This is the first installment of my column, CNF 500. The column will deal with topics related to anything and everything creative nonfiction, and will be 500 words. As essays editor of The Nervous Breakdown, I’m always ready to consider essay submissions of any length for publication. Please email essays to ekleinman at thenervousbreakdown dot com.
I’m going to tell my mom about my writing.
We’re in the International District in Seattle. It’s January. I’ve always liked these types of outings with her. We took the bus from Lynnwood. I’m wearing her coat because I live in Austin, Texas and I don’t have anything warm to wear. It’s a black coat from JCPenney with huge pockets and a fluffy hood.
I’ve wanted to tell her for a while, but I’ve held back. I’m writing a lot of stuff she might not like. She wants to be perceived as competent and practical. She’s not big on vulnerability. For background, I can tell you that no one modeled it for her. I can tell you stories. Like how she fell through a frozen lake when she was five because she wandered away from her house, while her mother slept because she was so depressed. A stranger saved her and brought her home, to my grandmother’s shock. My grandparents treated feelings as unmentionable; shameful. This used to pain me, on my mother’s behalf. It still does sometimes.
But I’m forty now, with my own kids. I have my disappointments about how I was raised. I’m also thankful for certain things, like how she always sticks up for herself and doesn’t take any shit. The woman can stand her ground, and she showed me how.
So even though I am sorry for her and I’m not yet immune to her guilt trips, I’m ready to be fearlessly up-front, the way she raised me to be.
We’re in a Japanese import store, Uwajimaya. We’re looking at tiny animal erasers. She wants to buy something for the kids.
I’m waiting for a good opening. She mentions that a friend of hers writes poetry. “Speaking of writing,” I say, “I’ve started writing again.”
She looks at me. “Have you published anything?”
“Yes, actually,” I say.
“Where.” She is holding a tiny elephant, monkey, and panda in her hand.
“Oh, Salon. The Rumpus. Other places.”
“What are you writing about?”
“Growing up. My sex life. My past as a stripper.”
She grimaces. “Well, I won’t be reading that.”
I’m relieved, but I don’t really believe her. I need to cover my ass. “Okay, Mom,” I say, “I’m going to remember that on January 5, 2014, you said you didn’t want to read any of my writing.”
“Fine,” she says. “You’re old enough to have a few secrets now.”
I was prepared to wade through her protests in a balanced, tai chi kind of way. If she asked to read my writing first, I would say, “Yes, I’ll let you read it first. I can’t promise I won’t publish it, but sure.” If she protested, I would say, “Mom, that’s what writers do. Write and share experiences.”
But she doesn’t mention it again. She buys the panda and monkey. We chat over tea at Kau Kau. I feel lighter; more at ease.
The erasers are a huge hit. The kids play with them until bedtime.