So, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo again–to write a novel and to see writing friends. But mostly to write a novel. And this novel is the one my mother started before she passed away. The novel is autobiographical, and to continue the story, I’ve read her letters and spent time thinking about a particular time in her life.
The novel is, you see, about her relationship with a particular man. I lived with her and this individual for five months. They were together–on and off–for years, but I’ve been thinking a lot about those five months when I was in the 8th grade, and I’m realizing how incredibly inexplicable those months were.
Writing scenes placed in that time… well…
I would sit in the living room to eat the food this man had cooked. He cooked massive amounts of food. He’d prepare these casserole dishes. Three dishes–one for each of us. Each one completely full. Each one the length and width of a shoebox. Rectangular. The type of dish you’d use for lasagna.
But I hated his cooking even though I liked him. I got it into my head that I had to eat all of it–it usually included fish, about to spoil or slightly spoiled vegetables (nothing was too be wasted), pasta, and sauce. The first few times I managed to eat every last bite. A few later I’d feel the bile rising in my throat when I picked up my fork. I’d eat a corner of this mix and then stop.
In the end, my mother told me I could cook for myself–though I did not know how to cook. The side of a box taught me how to fix rice, so once I figured out that, I tossed in frozen peas and Spam–or maybe it was canned corn beef. Whatever, it was from a can. Sometimes though, when her boyfriend roasted chicken, I could have that.
I remember believing I wasn’t allowed to just eat whatever might be in his kitchen–though I have no memory of anyone telling me that to be the case. I know I’d make up rules for situations because I was afraid to ask.
My own made-up rules in his house:
Never eat anything without asking permission.
Never set foot in the master bedroom unless specifically invited in.
Never mention the Playboy magazine he kept in the hall bathroom–the bathroom my mother never used.
Never invite a friend over.
Never ask about the holes punched into the walls.
Never ask for a ride anywhere (i.e. no after school anything).
Never get in the way.
I drove my mother crazy.
And I’m trying to write about this time from my mother’s point of view…and the point of view that keeps coming back to me is the fork stuck between the plate and my mouth.
This is not going to be a delicious novel.
7 thoughts on “Is it only time travel if you go with your body?”
It sounds painful. Are you enjoying the writing? The story? Have you learned anything from the writing? Has anything been illuminated?
I’m not sure enjoy is the right word. I’m glad I’m writing it, yes. The story is a mess, but I feel that I’ve got the story in the mess, I’ve just got to find the right thread to pull from the tangle. And I’ve learned that it is very hard for me to fictionalize things that really happened, and that my mother had more to deal with than I perhaps fully appreciated. That is…I always new she had a lot to cope with, but since now I’m putting words in her mother, I’m understanding on a different level.
Your experience in writing this may mirror the experience your readers are likely to have (especially the readers who know you).
I’ve read lots of books which left me feeling emotionally wrung-out, not to mention having plenty of actual life experiences like that. Would I want to re-live any of those experiences? No way. So am I glad to have had them? Umm… I’m glad for what I learned from them. But I still wish I could’ve learned the same lessons without any schooling at all, y’know?
Wow. Those casseroles sound nasty. My mother-in-law cooks with food better served as pig slop too. She’s a child of the depression, my wife keeps rationalizing, that’s why. I still say it’s disgusting and throwing out food gone bad isn’t a crime. It’s just not.
An interesting experiment you’ve undertaken. I’ll be interested in seeing how it goes for you. Good luck. Try not to toss your cookies along the way remembering the compost meals in a pan.
On an unrelated note, I’m sorry I’ve not been around more. I’m working on the SRLP and the temp job had me up at 4:30 a.m. That’s over now, so I’ll probably be by here more often until I start my for-really job on Dec. 6. 🙂 Thanks for understanding.
I think the decision was made that I would cook for myself when I looked at the food and tears sprung to my eyes. The story I was given was that he nearly starved in Vietnam because…I don’t remember why and he lied about so many things, who the hell knows.
You are swamped! I’m surprised and flattered that you’re here at all. No worries. I’m feeling fairly overwhelmed myself, so we will both just have to be understanding!
It’s hard sometimes, trying to separate the memories from the feelings. And to try to put all that into another person’s POV has to be difficult. Add the emotional punch of that person being your mom, and of course this is going to be a sticky wicket for you.
Add in your own self as a character, writing about you from your mother’s viewpoint can’t be easy either.
I just had a thought – your project reminds me of some Amy Tan books I’ve read.
She captured some very powerful emotions in her mother/daughter stuff. Trying to distance yourself as a writer from your childhood self and from your parent, to tell a story, is probably a kind of tightrope. Go easy on yourself!
It feels like several sticky wickets.
Amy Tan wrote a wonderful book–but it must have been hard! Thanks for your understanding, Darcs.