• 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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Don’t You Ever Ask Them Why

I’ve  always been turned off by people who say they can’t write certain things until their parents die. Does that mean they go around hoping for mom and dad to choke on a pecan at Thanksgiving? I don’t think you can hijack your writing for the sake of people’s feelings. And who are you really protecting? And I’m not just talking about confessional or autobiographical writing. All writing has something at stake, or should, in my humble. You don’t have to engage in character assassination, or pen a Mommy Dearest, but you have to take me there. I want a manuscript to take me somewhere I’ve never been, or somewhere I’ve been a million times and show me something new. I don’t like polite writing, polite conversation, or conversation about weather. I want a writer to be fearless because I’m a pussy.

Who are you protecting?

51 Responses

  1. My kids. That’s the one place I draw the line. Way lots of fodder, but lots of fear. Just won’t do it.

  2. When I realized my book was going to actually be published, I had to tell my daughter the true story of her parentage. She was 28. She took it very well, and her “dad” doesn’t even know I told her. Yeah, he already knew the story.

    “Can you top this?”

  3. I’ve had many a polite encounter. I’ve written about none of them.

  4. Geez- I return from an inspiring road trip to this inquiry?

    My horoscope for today warned me about actions that could impact my professional status. I’m taking the Fifth.

  5. No one. I’m an open fucking book. (Ha. See what I did there?)

  6. Luckily my parents are so playfully narcissistic, they love when I out them in all their eccentric and inappropriate hijinks. They often point out discrepancies in my thinly veiled scenes: No, I wasn’t fucking your piano teacher, it was your clarinet teacher, while you were practicing scales in the next room.

    Now though, it’s my clients I hide my true self from. The bread-and-butter folk. I was giving the owner of a furniture store a Twitter lesson, and she said, “Oh, and so I could follow you?” and she was promptly treated to my alter-ego before I could grab the mouse.

    • I think you hit upon a perfect truth in the first part of this — people love to see themselves in print, warts and all. We try and protect them and they say, nonono, why are you sugarcoating my ass? That will only attract more flies.

  7. I really love this post. It’s fearless and true.

  8. Thanks for this. I’m planning a piece about my mother’s love affair with a married man. All concerned are deceased, but there’s my sister & brother. I’ve solicited memories from them & my mom’s best friend. We’ll see…

  9. Oh, ok, Betsy. You are a pussy. Uh huh.

  10. Yes but is the shot worth the powder as my mother likes to say. I am without a doubt protecting myself. Unleashing hell sounds like fun but after many years of mama drama I’m happy to let sleeping dogs lie. Instead I write about my husband who doesn’t seem to have a need to criticize my hair or complain about my current state of unemployment.

  11. With all due respect, everything changes once your mother dies. It’s like becoming a parent. You have no idea what you’re in for until it happens to you. For me, it wasn’t about having the freedom to write about my mom as it was about finally finding forgiveness. I didn’t manage that until after she had passed.

    • Amen sister

    • Well said, MSB>

    • Absolutely.

    • Agreed. I used to think I didn’t want to hurt her, but 10 yrs after her death I see that wasn’t it at all. I was afraid of the men. Just like her. I didn’t see this until I was about 5 drafts into it, when I started thinking, Shit, I get it, I’m saying what she was afraid to say. She wouldn’t have just loved my book, she’d have been proud of the voice of it.

      I’m still afraid of the men. But since she’s died I see them so much less they’re losing power by the year. At least that’s what I tell myself.

      • The more you write, the better you write, you take your power back from them. So write it well and bring them to their knees, my friend.

    • i hear what you’re saying.

    • But, still, you forgave yourself. . .

    • You are right. Everything changes.

    • I believe it and I fear this day. I am very lucky in that my relationship with my mother is wonderful and not at all conflicted. I just fear being here without her mostly.

      • I know that fear but keep in mind that a mother’s love never dies. My own gave me more than she knew what to do with. It’s a good thing, too, because it carried me through some tough times.

    • My parents are still alive. I’ve been writing as fast and as well as I can to try to make something of myself before they go. My wife has lost both of her parents, and she tells me I really don’t know what I’m in for.

      But forgiveness…. As my previous marriage came apart, in a time that now seems a different age (there was no world-wide web!), I began to believe I understood some of what my mom had gone through when I was a kid. Around this time, she and I had our first real adult conversation, as two equals afloat on life’s ocean. But forgiveness….

      Another fifteen years went by and one day I was reading about chakras. I got to the forgiveness chakra, which I think is the fourth one, also called, appropriately enough, the heart chakra, and it was like the cork blew out of the bottle. It wasn’t champagne bubbling out of me, I was blubbering like a baby, and I phoned her up right away, sobbing and sniffling and crying my heart out, and told her I forgave her. I don’t know if she knew quite what for, but she handled it well. And anyway, all that stuff I was forgiving her for, it happened so long ago, when there was war and revolution and everyone was scared. Not like now.

  12. Dear MacDougalstreetbaby: I am truly humbled by your comment and grateful for it. The post is clearly a sign of my own adolescent mentality at work. Thanks so much, Betsy

  13. I try to keep my sugar intake down, but I love pecan pie. Yum.

  14. My friend Eddie’s widow. He was a major influence in my life and I wonder how much his wife knew of his affairs, real or desired (golfing buddies talk… and brag) and at the end nobody really knew him; he left no note, just a bloody body.

  15. “I want a writer to be fearless because I’m a pussy.”

    My favorite quote of the day!

  16. My mother died a few months ago. As much as I like merciless truth-telling, there is no book deal in the world that would mean more to me than having had a good relationship with her. On the one hand, it isn’t fair to spare one person and not another–on the other hand, I don’t care. I loved her more than other people. And once I got to my twenties we made a mutual pact that we’d let each other off the hook for all the crap we’d put each other through. I kept my end of that bargain because I desperately needed her to keep her end, too. She did. I suppose it all depends on who your parents are. Mine didn’t deserve exposure. Some do.

    • Kate- your comments are from the heart and gave me much to think about. “I loved her more than other people” should be the title to the memoir detailing this pact which (I suspect) is quite a story!

  17. I really don’t think writing is about protecting anyone. Everyone I had the hubris to think I was protecting in one way or another has let me know how much they prefer the truth. And that’s always somebody’s fiction.

  18. I thought I was protecting my parents until my brother, who still lives near them, disabused me of that notion. When I told him that I was holding back on some pieces he called me a dumbass and told me that our parents rarely venture out into our small town without someone telling them about some crazy shit they’ve read on my blog. They’e survived so far so I guess that’s all the permission I need.

  19. I am of two minds on this. I think you need to write what you need to write and that during the actual process of creating, you shouldn’t hold back. But the process of writing and the process of publishing are totally separate and if you are unwilling to take into account who might be hurt by something you’ve written and let that influence how and when you put it out into the world, in my opinion that makes you kind of an asshole.

    It’s much easier for me because I write fiction, so in some sense I can hide the truth and still tell it like it is.

    • That’s also why I write fiction. I can change the names and tell whatever truth I can find. Or I can make up names and tell flat-out lies. Either way, as long as the tale rings true. And when someone asks me, “Are your stories true?”, I answer, “They’re as true as you want them to be.”

  20. I write to protect my own itty bitty attention span. There’s more than enough misery in the world to go around and, since it all looks pretty much the same on paper, I lost interest in it about ten years ago. The only thing that holds my attention these days is humor and cat stories.

    Garfield is the ultimate twofer.

  21. When I finished “The Help” I wanted to throw it across the room. The protagonist asked more of her subjects than she asked of herself. In the end she protected her mother, was willing to hide the ugly legacy of her polite white mother while she put the maids at deathly risk. That just stinks.

    Protection of family protects no one. The writer’s job is to out the lies we all tell ourselves. If I can’t do that I don’t deserve to be read.

    • Thank you for saying that legitimate criticism of Sockett’s novel is okay and the point you brought up is just one of many. Every time I try to say anything I get accused of sour grapes or worse that I’m being ungrateful. I’ve just decided to keep my mouth shut, needless to say I’m not going to see the movie.

  22. I’d protect myself in that I wouldn’t want to write something that would get me sued. But then, sometimes no matter what, you’re gonna be sued anyway. Yeah, such a litigious world we live in. Just ask The Help’s Kathryn Stockett.

    • Legal suits against her are bogus. Legitimate criticism of her novel not so much.

      • You make a valid point. While I wasn’t addressing the merits or lack thereof of the novel, what you objected to did enter my mind as well when I watched the movie. Also, I must confess I haven’t read the book, which may have been quite different from the movie, as they often are.

  23. Family is definitely fodder for story. I just don’t tell my mom when things get published any more. If she stumbles upon my book, that’s great. If not, that’s okay, too. 🙂

  24. I wish my mother were still alive so we could argue about the abusive mother in my novel. No the mother in my novel is not based on her but my mother would have thought I had some hidden grievances against her. My sister is still convinced that the sister in my book is her and still wants me at every reading to announce that I did not base the sister on the book on her.

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