Life as a Writer

I read somewhere that you don’t truly become an adult until you bury your parents. That once they’re gone, you can be whoever you want, you’re the grown-up, you’re in control. But of course that’s not true. Your family is the one thing you can’t escape. They’re in your bones, in your head, in your heart. You carry them with you everywhere.

That’s the beginning of the novel I’m working on now. When I wrote those words six months ago, I knew I’d found a theme to wrap a story around. One that meant something to me and my journey as a woman. One that would allow me to plumb the elusive nature of the holds our family have on us, even years later. Lost and Found is the story of three generations of women, bound together in ways they don’t yet recognize but which will change each of their lives forever.

The thought of becoming a fiction writer intrigued me enough to take a workshop in Door County in 2014 at a wooded retreat called The Clearing. Margaret Hawkins, a Chicago novelist, gave the class prompt after prompt during those five days, but the one that stuck was “I Could Never Write a Book About . . .”  I didn’t hesitate. I wrote Mothers and Daughters. And you know where that kind of thing leads. I’ve been writing about that fundamental relationship ever since.

Why the fascination with mothers and daughters? It no doubt started with my contentious relationship with my own mother. We were strangers to each other, shouting across the great expanse of changing women’s roles. I was not going to be a housewife. I was going to be like my father, who supported the rest of us with his weekly paycheck. I wasn’t sure what mother did except cook lackluster meals and occasionally clean the house.  That wasn’t the life I planned for myself, and I made sure to tell her every chance I got. And she, a child of the Depression and the war, thought my dreams of a career in journalism were cock-eyed and unattainable. When I left Oklahoma for Northwestern in Chicago, I felt so free I almost lifted off the ground.

But just as I wrote in that prologue, your family is the one thing you can’t escape. And so, because I did not understand my mother, and because I was afraid of losing my freedom, I chose not to have children.  It was only years later, long past the time it was a possibility, that I began to wonder what I’d missed.

So maybe my writing explores that most elementary of relationships, that of a mother and a child, because I’m trying to understand why my mother and I did not form that bond. Maybe it’s a way to tease out what was missing. Maybe it’s a way to communicate to others how important family is. Because you may not have chosen them, but don’t be fooled. You carry them with you everywhere.