Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fearless Author?


My mother was a difficult woman, to say the least. She was extremely religious, started out a Catholic, but switched over to an organization that would be considered a cult by some Christians. I won’t name her religion of choice; I’m not out to make any enemies. I was the middle child, but in a sense I was also the oldest. My sister is only two years younger than I am, but my brother is eight years older, and he was drafted into the military when I was ten years old. Dad took a job in California. Mom promised we would move south to join him when the school year ended. But, she wrote my father a Dear John letter, telling him that she intended to stay put. Dad didn’t buy into her newfound belief system, and he was put out. After that, it was just Mom and us two girls living in Oregon.

We moved out of our three-story house on a tree-lined street and into a crappy apartment in a complex full of single mom’s with troubled kids and teens. I started looking after kids and through the years became the babysitting queen of the complex. At one point, (try to understand, this was in the late sixties), I earned about ninety dollars a week. That was a lot of dough for a kid. I spent my loot on clothes and shoes. But, I did manage to save enough to fly down to see my dad in California.

When I was sixteen, Mom decided to move by her family, way up north in Canada. Once we were settled, not only did my sister and I have our religious mother breathing down our teenaged necks, we had our Aunt and Uncle, (we lived on their property), and the entire congregation of that one horse town breathing down our necks. My sister was strong and not a people pleaser. She had no problem standing up to my mother and refusing to go to the many meetings we were required to attend weekly. I tried my best to make Mom happy. I thought that if I complied with the strictness, she would finally accept me. Mom loved me, but I just grated on her nerves because she claimed I was just like my father. I guess I am like him. Born that way. Hopeless from the get go.

In the tenth grade, or grade ten, to use the Canadian term, I was chosen to enroll in a special program. My English teacher determined that I was a gifted writer. (I had been writing since the age of seven, in my mind I was going to be the next Jane Austen.) I ran home to tell Mom and met with undeniably vehement disapproval. I had to fight in order to participate in the program. My mother allowed me to enter the program, but made me take all the bookkeeping and business machine courses, because I would surely end up working in an office, just like her. My aspirations to be a writer were at best at pipe dream.

Right up until her death, her voice played in my head every time I sat down to write. What would she think about what I had written? Would she disapprove? And then she passed suddenly, in her chair, in her sleep, her beloved Bible in her lap.

Losing Mom was devastating. I know it wasn’t as heart wrenching for me as it was for my sister, (they were tied to one another emotionally and in proximity much closer), but I had no idea just how strongly I would miss her presence in my life. We talked on the phone, a lot. She would come to visit and we would go out to lunch after sightseeing. (I still get a pang when I see a daughter and her mother out to lunch.) But, I was free! I could write whatever I wanted. I know--when you get right down to it I was always free to write whatever I wanted. But somewhere deep inside I never gave up on trying to please her and would edit myself constantly. I'll go so far as to say that I couldn’t really write honestly at all, until after she was gone.

Do you worry about what others, or that certain someone will think of your material, should you write what’s in your heart? Do voices sound off in your head if you approach certain subjects, or matters that might ruffle feathers? Or, are you a fearless author? If you are one of the brave ones, did you start out that way, or did you learn to throw caution to the wind? Just curious.


All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley

19 comments:

Jan said...

That was a pretty fearless piece of writing there Elizabeth! I think about what you say quite often. My mother would've been thrilled to read anything I wrote and she was very broadminded. My dad reads my blog but I think it freaks him out now and then. I worry because I've always been a real potty-mouth and I have characters in my novels that are the same in that regard. I'm fearless when it comes to writing about sex or emotions but less fearless when it comes to encroaching on others' stories. I don't mean poaching but I have a distinctly Canadian fear of hurting anyone's feelings. But in that case perhaps it is OK to be fearful because the truth is (for me) that it isn't OK to gain points with my wits by scoring off of others so that is a restriction I'm happy to have! Good topic.

Jemi Fraser said...

What an emotional post, Elizabeth! I felt like I was on the roller-coaster with you.

I think I'll wait until I'm published to let my mom in on my writing secret. For now I'm mostly hoarding the knowledge to myself. I think she'll approve - although I know she'll wish my writing was more high-brow :) But I'm also sure she'll carry around a copy of my book in her purse!

lakeviewer said...

Some of us go to our graves with our secret fears and angers. Those who can speak the unspeakable help others voice the unmentionable. Your journey will help many.

Miss Footloose said...

I wrote a novel, not yet published, using material from Real Life. There were three reasons not to write a memoir or a "true story."

1)I simply was not fearless enough to deal with my personal issues in front of God and everybody.

2)I did not want to hurt anyone.

3)I am a professional writer and I love writing fiction, and using the material I could do with it as I pleased, change it, make it more interesting, make it better reading and so on.

Am I a coward? Am I "taking advantage" or "exploit for gain" by not being "true" to the reality? Too many words in quotation marks. Not a sign of being a good writer ;)

Patry Francis said...

I was just writing about a fearless character today, but I don't think I'm a fearless author yet. Maybe my character can teach me something?

Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful story.

Tabitha Bird said...

Wow Elizabeth. thanks for sharing that. I edit myself sometimes to please the disapproving voices in my head. It is hard to be free when you live under something for so long. I am working on being the woman I want in my writing :)

Stacy Post said...

Hello, Elizabeth! I'm dropping by via Crazy Jane's blog. What a gut-wrenching piece. You have so much complicated history with your mother. No wonder you're a writer. :) As for writing free, I'm still working on it. For the novels, I may adopt a pen name to protect those that may see aspects of themselves in the characters. (Although, I rarely write anyone in their complete original form.)I'd want my mother to be proud of what I write, but I know our tastes are very different when it comes to books. Time will tell!

CKHB said...

Wow. I think you're my hero for the day.

My writing wouldn't be any good if I tried to write for anyone but myself. But I'm a little sad that my Catholic grandma probably won't be able read my first novel... maybe I can tell her which parts to skip?

Suldog said...

Good questions.

I almost always write with an audience of one in mind, but the one is not always the same one. So, I tend to tailor the extent of my fearlessness to the boundaries I suspect whichever one I'm writing for at the moment to have. For the most part, though, I rarely shy away from subject matter, as I think you know!

I figured out early on, however, that the more you're willing to reveal about your real self, the more readers you'll acquire. And that you can write about almost any subject and people will find it interesting, so long as they're invested in YOU. By the same token, you can be the most erudite and witty son of a bitch on the planet, but if people don't like you as a person, they'll disparage your wonderful writing.

Shirley Wells said...

My mother was difficult too. When I told her I was going to be a published novelist, she laughed and said: 'You are stupid, Shirley. Have you any idea how many people are trying to write books...?' And darn it, she went and died before I was published!

Fearless? Reading this at first, I thought, yes, I'm fearless. But thinking more deeply, I know I'm not. I do worry about offending people. I don't worry about sex or violence (not that my books feature much of either), but more about minority groups, people's beliefs and things like that.

Great post!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

You are a fearless writer! What an emotional and truthful post. I think everyone looks for parental approval. Some are lucky and get it. Some don't. I was brought up with the constant message from my mother being I wasn't good enough and every decision I made was wrong. That was great for the ego.

Elspeth

Jody Hedlund said...

As I write, I do think of what some of my real-life friends will say about what I've written. Since I write historical romance, I wonder if they'll think I've gone too far with the romance aspect. You know how the romance genre has a stigma among some people. I hope they'll like what I've written, but I also know I can't write to please everyone!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Thank your for sharing so authentically, Elizabeth! You are brave, courageous, and inspiring! It is difficult to write when we know family may read not only because we must face their approval or disapproval, but also because their perspective or point of view regarding events in our lives may conflict with our own...and so our work is judged by different standards when read by family than when perused by friends or even strangers...tough stuff...Thanks for making me think! You have such a wonderful way of doing that!!! ~Janine XO

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Elizabeth thanks for this fearless post. I feel so sad reading about parents who failed but had such control over their children. God, I hope I don't do that to my children.

I try my best to be fearless. If anything I'm more concerned about what other writers might think of my writing, perhaps I censor in that way.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Thank you, Elizabeth! You are an extraordinary writer, and truly authentic. And so your kind and thoughtful words mean so very much to me!!! BTW, I see on your profile that you list Temecula as home...My family and I moved to Escondido when I was ten, and I spent my teen years there...Thus, Temecula is very familiar ground for me...although I am thousands of miles away now. Anyway, just wanted to say that I feel like I've known you for a long time!I think we have a lot in common ~Janine XO

Marguerite said...

Incredible post! You're one of a kind, cher! Fearless writing, indeed! Cheers!

Kim said...

This really spoke to me big time. My mother is a very difficult person and I didn't have anything to do with her for almost 20 years. Recently we reunited mostly for my son's sake. I didn't want to teach him to be angry. I worry all the time about my writing. I edit myself constantly on my blog and in my personal writing. Sometimes I think freedom will only come after she is gone. But with maturity I came to see some of her high points. I am slowly learning to accept her and let go of the past. But it sure doesn't come easy.

Woman in a Window said...

I have always been ruthlessly and embarrassingly me. Don't know how to be anyone else.

My mom just got a computer this past week. She said she wants to read my blog and I hit my head and said, oh god mom, now? Really? For a year I wrote about how great my family was and NOW at the time of my seperation you want to read my blog?

Yes, she said.

Well, I responded helpfully, then you have to remember my blog address. It is www.mydaughterisawhore.com

At least she laughed her ass off!

xo
erin

K. said...

I am a huge scaredy cat! I have so much amazing material that I can't use!!! It's tragic...one of these days I have to write it and then just see how I feel after...

Thanks for the inspiring post...