Anna Balkrishna’s article about her mother’s ill-fated love for a convict in Double X last week was a fascinating story, compellingly told. Reading it, I went from curious, to emotionally engaged, to feeling personally invested in her mother’s hard won success.
The talented daughter’s heartfelt writing also revealed her struggle to forgive her mother for the older woman’s stumbles, and I posted an (unsolicited) suggestion that the author, whom I have not met, communicate directly with her mom as genuinely as she did with her readers. In a passionate response to my busybody post, Anna and her mother both replied they are communicating with each other honestly and openly, and the writing of her essay was collaborative. I apologize for my narrow assumption.
My concern focused on the privacy aspect of their dynamic, and my own efforts to write about my family. Samantha thoughtfully weighed in that when her mother writes personal essays (Samantha’s mother, Robin Marantz Henig is a stellar journalist), Sam is more discomforted by the revelations of her mom’s own experiences than the tidbits sprinkled in about her daughters. The thing that we all-Anna, Robin, and I and the many authors, bloggers, memoirists, and thinly veiled fictionists who excavate the rich emotional vein of our personal relationships-struggle with is not whether to write about our loved ones (we find our muse wherever she lives), but how to do it with compassion. If I were a better writer, I wouldn’t write less about my husband, mother, children, or friends, I’d just do it more artfully and with greater consideration. I’m certain I will continue to over share about my own embarrassing mistakes, but I now lament that by doing so I may make my children cringe.
Getting back to Anna Balkrishna’s piece, I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of women who are attracted to incarcerated individuals . I have made some spectacularly poor decisions in my life and am particularly sympathetic to other women’s bad choices. When I was 20, I had a boyfriend who told me we were going to Europe together, somehow persuaded me to bankroll the trip, took me with him as far as New York from Minneapolis, then kissed me goodbye in a taxi and sneaked back to our room in the McAlpine Hotel, grabbed our (my) cash, all his stuff, and took an early flight. I didn’t know I’d been dumped 'til hours later when I got back to the room and found his note. That aborted adventure wasn’t my worst bad judgment. About six months later, he landed back in Minneapolis, and I got back together with him. We did not live happily ever after. (Note to my kids: Sorry about that anecdote, I should have posted a cringe alert. -Mom)
Photograph of writer by Getty Images.