Mother Memoir

MDMLynn Henriksen, aka The Story Woman, is a woman with a mission. As she explains in a blog post on Telltale, since her mother’s death over a decade ago, she has been collecting “Mother Memoir” stories. She publishes collections of these stories, and teaches people how to write them. Although I have not yet read it, her newly released how-to book, TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir, is said to be a comprehensive guide to remembering and capturing the essence of your mother’s story – and probably your own in the process.

Memoirs about mothers abound. Since nobody came into this life without a mother, it’s hard to imagine writing a book-length memoir that didn’t mention the author’s mother at least in passing, but some dwell on the mother-child relationship in more depth than others. recently posted a list of “10 of the Best Memoirs About Mothers.” Many titles may be new to you, but chances are you’ve read (or at least heard of) The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. The Flavorwire list barely scratches the surface. Carol O’Dell’s memoir, Mothering Mother, is a heart-rending read, and Linda Joy Myer's’ volume, Don’t Call Me Mother (soon to be re-released with additional chapters) is a fine example of writing about a darker type of maternal relationship.

While the volumes I just mentioned are book-length, even single-page memories and stories are a worthy tribute to the woman who brought you into the world and shaped your life. When I say tribute, I don’t necessarily mean accolade. Whether rosy or dark, your stories should reflect the truth of your mother as you knew her.

The fact is, stories without shadows and shape tend to be flat and uninteresting. Ann Lamott explains this in one of her books – I don’t remember which. Her novel Rosie is modeled on her family, with twists. She explained some of them. The mother in Rosie has one nostril larger than the other. She did this to give her more interest and character. Ann did similar things with behavioral and emotional quirks. Your mother may not have unbalanced nostrils, but she will have distinctive traits and quirks. Use these to add interest and color to your story. Don’t just tell how loving she was. Include a little conflict and tension, thus showing her as real and human.

And definitely include snippets of daily life. That which you took for granted back then has already changed dramatically and will continue to do so. Let future generations know what ordinary life was like “back then.”

Whether your mother sported a halo or horns, hopefully you’ll show her foibles with compassion and understanding, as Jonna Ivin does in Will Love For Crumbs and Linda Joy Myers does in Don’t Call Me Mother.

If you have accolades, what better time to record them than this Mother’s Day season? If your memories are more tender and sore, writing about them may help you shift your perspective and find the understanding and compassion that can sooth many of those raw memories. Whatever the case, your story or stories will make an important contribution to your legacy of personal and family history for future generations.

Write now: make a list of key memories involving you and your mother. Select one and write about it. Include details of the scene where it takes place. Include some dialogue and show what your mother looked like. Give a sense of her emotional state – and yours as you interacted in this scene.

Photo: Marjorie Melton. Happy Mother’s Day Mom, your memory lives on.


Linda Austin said...

I like this post and your words of advice in writing real. You inspired my own Mother's Day blog post. And thanks for putting Lynn Henriksen on my radar.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks Linda. I appreciate what you said in your post, and you point out the need to clarify one thing. My point about shadows should not be construed as meaning happy is boring. Stories about healthy, functional mothers who do a stellar job of raising fabulous children can be fascinating if they are well-written. Any life has challenges and tension to form the shadows that make the story compellingly believable. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Lynn Henriksen said...

Dear Sharon,
Thank you so much for letting people know TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir is now out there to help them get to the heart of writing about their mothers. Many of your statements echo mine, or mine, yours! I believe writing about one's mother is the best, really the only, place to start when writing nonfiction or fiction. Understanding unfolds on the deepest personal levels as we journey with our mothers in memoir.
Keeping Spirits Alive,

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for your thoughts Lynn. It's amazing how assembling fragments of Mother Memory can change an overall POV, usually for the better.