I am impressed, and humbled, by the memoir “Swamp Songs,” by Sheryl St. Germain. Incredible. There is so much to comment on: the dance of the tenses, the deliciously poetic style and the way she layers stories upon stories. Not to mention the rich metaphors and symbols - food and place and body. The structure is true to the content, a life size bowl of gumbo. But the thing that impresses me the most is the bone deep honesty.
I have to wonder … will I ever have the skill to weave my, and my family’s, flaws and gifts into my memoir? Will I have the nerve? The level of honesty found in this memoir brings up a few concerns for me. One is that I have a strong drive toward being good (never really good enough, but that’s another matter) and then, of course, to describe the people I love in a good light. A midwestern good. I could no more notice, or write about, my mother’s “bedroom eyes,” or my own sweating and bleeding, then fly in the air. Let alone how one might use a tongue. And, in truth, I doubt I’d ever attend the whip laden Mardi Gras described in the book. I find that edge, that place where someone might get hurt, even if that hurt is embarrassment, too scary. But that’s me.
Another related concern is for my family - the privacy issue, the exposure. As Sheryl mentioned the other day in a blog about her son, there’s a need to express something deep and real yet honor the privacy of those we love. I am not sure where I will land on this issue. I can see the importance of honoring privacy but if doing so creates too much distance from the raw truth then the writing will be bland, useless. “Swamp Songs” has certainly set the bar high.
Let me give it a try here, a small step for a new blogger, and see how it goes.
I am experiencing what has been called a “developmentally premature loss” – my seventeen-year-old son is now living away from home. It’s sad but it is the right thing for him to do. He is living at his girlfriend’s house. She is sixteen and eight months pregnant. I am proud of him and I am resisting it. I am handling it well, I am messing it up.
Last night S and his girlfriend, M, were here for dinner. As P and I were preparing dinner and setting the table, I got a wave of anger: here we are hosting … hosting my own, still young, son. Shouldn’t we be arguing about doing dishes and homework, or whether he can have the car tonight? And yet, I know on some level that it is the right thing to do, it is one of the only ways we can stay connected. M doesn’t feel all that comfortable here, won’t spend the night. (I remember well the discomfort I felt at my boyfriend’s house when I was her age - I get it…) So, I know by doing this, by hosting, by treating them like guests, I am handling it well. But then, during dinner, my son starts picking at his face. Acne, after all, does not recognize or honor the adult world he has jumped into. I could not resist asking him not to pick at his face at the table. Suddenly, I am messing it up … just like that. It is such a tenuous balance.
There, I’ve tried it. I’ve probably said too much. I will just have to see if I can live with this over the next few days. If you return to my blog and it’s gone, you’ll know why.