the past is never not with us

This morning I wake up at the seaside. Although my Oakland block looks the same as it always does — early traffic rushing toward the 880, neighbors being walked by small dogs, trees leafed out bright green against the brick and concrete apartment buildings — the sky is clouded like a Parish painting and the air smells like the shore. It seems as though I could wander with the pup just another block or two and we’d be there in front of the biggest mother of all, pounded by surf and sunrise. Did San Francisco fall into the sea overnight? Did Oakland finally pull up a chair at the table of the Pacific?

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This Saturday, it’s time to gather again for Writing the Flood — we only have a few spaces left. This is our monthly, half-day writing group, a space to write in a room full of other fun, creative folks. Bring ideas for a new project, or the voices of those characters who’ve been rattling around in your head for a month — or just bring a notebook and let the prompts take you somewhere surprising. Join us!

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Are you still in the aftermath of mother’s day? I don’t know anyone who finds the second Sunday in May to be a day of pure celebration — well, that’s not true. But I know many more people for whom the day has some tinges (tinges?) of sorrow in it: for mothers gone, disconnected, passed away; for difficult relationships; for mothers who were neglectful or abusive; for mothers unknown or unknowable; for the mothers who never should have been mothers (and for ourselves, grateful to be alive nonetheless)–

I meet the day with trepidation because I think I will never have an unfraught relationship with my mother. I love her, we spoke on Sunday, and the conversation was good. She shows up. She asks how I’m doing. She wants to be of use. She tells me about her life with the family back there. So why would I feel verklempt when I hang up the phone? Isn’t this what I wanted? The chance to talk with her about what was going on in our lives now, without always having to fall back into talk of the past? But, of course, the fact is, the past is never not there with us, in any conversation we’ll ever have.

Last night, at Write Whole, I offered a prompt that consisted of quotes about mothers and mothering, and I ended up writing about my mother and I locked forever in the embrace of apology and accusation:

I lay claim to my mother’s story as if it were mine to tell — I have no home, no place to return to, but I put my popsicle-sticky hands on my mother’s story like I deserve to do so. I open her like a pantry, like a kitchen cabinet, i hang all her laundry out to dry. This is my compensation, in return for the years I spent being her husband’s amuse bouche. I cannot say who was the main course. This is a thin ice skating over the deep ocean of our sorrow. When we are in the same room, all she is ever saying is I’m Sorry; all I am ever saying is, Why did you let me go — why did you let me go? Sometimes I think other people can’t see that we are still that forty year-old woman with her arms wrapped tight around a wailing, en-stiffened twelve year-old girl. Sometimes even we forget that we are clutched that way, and have for so long that we do not know how to be anything else to one another.

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If mother’s day brings joy for you, take ten or so minutes today and write into that joy. If mother’s day brings sorrow or anger or disappointment or, more likely, some combination of all of the above (joy or celebration or honoring included!), give yourself some time to write into those feelings. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.

Thank you for naming and recognizing the mothering that you desire and deserve. Thank you for the words you find for all of it.

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