On February 6, 1989, my mother wrote
It has occurred to me that much of what would go to build your reservoir you will draw on as a writer are things, have been things, that it might trouble you to write knowing I–or your dad or your grandmother–might read. There’s probably nothing you could write that would punish me more than my own self-flagellation–I was in a mental ward after you were born in part for what I thought were my failures. If you don’t want me to read what you write, I’ll give you my word. I’ll read only what you personally place in my hands. But don’t stifle yourself or draw back because of what I might do or think. We all have the right to suffer our own consequences, and you have the absolute right to be what what you are.
I was 20 then. She was 45 and wouldn’t need to worry about her word as she died that year.
On October 11, 1983, she wrote
When I took you to your father’s, your dad and I, & then you, had a talk about visitation, if you remember. The agreement was that visitation is up to you, and your father will help you by seeing you get here. I understand why you have avoided being alone with me, and why you tried to manipulate me into seeing you outside of my home. It is always difficult to face people you’ve hurt or lied to.
I have been hoping you would have the courage to face yourself, and me, but that is not characteristic of people your age. There are so many things you need to understand about yourself, mostly that you’ve done the very usual things kids do. Your behavior has been normal and ordinary, although immature. Even your ability to mimic adult behavior is a sign of immaturity–you so needed to bring about what you wanted, no matter what happened or who got hurt. You have nothing to feel guilty about; you do have things to change in the way you act towards others.
I was 14 when she wrote that (though my 15th birthday was 3 days later).
Taking slices of these letters out of their time is not really fair. I could add the part where she writes, “…in a few years, you’ll find it easier to deal with reality and won’t fantasize so much about how you want things to be. Come see me when you’re ready; I love you.”
Maybe that’s why I write fiction. I can manipulate and fantasize and be praised for my efforts.
Today, I talked to my students about how they choose what to include in a story or any writing at all. I asked them to think about what they would write if they wrote about their parents–and what they wouldn’t write. My students typically tell me how wonderful their parents are in every way, and they looked startled at the news I suspected otherwise. I hope otherwise. (There are only so many times I want to read that someone’s father worked hard and supported the family and that their mother is kind and does everything for her children. Am I bad to be annoyed by these virtuous souls?)
Of course, I want people to like me, to like my mother, and to like my main characters. But don’t perfect people make you crazy? But then again, what flaws are okay to reveal?
What are the flaws of your favorite fictional characters?