this is not a review: ‘the m word’, edited by kerry clare

 
Warning: today’s ‘Not a Review’ includes internal organs. But not until nearly the very end.

I’m not normally drawn to mothering books but I like Kerry Clare’s work, so it was impossible not to be drawn to her anthology, The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood. I knew I’d be in the hands of good taste and good writing, even if, as a Childless Woman, I couldn’t actually relate. Well, what happened was this: I found myself not only enjoying the read, but relating. In a major way. Because, as it turns out, the essays are both about mothering and not mothering, about the exultant and the reluctant, the non-mothers by choice, the stepmothers by circumstance, women who will do anything to be come a mother and those who will do anything to not. And in every scenario, the difficulties, joys, fears, the way life is changed for the better and sometimes for the not entirely better. There are celebrations, regrets, and such honesty that it’s really quite impossible not to relate.

In other words, there’s something for everyone. Even me. Because if you’re a woman, you fall into some category where motherhood is concerned. This, whether you like it or not. You have the parts. And if you don’t, that may be the problem, or the celebration, depending on your outlook, your personal goals.

And that it is so personal is what I most enjoyed about the book. The writing, yes, but I wasn’t merely reading, you see, I was being drawn into this conversation, being reminded that yes, I also have a story, some history on this subject. And let’s hear it, the conversation seemed to say, because as you can see, no woman is excluded from this club, for here is a truth: if you’re a woman it’s pretty hard not to have a few thoughts on the motherhood thing.m-word-cover

The book is arranged alphabetically, which happens to fit nicely with its ‘lettery’ title, but more importantly it allows for accidental juxtapositions rather than any kind of predictable narrative.
I read it backwards.

Michele Landsberg in the Afterword, on the surprising role of grandmother: “Even though I haven’t had to consider the effect of a child on my lifestyle, the negative or the positive, less is said about that—guilt? It’s interest/improving to help understand friends who’ve been through it because still decades later they talk about it.”

And on over-thinking, a beautifully rendered piece by Julia Zarankin. “If I have a baby in March, when should my husband begin taking driving lessons?”

Sara Yi-Mei Tsian considers the implications on her work: “Motherhood is a study in conflicts, which is why it attracts me as a writer.” and this… I just love this: “…there is a certain nugget of truth… that all writers would like to avoid. We cannot give voice to a character based on someone real without silencing, at least in part, the person who inspired us.”

Patricia Storms presents a graphic essay about the joy of “working for” kids and living without them. And how that’s not something a lot of people seem to understand.

Kerry Ryan on ambivalence about motherhood: “Do you have to have a maternal instinct from the get-go, or does it kick in with your breast milk? And if not, can you wing it, or is your child destined to become a serial killer?”

Heidi Reimer begins with ambivalence, then an adopted daughter, then gets to the “bone of my bone”, “the flesh of my fleshness” when she gives birth and experiences a different kind of love. “I had made a person! I would never do or become anything more important than this.” (Actually, that statement made me wonder about generations past. Did they feel this rush of omnipotence? Now there’s a conversation.)

To her credit, Reimer is painfully honest when writing about these differences.

“I am in love with Aphra, a feeling as effortless and unstoppable as breathing. My relationship with Maia is more akin to an arranged marriage: I made a choice I believed was right, and through that choice, over time a bond solid and close and beautiful as grown. A connection inextricable. If I am sometimes aware that this love was a choice, if that choice is sometimes taxed, so, too, are my relationships with almost everyone I love. Of the several people integral to my existence, Aphra is the only one who came from my body.”

On single motherhood: Fiona Tinwei Lam writes, “Not wanting to be married didn’t mean I didn’t want to have a child.”

And from Ariel Gordon, the need to protect her writing time and space and the choice to have only one child. “When it came right down to it I didn’t think I could be a working writer with more than one child. And I was unwilling to take a break when my writing and my writing life—the time I spent in the company of other writers at readings and conferences and retreats—were finally starting to gel.”

I admire her conviction, the wisdom to know her limits insofar as achieving her goals and how she sees there is more to give her child than a brother or sister to grow up with… but it’s interesting that the ‘maternal’ concern is still there.  “And so, even though the girl won’t have siblings to lean on… I’m hoping that she can lean on the texts I’ve left behind.”

Nicole Dixon chose to not have kids for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is an over-populated planet and consumerism run amok. More diapers and toys don’t help the situation. She justifies her position with a desire to allow herself to be a good citizen in so many other ways. that parents may not always put first.

“People often think that saying no to having kids means saying no to life. My choice not to have kids, however, is a choice made from love. I’ve realized that the legacy I want to leave on the earth after I’m gone is as small a mark, as tiny a footprint, as possible… My choice not to have kids does not close me off from my community or my planet. Instead, it allows me to nurture my own life and to mother everyone’s mother, Earth.”

Most are young or youngish mothers. Myrl Coulter is perhaps the single entry from a very different generation, and this is nice to see. Her piece on unwed mothers in the 60’s is especially moving. She was eighteen and in love with a seemingly nice guy. But marriage didn’t make sense. She became a ‘girl in trouble’ and was whisked away to one of the maternity homes that existed from the 1940’s through the 80’s.

“To call these places maternity homes is highly ironic: maternity homes were not homes nor did they function to promote maternity. They were institutions to house and hide those deemed maternally inappropriate. Also known as homes for unwed mothers, they were busy places in those days. Winnipeg, a small city, had three.”

These girls were not just thought to have made a bad decision one night in the rumble seat, but their whole character was judged and they were vilified. They were also thought to be without maternal instincts yet, curiously, they were denied contact with the babies they delivered, which only proves that everyone, even judgmental pricks, realizes the connection between mother and child.

**

So yes. I read, I enjoyed, I related, I remembered, and the remembering led me to a few other words. The N-D word for instance, as in Near-Death, because it seems fallopian tubes are not a welcoming environment for growing children and near death follows for the host but, before that, after much mysterious pain, internal bleeding, a severe drop in blood pressure and eventually, in the Emergency Department through an increasing haze as one slowly drifts away, the words: you’re pregnant. The only time I would ever hear that sentence where the ‘you’ was me. I remember it was oddly euphoric, even as I lay nearly dying.

The S word is also in my repertoire. Stepmother. I keep forgetting. Easy enough to do in a society that likes its consumers clearly defined as demographics and that doesn’t apologize for the twisted version of things that results when we slap a narrow label on something as big as ‘mother’.

The bottom line is this: The M-Word does what the best conversations do… it shares the stories of others while reminding you of your own.

**

Small note: If forced to offer a quibble it would only be with the choice of colours for the cover. In an effort to leave the pink and blue behind as we move forward, I’d have preferred anything but.

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tour de blogs

I love a tour. And so I was especially pleased to be invited to join this mad literary romp, blog-style, where we answer a set of questions in our own merry way. Many thanks to the always madly wonderful Alice Zorn over at Rapunzel’s Hair for asking. Alice is the author of Arrhythmia, the short story collection, Ruins and Relics, and often translator of Grimms fairy tales.  Among other things, she blogs about her travels and her beloved Montreal neighbourhood, Pointe St. Charles. Her contribution to the game is here.

So… bon voyage, and here goes…

 

—What am I working on?

I tend to go through phases of working at more than one thing at a time. Currently I’m revising a few stories to send out, preparing a collection of essays and occasionally checking on the brine in which my novel manuscript is marinating… It often needs more salt.
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—How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It occurred to me recently that I’m not a good rule follower. Not because I’m a renegade or anything as quaint as that, but simply because I’m often not aware of the rules. And even when I manage to figure out what they are, I can hardly believe it: those are the rules??  I have a hard time talking with people who want to discuss trends. I have no idea *what* is popular. Nor do I want to belabour any knowing. I recently wrote a story from the perspective of a chair.
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—Why do I write what I do?

One of my interests is relationships, especially those within the constraints of family. I realize I’ve been watching various families all my life—my own of course and those that lived on my street as a kid; aunts and uncles that weren’t, or were; the families connected to friends as I grew up; the manufactured ones through marriage and children, or no marriage and no children, or some other configuration therein or thereof. I’m fascinated with the way roles are assumed and played out to various ends and for what reasons and how we judge it all… and how we pretend it doesn’t matter and how it matters so very much. I’m interested in what’s remembered and how in a family there’s nothing even close to a consensus of truth. My writing often pokes about in this tender territory, trying to make head or tail of things. Why??  Who the hell knows.
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—How does your writing process work?

A large part is thinking out loud. Also known as talking to myself. I run through scenes, interview myself, ask myself what is the point of such and such… what is the point???… until I either come up with a point or scrap the whole damn such and such. I write in a journal most mornings, about dreams and grocery lists initially, but eventually making my way to the day’s work and what I want to accomplish, which inevitably leads me back to the such and such and the point, and pretty soon I’m no longer writing but talking to myself…

Best places to work through a problem: in the car, on a walk, weeding the garden.
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~

The tour continues with Barbara Lambert, author of The Allegra Series,   A Message for Mr. Lazarus  and The Whirling Girl. And Maria Meindl, author of Outside the Box; Maria’s essay ‘Junior’ appears in the anthology The M Word. Thanks to both for bravely accepting this mission. Am looking forward to visiting their blogs in the coming weeks and will post links here.

Stops on the tour include:

Theodora Armstrong
Ali Bryan
Marilyn Bowering
Janie Chang
Jaime Forsythe
Susan Gillis
Jason Heroux
Cornelia Hoogland
Ellen S. Jaffe
Eve Joseph
Susan Juby
Anita Lahey
Barbara Lambert
Steve McOrmond
Maria Meindl
Sarah Mian
Elise Moser
Kathy Page
Julie Paul
Pearl Pirie
Shelagh Plunkett
Ryan Pratt
Jael Richardson
Devyani Salzman
Cassie Stocks
Ayelet Tsabari
Patricia Young
Julia Zarankin
Alice Zorn