I’m not at a point in my writing career where I want to write about my mother yet. The problem with writing about people who are despicable is that, in my commitment to words on paper, I am making them special in their literary realization. I’m worried about how I will tabulate the stories of my upbringing, let alone my mother’s life, but right now, it’s not important. One day, I’ll have to come to terms with the all writing material dwelling in my memory from our dysfunctional relationship. Or not. Therapy is good enough for now.
Inspired by an essay she wrote as an undergraduate, Michele Filgate’s debut book, “What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About,” is an anthology of fifteen writers discussing the blank pages of discussion between child and mother. The essays in this collection are often brutally honest in their dialogue of the unspoken finally being salvaged.
Although a few of the essays are rather positive—Leslie Jamison’s “I Met Fear on a Hill” is particularly arresting—“What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About” grapples inclusively with the multi-dimensional aspects of who our mothers can be: loving, narcissistic, secretive, abusive, protective, and, of course, amazing. No element of the mother is left unexamined, yet I think the purpose of Filgate’s anthology is not to answer every question, but rather impose that there will always be an intangible distance we share with our maternal parent.
Rectifying the differences we share with our mothers is one thing, but what Filgate and company collectively consider is the ability to disregard blood as the only receipt for family. “What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About” is haunting for the negative place in the middle of its title; the “Don’t” codifies the empty conversations we could have had with our mothers. Or should have had. Or would have had, if circumstances were better then. This can make the book a difficult read; the essays by Melissa Febos and Kiese Laymon especially were tumultuous in their deterioration. I want this to be a difficult read, though; if all the writers were holding back the harsh truths they had kept hidden for this anthology, then it would lose all sense of authority.
Maybe I make up for it by writing about my father and sister so much, but the internal tension I bear for writing about my mother is inherently preceded by our lack of talking. We don’t need to. And that’s fine. What we don’t talk about isn’t disclosed in some foregone location. What we don’t talk about is right here. What we don’t talk about is not lost in the space between us—now a distance both measurable and immeasurable—but rather lost within us. There are always words anyone could have to say in any situation. My parents always had so, so much to say at each other, virulent or not. But I just have nothing left to say.