1. The New Yorker cartoon showing the sullen college-age girl in seated in a window seat, cup of tea on the floor beside her, writing in a notebook balanced on her knees. Caption: "“Dear Mom and Dad: Thanks for the happy childhood. You’ve destroyed any chance I had of becoming a writer.”
2. My late father, Maurice Zolotow, telling me the story (possibly apocryphal) about when Nora Ephron‘s mother was dying. "And Nora and her sister Delia are sitting around their mother’s bed in the hospital, crying, and, you know, very emotional, and Nora and Delia’s mama — she was a writer too, a screenwriter — opened one eye, looked at them carrying on and said to them sternly, ‘Take notes.’ "
3. From Carolyn See‘s feisty charming, insightful book, Making A Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, which seasons wisdom, practicality, and a little New Age-y-ness with crankiness and many exclamation points. "What if you quickly made a list of the ten most ‘important’ people in your life?" After throwing out some questions to prime the pump and urging you not to overthink, she says, "Quick! Write the list! That’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to try and get fancy about it…" And she begins, big surprise, thus:
1. My mother. She was beautiful and funny and she never loved me. In fact, she couldn’t stand me. Goddammit!
Later, after some delightful hypothesizing and relevant digressions about who (and in the case of Phillip Roth, what… a certain "fleshly appendage") might be on other people’s most important list, she makes, almost offhandedly, this remarkable comment, set aside in its own brief paragraph:
As a writer, the importance of people is inside of you. My mother’s rejection is the central event of my life. Enough people have said to me, "she was just a secretary," or "She was poor, she didn’t know any better," or "What does it matter what she thought anyway?" Or, "She was bi-polar." Or, "She was depressive." Or, "She was mistaken." But it matters to me.
4. My friend and sometimes collaborator, the musician-singer-songwriter Bill Haymes, traveled across three states to see his Alzheimer-suffering mother for one long weekend a month, during the years she was in a nursing home. When she was well enough, he would take her out to eat at a Luby’s Cafeteria of which she was fond, and they’d also just drive around. One day, driving, there were passed by a large bakery truck, the brand name of the bread proudly bannered across the side. Bill’s mother, Helen, remarked. "That’s a big truck." There was a pause. Then she added, "There could be… a lot of pianos in that truck!"
Billy and I both interpreted that as a gesture of connection, from some non-linear place in her mind. Though able to identify the vehicle as a truck, and cognize it as big, she couldn’t read the sign or grasp the picture of the bread. Yet, Bill plays the piano, and she was with Bill, her beloved son (even if she sometimes didn’t know who he was) and hence her synapses put it together in the charming and off-the-wall manner.
5. This is a story my mother told me, many many years ago, when she was still totally with it. Patricia MacLachlan, author of Sarah Plain and Tall, was visiting her own mother, who had dementia, in the nursing home. Her mother said, "I’m sorry, dear, but remind me, please, who you are?"
"I’m your daughter, Mom, your daughter Patty!"
At this her mother beamed up at Patricia, giving her a huge, bright, delighted smile. "How nice, because I like you very much!"