I’m fascinated by how people’s lives either echo or repudiate their parents’ lives… We can repeat our parent’s mistakes or we can bend over backwards not to repeat them and end up making mistakes of contrariness, but either way, we’re still under their influence. – Anne Tyler
I’ve been known to half-jokingly say that I received an informal crash course in child psychology, sexual politics, and gender studies from staying home with my children for ten years. It’s no surprise, then, that these were the themes that cropped up in my earlier short stories. My story “The Favor,” published in the current issue of Epiphany Magazine, centers around a woman who might have accidentally orchestrated the kidnapping of her child as a way to teach her ex-husband a lesson; “At the Zoo,” published in the November 2015 issue of Gravel, centers around a twenty-year-old women’s studies major trying to decide if she should have an abortion; and “Just Don’t Ask Us What We Do All Day,” published in the Spring 2015 issue of The Los Angeles Review, features a group of stay-at-home moms attempting to plan the upcoming block party while a man dry humps a tree nearby.
I’m now a Humanities Ph.D. student, which means that, in some ways, I get to go back and re-explore my undergraduate career and take the classes I failed to take (ahem, Dante and the Purgatorio) and also enroll in those classes not even being offered back in the late ‘90s (hello, women’s and gender studies classes.)
I recently started working on a new project, a hybrid novel/short story collection. Even though I’m generally wary of discussing works in progress (too much chatter in the planning stages can bring on writer’s block for me) I do feel comfortable sharing that the new WIP is about a couple who falls in love at an inopportune time. The middle section of the book is tentatively titled “What could have been, should have been, or might still be” and is a series of short stories revolving around these same characters. In some of the stories, the main characters never meet, in some they do but are in very different life circumstances than the novel. The idea for this novel had been percolating in my mind for some time but starting a novel is such a big undertaking that I kept talking myself out of it. Novels require so much attention! They’re such needy, grabby little things. I’ve heard working on a novel described different ways: it’s like being a sleep-deprived parent of a newborn while working two jobs, it’s like attempting to wrangle an octopus into a box, it’s like trying to hold onto two handfuls of Jell-o. In other words, you better be all in or not even bother.
And then last year I heard an NPR interview with Gloria Steinem. I listened to it several times, and each time I was struck by something new. I liked the frankness with which she spoke about her unusual upbringing, and the kindness she had for her parents despite their flaws, and I kept thinking about how she dedicated her most recent memoir, My Life on the Road, to the doctor who performed her (then illegal) abortion in England when she was 22. She says he asked two things of her: that she never reveal his name (she waited until she was sure he wasn’t alive before publishing the book) and that she do what she wanted with her life.
Somehow, as these things happen, the interview with Gloria Steinem became conflated with the story of the couple I wanted to write about. Maybe the protagonist in my story was the daughter of a famous feminist. And maybe this man she meets is writing a biography about her mother. These two characters started to slowly come into focus, and I went and tracked down the quote from the quote from Anne Tyler at the beginning of this post, which I read several years ago. What would it be like to be the daughter of a famous feminist? How would that shape the child? Would the mother feel held back by having a child? Would she feel attuned to the rights of women differently as a mother herself? And how can a person ever know if he or she has truly done what that doctor asked of Gloria Steinem all those years ago – what does “doing what you want with your life” actually look like?
In many ways I’ll still be writing about families and sexual politics and children and all the things I’m naturally drawn to with this new project. What’s exciting to me is the potential to bring in research on the feminist movement from the ‘60s and ‘70s, something I’m embarrassed I know very little about – but am looking forward to correcting.
To hear the interview with Gloria Steinem: http://www.npr.org/2016/08/26/491349663/feminist-gloria-steinem-finds-herself-free-of-the-demands-of-gender