Sharing a writing project with my mother was a remarkable experience. It allowed our relationship to grow in a way that would otherwise not have been possible. It prompted me to spend over a thousand hours listening while she told and re-told all the family anecdotes. More than that, however, it pushed our relationship to a new level as I constantly asked her how various incidents had made her feel. As we worked together, her stories grew from simply telling what had happened to creating an entire scene, complete with settings, characterizations, and, most importantly, with the emotions underlying each incident.
The most difficult aspect of this was learning to see my father through my mother’s eyes. I’d long since grown beyond a sensitivity to the ick factor of thinking of my parents as sexual beings, but there’s a difference between being able to accept that theoretically and trying to get inside my mother, to feel what she felt when she thought about my father.
We started with the romance, how she first got to know him in high school. They were in a public speaking class together and she liked him right from the start. She was shy, he was outgoing. Beyond that very major difference, though, they were a lot alike, sharing a love for the theater and dance. But she felt inadequate, that he was out of her league. She knew he was handsome, but didn’t feel beautiful herself, painfully aware that she didn’t match the movie star glamour of actresses who were taller and bigger busted than she was.
When they were both cast in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” they would walk together to the bus stop when rehearsal was over and he would talk non-stop. Sometimes he’d explain the play to her, finding the language easier to comprehend than she did. She was in awe of his intellect, believing that he was way ahead of her in all subject areas, not realizing that in his own, naïve way, he was wooing her.