Textual Healing, Notes from the Mom Whose Pages Keep Changing
May 28, 2019 § 7 Comments
By Phyllis Brotherton
My adult son and I, at this chapter in our lives, have a “texting only” relationship. A few months ago, I completed the Afterword to my book using a series of our recent texts, both quoted and cryptic, with plenty of white space and ellipses. The underlying message of the Afterword: Things are not good between us.
The book manuscript finally concluded (once again), after years of writing, revising, restructuring, essays in/essays out, I celebrated; the Afterword somehow a “window out” for the reader and possibly for me. Along with celebrating the book’s completion, I also internally grieved, from the state of the estranged relationship with my son, a deeply intense saga encircling the globe, decades in the making, and far too complex to easily summarize. Hence, my book, Creating Artifacts, but also hence the rub. While abundant with actual requisite tension, I also had strived to write, as NPR once put it: a memoir that won’t make you want to slit your wrists. The Afterword, while definitely not a happy ending, helped accomplish this, I thought.
My despondency over that text exchange reverted my brain to analog, leading me to a favorite quiet tea house, with ten sharpened pencils and a lined, blank notebook in hand. Here in one sitting, I wrote a twenty page serial poem to my son, as raw and real as a hurt mother can be, full of self-acknowledgement for my failings, as well as a few of his. Did this poem belong in the book? I counted the sections, I counted my lyric essays. Maybe I’d insert these poetry sections between the essays as interludes – a sort of breather for the reader. Yes. No. Yes. No.
On another day, the editor of a respected literary press suggested lengthening the book. In roughly the same timeframe, a writer’s morning Facebook post stared up at me from my iPhone, a quote from Annie Dillard, “Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book: give it, give it all, give it now.” I followed these two pieces of advice and added essays I’d originally thought would be good for a follow-up book, lengthening my manuscript. Was it now too long? Did the essays really fit? Should I take this advice? Yes. No. Yes. No.
Though I continued to question myself, I knew I needed to move forward with a query letter and submissions. My book had been rejected a few times, but I had also made it into the final rounds of a few contests. Warm rejections fueled my fire to step up the pace and redouble my efforts to gain acceptance from a publisher.
Just before my son’s birthday on May 1, while I assemble a list of open reading periods and submission deadlines for my book, he texts me after a long silence. He apologizes for the previous texts. We dialogue. We exchange emoji hearts – well, I did. He’s not an emoji heart sort of guy.
Textual healing. It’s not seeing him or hugging him. But, I’ll take it.
My next thought: The Afterword! It’s not the ending. Is there such a thing as an After-Afterword?
Phyllis Brotherton received her MFA in Creating Writing from Fresno State University. Her work appears in Under the Gum Tree, Shark Reef, Entropy, Brevity Blog and elsewhere. She is currently marketing her book, Creating Artifacts, for publication. She can be contacted through Facebook, Instagram or by email, email@example.com.