I was going to write a post about the very next section of dialogue in the prologue, but between my last and this, a lot has happened. In the interest of avoiding the same glazed eye numbness or book-throwing rage as I sometimes experienced while reading Ulysses, I’m dividing this into two posts.
First: Last weekend I went to see my niece one more time before she is fully careering around on tiny unsteady legs, and watched her expertly crawl toward the sproingy door stopper – her wonder at the sound and wiggling is pretty great. I also nearly lost my sunglasses, iphone, and ipad to her insatiable, adorable two-toothed mouth.
Helpfully, my brother’s family lives in the house we inherited from my mother, which is also very close to my dad, stepmother, sister, my best friends SLDHBEG and AA, as well as their moms, and family friends I hadn’t seen since my wedding. Whew. It was a weekend fairly crammed with people.
The other major purpose for the visit was to interview SLDHBEG’s mom Alexandriawoman (code names are fun!), who was one of my mom’s closest friends and sometime roommate. Given my aforementioned memory, I recorded the over three-hour conversation on a little digital recorder, and likely will be referring back to it a lot in the coming months. That conversation was a doozy.
To explain, let’s rewind: when I started this project, I emailed a few key people I thought might have insight into how my mom thought about writing in general, the book in particular, and asked if they had any clues as to what was supposed to happen in the plot. Alexandriawoman had written down her thoughts before I arrived, but over the afternoon we veered around among topics and seriousness. I promise, in no way will I attempt to summarize all this within this one post.
You’d think that the biggest thing I got from the talk would be the plot’s destination. You would be Wrong. I had assumed that Alexandriawoman had a little plot tree, showing all the major points and characters and what my ultimate goal should be, far, far down the line. She’d tell me the end blissful moment that Louise experiences, or at least say ‘Louise ends up with xxx dude, and it’s because of xxx that it happened xxx way.’
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Backtracking even further: years ago I had a conversation with Alexandriawoman about a fundamental difference between the way that my mom thought and approached life vis a vis sex etc, and the way she does. She was born only five years after my mother, but they were a crucial five years for women.
My mom graduated from college in 1969. I remember her telling me about life in the Pi Phi sorority house: the curfews, the rigid no-men-in-the-house rules, the ceremony around an engagement or a marriage. She would never have dreamed of burning her bra. She’d been raised in a household with the values and mores of the 50s, and they imprinted a morality on my mother like a brand. Coupled with a family that suffered from alcoholism and depression and infidelity, and you can imagine that brand went in deep, deep.
Between then and the time Alexandriawoman graduated, the pill was much more widely available, Title IX and Equal Employment Opportunity became enforceable by law, and Roe v. Wade had been decided, to name just a few monumental things.
Perhaps you can imagine the difference in attitudes and assumptions between my mother and Alexandriawoman. When my brother was living with – but not married – to his girlfriend, my mom wouldn’t let them sleep in the same bed when visiting. She was dismayed when my dad moved in with my stepmother before marrying, as well. As a teenager the very idea that she might be familiar with, say, gay or closeted people, was something I had to actively inquire about instead of just assuming. I cannot in any way describe my surprise that it wasn’t a big deal to her. I always knew her to be an equal-minded, caring person, but it still shocked me that she wasn’t shocked.
These things…seem small, when I write them down. But I can recall having more than one conversation about Alexandriawoman’s freedom of action and language and sex vs. my own mom’s relative stoicism.
So. We think there was definitely a part of herself that loved the idea of throwing caution to the wind. But there was another part of her, much more a controlling influence, that was terrified of what people think, of losing center and her values and morals.
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What did I find out, then?
My mother hung tremendous meaning on this book and what would happen in the story. This character was her way of exploring a life, said Alexandriawoman, without anxiety. Through this book, she would get to live a life she both wished for and couldn’t conceive. Her character would find a soulmate – a good man, one who could be counted on. That in writing this man she could imagine that such men do exist, and soulmates can be found. She would have adventures. She would make choices without excruciatingly considering first what any other person thought or would think. She would be free and open to experiences and, yes, sex, instead of tentative and closed.
‘Whoa,’ was essentially my response.
Trying to imaging how the story would end has been an interesting thought experiment before now. Hearing this, I felt overwhelmed. How can I do justice to the hope she intended to pour into this story? What kind of man would be good enough? What sorts of plausible adventures can I imagine her having? Am I now attempting to posthumously exorcise demons that were as basic to her as breathing?
I still feel overwhelmed. I can imagine that these conflicting fears and desires sat in her mind like logs in a jammed flume, unable to move left or right. If I was nervous about the project before, now, I could get stuck worrying about what everything means and equally unable to progress forward.
At the moment, I am choosing to define this feeling as similar to contemplating the ocean. There are innumerable ways to capsize and be lost at sea, drifting around with no idea which is the direction toward land. But there are guideposts every day like the movements of the sun, the moon, and the stars. I just have to find them.