3 months pregnant & in London
3 months pregnant & in London

“She says your an automaton,” my mother said to me. I was 12 and standing in her bedroom doorway. She sat on the edge of her bed.

“What does that mean?” I asked, wishing I had my mother’s vocabulary.

“She meant you don’t think for yourself. You think what I tell you. That you want what I want you to want.”

I didn’t know what to say. Mom had been taking me to a meditation group. Every Sunday night we went to the home of these two married college professors. I was the only one there under 25, but did my best to act grown up. One woman in the group didn’t like me. She’d told the entire group I was an automaton.

My stomach twisted and stared at the point where my mother’s daisy bed sheets touched the floor. “Why does she say that?”

“You’ve said you want to be a psychologist, a lawyer, and a photographer. Those are all things I said I might go back to school for.” She waited for me to answer. Mom was good at waiting in silence for my answer.

I had thought that woman had liked me. I had thought all the adults in the group liked me. “But I would like to be those things. Maybe because you talk about them, I know about them. We like lots of the same things.” I didn’t look up. I hoped my mom believed that I had a mind of own, but I didn’t know what to say that would prove it. The word automaton pinged about in my head for a long time.

What do we like or dislike because of our parents or some other grown up in our childhood lives? Are all your likes your own? In books, what books do you like or read because you think you are supposed to if you want to be well-read? What books do you look down on so that no one will think you have no taste? Is there a writer whose style you knowingly copy? Unknowingly? What is the difference between imitating and being inspired?

4 thoughts on “Copycat

  1. I don’t know if this is the same thing you are talking about, but I am an artist, writer and teacher, just like my father. Different, but the same. I don’t know how his attitudes about what professions were “worthwhile” filtered into my life, but there it is. And then there was the time where he told me that my art was “pretty” and I did the kind of stuff that people put over their couches. Yes, he said I was a maker of pretty couch art. A deadly insult coming from him.

    Perhaps his criticism came from a place of jealousy, I don’t know, but I have fought my “pretty” urges for decades.

    As for books, I still don’t always admit that I read science fiction and fantasy, and I avoided writing it from about 19 years old to 34… a time when I was attempting to write serious literary novels and looked down upon my first love of SF/F. I don’t know if I’ve gotten rid of those feelings yet, either. Not entirely.

    You know, there’s a lot of snobbery in the art and literary worlds.

    But what that woman said about you was despicable. And why did your mom even tell you that in the first place?

  2. Huh. Granted, you were 12 then, and a lot can happen between then and later to change one’s life. Still — given how much the incident stuck with you — I can’t help wondering if it played a part in your NOT becoming (professionally) a psychologist, lawyer, and/or photographer. To a 12-year-old, a single question mark can do as much to kill a dream as (later) too many enthusiastic exclamation points.

    Dad could tear through a fast-paced thriller fast in a day or two of intense focus, like I do now. But I came to thrillers — beach/airport reads — only much later. Before then, my tastes tended to be more literary. (I thought I could be the next Thomas Pynchon long before I knew I didn’t have a prayer of being the next Dean Koontz.) But Dad and Mom really didn’t care what I read — MAD magazine, historical fiction, SF/fantasy, lit fiction, Thurber, etc. I don’t think they ever made a conscious decision to do so, but in effect they gave me the freedom to be my own reader and (it’s been a long time coming) something like my own writer, as a result.

  3. Congratulations, you’ve well demonstrated the concept of the unreliable narrator, as in, for example, Ford Madox Ford’ s narrator in “The Good Soldier.”

    This friend of your mother’s was hurtful, as many unreliable narrators tend to be, but there is no indication of her vision being correct. Those of us who read you take you as a reliable narrator of events. We can see the disconnect, particularly through the reliability of your reportage. She, the one who didn’t like you, reveals more about herself in her vision of you than she reveals of you. Was she jealous? Jealous and threatened? Jealous and threatened and a bully?

    Even at this remove, you can answer these questions in some detail because, yep, because your vision makes more sense than her vision of you does,

  4. Let me get this straight.

    A middle-aged female participant at a meditation gathering decided she simply HAD to say that you – a 12 year old child learning the benefits of participating in a sit for the first time – You were an automaton?! Are you friggin’ kidding me? Was that her evening mantra? Aaaaaaauuuuuuuu tooooooooo maaaaaaaaaa toooooooonnnnnnnnn.

    I hope someone kicks her in the shins someday. Dipshit.

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