Monday, May 13, 2013

5 Things I Learned About Writing (And Life) From My Mom

Happy Mothers day yesterday. I hope it was a fabulous one.

So, there is kind of a lot to be said on Mothers Day. So much that it kind of feels easier to just say nothing at all, but we're gonna try. A lot of us do not come from what is normally called a "traditional" family background, and as someone who can't have kids, I do appreciate the thoughts I saw yesterday about celebrating moms of all kind--single moms, adopted moms, grandmothers, long-gone moms. There are moms who are in prison and moms who abandoned you and moms who gave you up for adoption and addicted moms. I guess my point is that no matter what type of mother you have, or what type of relationship you have with your mother, we are all shaped by our mothers more than we even think, and that includes writing. Today I wanted to talk about how I have become the type of writer that I am because of my mom.

1. Relationships are the most important thing: I think if you took a survey, a much larger segment of the population will say they believe that relationships are the most important thing than actually think or behave as if they really are. My mom is not one of those people. She cannot think in any other way than this--aggressively so. If we are at the airport waiting to pick up my grandma and two older ladies look lost and ask where they might find a taxi, she will not just smile and say, honestly, she's not sure, like I would. She will say, I think I may have seen a sign on the lower level, let me just go check for you. We will not have left the airport before these ladies are taken care of. She is not okay, will not sleep, if she thinks one of her kids is in pain. So what does this have to do with writing? I think this has influenced the types of stories I am drawn to. I love more than anything the little moments that reveal the relationships between two characters--father and son moments in Gilead, the pining in Persuasion or Frasier, the unique understanding and friendship in Sherlock. In the show House, I watched much more for the moments between House and Wilson or House and Cuddy than any of the medical drama.

2. Effervescence: Someone in a blog interview once described my style as "effervescent" and asked where that came from and that was a no-brainer answer for me. It is hard for me to describe really how effervescent, how passionate, my mom is, but anyone who has met her even for a minute knows exactly what I mean. You can hear it in the timbre of her voice, especially when she is talking about a show she saw or a memory from the past or a hard time she's having with someone or when she's talking to her sisters. I have actually spent a long time thinking of how to describe her voice, and today at church I think I found the right metaphor. It is a lot like staring at the sun. You have to glance away every once in a while, for a moment sun-blind, but it is also this light by which you see everything else. And really, why live life any less than this?

3. Which details matter: I think we all get our aesthetic for detail from our parents. For me, it connects back to point number one. The details that matter matter because they mean something maybe sentimental, or more than they really are, to someone. Sneaking bites of brownie from the fridge downstairs, funnel cake at Disneyland, how she and my aunt used to dance to Billy Joel in the hall outside their older sisters bedroom door. Quoting Jim Carrey in The Grinch about twenty million times every Christmas. Maybe we can't explain why exactly the details that stick out to us stick out to us, but I know I got it in large part from my mom.

4. By your own bootstraps: My mom is not an excuse person. I've had siblings lose phone privileges because of bad grades. Every minute past curfew, without at least calling ahead, is a day grounded. If one of us gets ourselves into a hard situation we have to live with the consequences, she is not going to come in and "rescue" any of us. She will always be there to support us and help us, but we always have to put in the work. In writing it is the same. No one is going to hand us success, and we are not entitled to it, but it is guaranteed to anyone who puts in the time and the work.

5. Why art matters: My mom studied acting in college, and one of her professors once told her that good acting, putting yourself out there and showing that vulnerability to your audience, is an act of service. It is a way of putting an arm around a lonely soul, or giving a struggling person context and perspective to help them cope Books are just the same. I've said it many times before and I'll say it again (well, okay, C. S. Lewis said it): We read to know we're not alone.

I know everybody says they are the luckiest to have the mom they have, but I really do feel like it's as if I'm Jonas in The Giver and my mom is the difference between seeing the world with and without color. Color can be a turbulent, soul-shaking thing, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Me, my mom, my aunt and my grandma. 
This may be one of my favorite pictures ever.

Sarah Allen


  1. You're adorable. You've got a great mom and it shines through you.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  2. That picture is wonderful and truly "effervescent." You are one lucky lady.

    Happy Mother's Day!

  3. That picture is sooo fun! What a blessing to have such an inspiring mother. Yay! She obviously prepared you well for your artist's life.

  4. A very nice tribute to your mom.

  5. beautiful lessons! what a great life! thanks for sharing it with us!

  6. That picture is fantastic! It shows your personalities and the love and fun between you all. :)

  7. I like that your mum supports you but won't wade in and pick up the pieces for you. I hope I'm the same with my own children.

  8. Great post. It sounds like you have a great relationship with your mum.


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