Saturday I attended a writer’s conference. I had a long-standing commitment to participate on a panel with writers Cindy LaFerle and Lynne Cobb on women’s issues. The always fabulous Cindy LaFerle moderated the panel, so all I had to do was show up and say something smart. Not easy, but I’m a woman, I’ve been through stuff, I’ve written about it plenty.
I also had a spot in the bookstore, giving Luke a final push. Of all my novels, Luke’s #1 Rule has been the book closest to my heart. It’s got the most substance and I don’t just mean the various chemicals Spence ingests.
Like Chloe, I was once a single mother, so I talked about my real experience raising two little boys, trying to decide if dinner would be mac ‘n cheese or hot dogs. Chloe, I realized driving home from the conference, did not have to make hard choices about what to feed her kids. I had softened her life, given her the kind of support I didn’t get from her loving widowed mother, Ursula.
I made the story gritty for Spence, the ex-husband addict, but, except in love and work, I let Chloe way off the hook. She had a better job than mine as a secretary. As a “pink collar” worker, I was smack on the poverty line. Not so Chloe. She lived with her widowed mother, who handled childcare and cooking so Chloe could get on her feet as a single working mom.
My mom gave birth to me when she was 16. When I left my husband, she was not happy about it. She lashed out, saying she would not be babysitting while I “went off to work.” This was a hurtful thing to hear, not that I had asked. I never had any intention to ask. But that remark made me create Ursula, a grandmother in the most selfless sense of the word. In real life, I had already arranged childcare before my mother’s remark. It was after school, until my dragon boss would let me go home. Yeah, the employer in the opening of Luke is based on the type of men I have worked for most of my adult life. Entitled, uncaring, unconcerned about my small children and smaller paychecks.
This post is a direct result of Cindy LaFerle’s “Writing Memoir” workshop. Cindy’s talk gave me the courage to write about real things in my past I have always preferred to fictionalize. Creating Chloe and Ursula was a way to mother myself, to live in a world for awhile with a happier alternative to the stark truth of being a single mom with nobody on your side.
It only occurred to me as I drove home from that conference that I didn’t do anybody any favors by softening the truth of what it means to be a single mom. Certainly not single mothers looking for some comfort. Of course, single moms in Detroit can’t afford to buy novels. And if they can, they don’t have time to read them.