdownable.

  11. She kicked me out of the house when I got pregnant at 16. Wouldn’t come to see me in the unwed mothers home, but would send elaborately wrapped miniature books of Greek philosophy quotes. From them, I learned about Narcissus.

  12. My mother loved me and even tried to like poetry because I did. Tolstoy was right, this isn’t very interesting.

    She did take me aside, however, before my first poetry reading and we sat in her hotel room and practiced reading my poems—even the lying, cheating, stealing poems—until I read them well.

  13. Love, absolutely. Like, not so much.

    I think my preference to have my nose in a book hiding in my room was a direct affront to her. She wanted a girl who wanted to paint nails and share stories about boys. What she got was me.

    The only question that has ever come up about my book was directed to my sister, “Is she writing about us?” because that would be her worst nightmare. Alas, little does she know writing about “us” would be my worst nightmare as well so she is safer than she’ll ever know.

  14. Yes, my mother loved me and she encouraged and supported my writing by giving me a yellow legal pad (or two or three) every Christmas because she knew that’s what I liked to write on. She always wished she could give my sister and I more material things, but I don’t know if she ever realised how much her love and those yellow legal pads meant to me.
    This is a good post, August. I don’t know if it’s a secret shame to like people who also annoy you, but I’m guessing you’re as loyal as a guard dog to the few people you love. That’s cool.

  15. Ours was not a demonstrative family. But never for a moment did I not know the deep love my mother felt for me and my sister. My father was more distant, but still, I was always secure in the knowledge that he had my back and that when it counted he was always there for me, even when I went off the rails and didn’t deserve it. I’ve always thought I was blessed with the parental draw and that I had the best parents in the world. I did then and I still do.

  16. I think she loved me, but it would have been nice to hear it. I could tell when she approved of me.

  17. “I love anyone who feels the hot prick of shame…”

    I read this wrong the first time. Or read it right?

    • I tried ‘flush of shame’ first. Either way is cliched, but I figure there’s always room for a hot, shameful prick.

      • Both as a noun and a verb!

      • Very good, August. Great post.

        Gotta love a hot prick of shame. Especially when it’s throbbing with such eloquent emotion. And inserted so thoughtfully into moist and meaningful prose. And *especially* when it’s all about the love.

        I have two mothers. One who gave me away at the age of 3 days. She sat with me and held me during those 3 days, then relinquished me. Good or bad, the thought of those 3 days and everything that came before or after is a deep and potent well of not only a latent sadness but also an almost magical mystery. So many possibilities. So much to write about. My real mother loves me and likes me, in every perfect way.

  18. Misdirected crooked branch breaking the tree and breaking me, my mother didn’t love me, didn’t like me and I didn’t love her. I jumped off my family tree, took that leap and ran.

  19. Loving and needing are exactly the same thing to my mother. So yes, she loves me, likes me, needs me. She’s a beautiful vine who wishes I’d keep still and let her twine herself around me. And she martyrs herself so sweetly, with such charm and humor, that I do attempt to stop squirming and assume a tree-like attitude. Sometimes I open my skin with a razor to assure at least one of us that I’m not as strong as I appear to be, that I can’t be counted on to provide support.

    It’s possible that I write such dark, violent erotica to thwart her, to be able to say, Don’t read this, Mom, and know that she’ll obey because she really doesn’t want to know.

    You’re a strange little duck, she says.

    Right you are, mama.

    • Beautifully said, Averil.

    • Your words cut deeper than any blade, Averil. Your dark fire is hotter than blood. Metal touching skin is cold and each red droplet is like a story left unfinished; don’t hurt yourself.

  20. Gawd – and I was hoping we would end the week on a lighthearted gambol discussing the financial woes of Borders! But mothers? When I consider the character Norman Bates, “Mommy Dearest”, even a recent high-profile murder case, I’m convinced the mystery of motherhood and its primal tug-and-push remains a never-ending source of inspiration. Good and bad.

    As for my own mother, I’m still trying to sort through her layers of deceit. I suspect there may be a grain of love buried under the peculiar bitterness. This sorting has provided an unintentional gift of story plots and characters that I eagerly employ. (thanks Mom!)

  21. Who is this attractive lady? Should we know her from past posts? What has she published? For a minute I thought I was reading one of your posts, Betsy. I like your daily blog, but I’m often confused by them, and wonder how often you’re serious and when it’s just a send-up. I’m not very bright, as you can tell.

    New subject: do you know Susan Cheever? As I read your writing and learn more about you, I think of Susan. I don’t know why.

  22. Mothers = material. Tons of material.The post-humous memoir will have much to say, but not til then. Bi-polar + alcoholic tends to do that.

    • I came to the dreadful realization that although now I’m orphaned (bad for the emotions but great for the memoir-writing capabilities) I still can’t write about my family because of my sisters. Damn, damn, damn!

  23. Ah mothers. Mine’s autistic, so it took me a while to figure out how to love her and to understand her way of loving me.

    The ironic loving of all those you don’t like is the basis of great literature. Thanks for nailing it, August.

  24. Second half of your pertinent question. Loss fed literature that’s the kind I understand and that’s the kind I write. Brave self love, love of the world, of non kin, of care taken to thrive with others despite the primal misprint. Skin in the game bravery. Nothing to do with like.

  25. I don’t like to think about what my mother feels because she’s really not cool with feelings. We leave that stuff to other people.

  26. My secret shame is how much I need August’s voice in my head. Except it’s really not all that shameful (it’s obvious that there’s a very classy guy riding herd on that id) and, now, not all that secret.

  27. My mom tried but didn’t have kids cuz she wanted a little fan club. She was Catholic and crazy for my dad. End result: children. She knew I loved poetry and searched a certain book for me but had to mention who she sent looking for it and how much it cost. She just was what she was and she did a good job of that. I had kids so I’d have my own little people that belonged to me, that I created, that I influenced. They are doing a fine job of living their own lives so I guess the motivation doesn’t enter in to it. All the moms I write about are nuts for their kids. And, August, love is not the opposite of hate. Everytime you blog, you self publish.

  28. Christ almighty, all this mama drama I could make a fortune. I think I picked a bad time to retire…

  29. On my 21st birthday, my mother told me that she was thankful I was no longer her mistake (I was born *gasp* ‘out of wedlock’).

    I am a self-impressed schmuck who hates it when you use magical realism in correctly.

    I heart fanfiction.

  30. My mother loved me and liked me, but never said either. The older I get, the more I understand how important this was, whether she spoke the actual words or not. I miss her more instead of less.

    I don’t like hardback books. I don’t like e-readers (though I’m trying). I love rare book stores and the eccentrics who own them. I love individual sports, the ones where you’ve got no coach or teammates to save you in crunch time. I hate cliches like “crunch time.” I don’t like anything Hemingway. I love an artist who will create at their best without knowing if any other human will ever see it. I love all dogs, even the mean ones. I don’t like bicyclists who take over my road or motorcyclists who drive down the dotted center line in heavy traffic. I love 1970’s TV: All in the Family, Maude, One Day at a Time, and The Paper Chase. I love the first day of school.

    I love lists.

  31. Anything less than a book about my mother would not do either her or me justice. Let’s just say that at the age of four or five I had recurring dreams about slicing her up into chops, waking up in a delirium of terror that she might really be dead, and then going back to sleep so that I could put her back together again. Yeah, she loved me, but some loves you can do without.

  32. My secret shame involves an empty house, a dog, and a jar of peanut butter.

  33. I’m a total double-bind child, mommy loves me but I better not touch her, or get anywhere near her, Oh, mommy. Being one, I like destroying bullshit, so my bullshit radar alerted me to your buried claim of a good sentence and a bad sentence, I know, you will probably need to reread your spit-worthy, juicy, ..well, rant. But it is there. You claimed there was such a thing as a good sentence and a bad sentence. Yikes! I have no more to write about this. August, you created some heat, and it wasn’t in my fingers, but, I somehow directed it to my fingers and didn’t destroy my computer. I think I like you. I think I like me, liking you, though, I’m really sorry about your bad writing, and the anger it has created. Maybe you are more of an editor type? And as usual Betsy, as much as I would love to tell you to fuck off, the only thing I can honestly write is thanks. Damn you!

  34. See, right there, I tell you my shrinky senses are tingling…

  35. As are mine.

  36. axis 2.

  37. *grits teeth* must. not. comment. on. comments. must. not…aaaagh.

    J’adore August.

  38. She did but I wonder if she didn’t would I have become Paula Fox, one of the best writers ever? Her mother wanted nothing to do with her from day one.

  39. My mother definitely loves me. How do I know? Because signed all my cards, “Love, Mom.” But I never heard her say the words until I was 24 years old. I’d gone to Africa for a week (work-related), and when I came back not blown up by terrorists or infected with malaria or mauled by lions, she told me she loved me.

    How has it affected my work? I write about people who can’t, for the life of them, say what they mean.

  40. My mother loves, supports, praises, raises, honours all her kids ‘to the moon and back.’ And she lets us make our own mistakes and as then when we crumble.

    How does her love impact on my writing? I can’t ‘paint’ a weak female character. They’re all so strong.

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