Sunday, September 26, 2004

2004: On My Mom's Refrigerator

[This is a re-post from last year, September 26, 2003. Today's the anniversary of my mom's death 9/26/97.]

A friend recently mentioned when I got the piece about blogging published in Harvard Business Review that it would be just the kind of thing to send to your mother to put on her refrigerator to show off to her neighbors how proud she is of you. I thought it was an interesting comment and it started an interesting conversation that went along these lines.

First, and the friend meant no disrespect or harm, my mom doesn't have a refrigerator. Actually, I mean to say, I don't have a mom. In fact I don't have any parents any more since they've both passed away.

She used to have a refrigerator, she may even have a refrigerator in heaven, but she doesn't have one in our old kitchen in Connecticut, I'm sure of that. Someone else lives there now.

And then I explained to him that there was actually something great about both my parents being gone. It sounds strange, but both of them had high hopes and high expectations for me that I sometimes found daunting. Now that they are gone, I don't think it's at all surprising that I'm succeeding in my writing more than I ever did when they were alive.

I knew how much they wanted me to succeed and how much they liked putting things I did up on their fridge when they were alive. Now that they're gone, I can do things they wouldn't necessarily approve of, I can do things that are NOT successful, I can fail and fuck up and fall on my face. And ready for the big joke of it -- nothing helps you succeed faster than failing first. So in some way, the biggest blessing of their passing away is leaving me free to fail and therefore able to succeed.

Blogging is all about trying things, failing, not trying to be perfect and just throwing words at a wall, like pasta to see if it's ready. It's a much easier way for me to write than any I've tried. It's enormously freeing.

There are a few other things at work as well with parents who inconveniently continue to stay alive. First of all, a writer who writes about his family and his life makes a lot of other people in his family very nervous. Mostly, a writer is better off NOT writing about his family. But, really, when you come down to it, what is a writer really writing about if he/she is not writing about his/her real life and real family? So you find yourself in a bind. Once your parents are gone, you are freed up in a way you might not expect. You look back and realize you might have been self-censuring or simply NOT writing about things because you didn't want to incur the wrath of your family.

This is actually the anniversary of my mother's death. The arithmetic never works. I know she died in 1997 and I know this is 2003 and it should mean she died six years ago, but it doesn't feel like that. It feels like it happened last night. I may have been glib here talking about her refrigerator, but let me say, it was certainly with a tear in my eye that I answered my friend's question -- of how I will never be able to put another piece of my work up on her fridge with her funny little magnets. I miss her. I wish she WERE here to enjoy my success. I thank her for all the wonderful things she taught me -- love of words, love of books, love of birds, flowers, gardens, people. Of course I owe her so much and I would never have become the person I am or the writer I am without her love and kindness. I would have never been a writer without her taking my hand at age 6, excited as can be, pulling me down the garden path to watch birds with her, pointing out a scarlet tanager, showing me the different birds in her Peterson's guide.

I love you Mom, wherever you are. Please put this on your fridge.