Saturday, May 7, 2022

My mother's complicated life

This is my mother in Levittown, Long Island, the year before I was born. I love her expression in this photo. A kind of take no prisoners look.  A little sultry.  Slightly angry.  

She came of age during the 1940's.  She graduated with a generation of women who worked during the war. They traveled. They attended dances and parties, and yes, they also struggled and suffered and did without luxuries as part of the war effort. But for some (including my mother) it was a time of great hope.  They believed that things would be different after this--once the world saw how much they could do--working at Sikorsky Helicopter in Stratford and General Electric in Bridgeport. In the case of my mother, she was not in the factory, but rather in the pink collar ghetto, as a secretary. But, still. There was a certainty that things would be different with her generation. 

And that smirk?

Maybe it's because things were not all that different. After the war, she married my father, and moved to Brooklyn. She got a job as a secretary at Pan Am in New York City, but when she got pregnant and she still wanted to stay at her job, she told her boss this. The Pam Am executive shook his head and told her that once his wife was pregnant, she quit and stayed home. Looking at my mother as if to say--hint, hint. You should quit.  Let your husband support you! 

And during this time, she actually made more money than my father did at his job. 

But, it was never about the money for my mother. It was about the freedom.  Riding the subway.  (Don't laugh, because--yes, riding the subway can feel like freedom), lunch at Schrafft's, a weekly paycheck, and free airfare to anywhere in the world she might want to go, should she decide to take advantage of this wonderful Pan Am perk.

But she didn't stay long enough and the perk and Pan Am and riding the subway was replaced with a little Levitt House, a child, a kiddie pool and the sick sense that something was not right and that perhaps she had been tricked.

My mother became depressed. A "kindly" doctor suggested pills. It started with Miltown and then Dexymil--and then well, too many to mention--because, after all, it takes a lot of medication to subdue a smart, highly creative, very vocal woman.

This is not the story I planned to write today. This is private stuff, but I am writing it because as women (and as human beings) we find ourselves at this juncture once again. Our freedom is being threatened.

For you, my Creative Friends--my advice is simple. 

Be difficult.  Be sulky and snarky and complicated.

Protect the part of yourself that is considered "difficult." And more importantly, protect the work you produce out of that part of you. It's your creative wellspring. And it's your gold.

Creative friends--your assignment for this week is to take the complicated story of your mother and look at it with an open heart and an incisive mind. I want you to take what you know about her--her style, her language, her sense of right and wrong, her voice, her mystery, her unease and especially her so-called difficult nature--and then, I want you to swallow it whole. Imbibe it as if it were a powerful elixir. 

Because, you know what--it is.




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