Conversations with Mom
A Letters to a Young Poet for Today
About Conversations with Mom
This epistolary exchange between unemployed writer/editor/former actress Betsy Robinson and her dead mother begins where the website story Marbles ends.
Q: Is it channeled?
Betsy Robinson: No. No more than any other writing is. I have no idea how writing happens. You sit, you stare into space for long periods of time, you lie on your couch, you go to the bathroom and drink lots of coffee, and suddenly there’s a surge. While it’s happening, you sweat, you feel excited, and then it’s over. And then comes the rewriting. And more rewriting. And more. You get the picture. Where channeling comes in, or if there even is such a thing, I have no idea.
Q: So what is an “epistolary work of fiction”? Did you make that up?
Betsy Robinson: According to some sources, the epistolary novel was the first novel. It became popular in the eighteenth century and was a book that comprised the letters of one, two, or three or more people. My book is not really a novel, so I call it a “work of fiction.” As the back cover says, I used real source material from diaries, a scrapbook, and documents that either I or my mother had saved. I also made up a lot of stuff and edited and rewrote whenever I felt like it.
One of my favorite books was the epistolary work Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke which I carried with me like a talisman when I was in my twenties. I gave it away sometimes, too, and kept buying new copies. My present copy fell out my window one night and lay in the snow in my downstairs neighbor’s backyard. It is in such bad shape I could never give it away, so I still have it.
Another of my favorite books is the Bhagavad Gita, a dialog between reluctant warrior Arjuna and the god Krishna, who explains why Arjuna should get his chariot moving and, for goodness sake, fight.
Conversations with Mom is nothing like Letters to a Young Poet or the Bhagavad Gita. Except if you imagine Rilke/Krishna as a wild, terrified, beautiful woman who came of age in the forties only to become a drunk and then a sober, somewhat crazy lioness in the seventies, who joined forces with a poet/Arjuna who happened to be her daughter (moi), a wild, terrified, uniquely attractive young woman who came of age in the seventies, worked at a lot of jobs, then got laid off in the Great Recession, and at the age of sixty, wondered how the hell she was going to exist for the rest of her hopefully long life.
Q: Who’d you write this book for and why would people like it?
Conversations with Mom offers some wisdom, I hope—to people of every age, but particularly to those of us who expect that we should be mentors or crones or at least grown-ups by the time we are on the cusp of being really old. It's a book for people who enjoy introspection and prefer difficult truths to shallow explanations. It also chronicles the rather unique and funny relationship I had with my mother as well as my fun dysfunctional family history. So in that way, it’s a quasi-fictional-epistolary memoir. (Say that ten times fast.)
I’m tight as a girdle. How do I accept love?
Dear Potato Face,
Just say “thank you,” then shut up.
From the chapter “Worthiness”:
I wish I could have taught you to feel worthy, but I didn’t have it in me to teach. I cannot teach it to you now. Finding that is your job. But I can tell you that there are no accidents. It is not a mistake that you are alive and well. Nor is it luck. Can you believe that? Can you believe that an incomprehensible matrix of forces has created the fact that you are alive and well, and your own actions are a part of that, but hardly all? Can you believe that something that is you but is much more than you could be intelligent and compassionate and intentionally kind? Why is it so for you and not those who suffer unspeakable injustices? That I can’t answer. Some people say it’s karma from other lives, some believe it’s “God’s will.” Some try to give the suffering purpose in order to tell a story about it that makes human sense. I can do none of those things.
All I can tell you is that you are who you are because it is right. You have the life you have because you are part of something much bigger than you can imagine, and the part you play requires the life you have. It has nothing to do with being worthy or unworthy. It simply is. My life simply was. I did the best I could. You are doing the same, are you not? Let that be enough.