Beware Your Mother’s Look of Death

Writers are always urged to tell the truth, and to use Concrete Sensory Details. But memoirists often run into trouble as they write about their lives. Boy, I so get that one. I wrote an essay I called “My Beautiful Mother,” for an anthology. When it was published, I had the opportunity to read my work aloud at a bookstore event. My problem? After years of living 1500 miles away from Mom, she’d moved to my city, and was excited to attend the reading.
I stood in front of the mic, avoiding eye contact with Mom, looking perky in her aqua pantsuit. At least I tried not to look at her, but I couldn’t help it. When Mom gives me “The Look of Death,” I know better than to not pay attention.
Years of discomfort come home to roost when you start writing about your relatives. When writers ask me how they can possibly reveal family secrets in their memoirs, I usually quote one of Anne Lamott’s brilliant lines: “If my relatives didn’t want me to write about them, they should’ve behaved better.” That always gets at least a nervous laugh, because when you write about MOM (and don’t most of us have in-teresting moms?), you’d better be in great physical shape. In case you have to break into a run.
So I stood trembling, hoping her hearing had been suffering lately. Nope.
When I got to the line in my essay, “She (Mom) has to draw on her eyebrows,” I could tell I was dead meat.
I diverted attention by suddenly dropping the book, but Mom’s watchful eye never wavered. Afterward, driving her back to her place, she was quiet most of the way. I thought I was home free. Then she turned, her perky aqua pantsuit still unwrinkled and pristine. I gripped the steering wheel harder.
“You know,” she said sweetly, “I don’t HAVE to draw on my eyebrows.” She paused, a sliver of smirk edging her ruby-red lips. “And if I did, I sure wouldn’t tell everybody in the world about it.” She folded her hands and stared out her window until we got to her apartment. I wanted to shout, “I called the story ‘My BEAUTIFUL Mother.'” But somehow I’d lost my voice.
I’m telling you this as a warning, people. While famous people like Anne Lamott might be able to withstand “The Look of Death,” I’m certain that most of you are cowards like me.
That day, I dragged my sorry self home, and vowed to never again write about my relatives. Especially Mom. Once inside, I ran to the bathroom and inspected my eyebrows.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

3 comments on “Beware Your Mother’s Look of Death

  1. I don’t even have to write about my mother to get the look of death. 🙂 She was visiting me a couple of weekends ago (first time she’s been to my place in two years) and she had recently read my new book in which I use the word “cr*p” on more than one occasion. She says (ever so sweetly), “I loved your book, but your language. Didn’t we teach you better than that?” To which I answered, “You should have seen what they made me take out.” I’m lucky she didn’t wash my mouth out with soap…

    • Which is why I never use words that will make Mom give the LOOK OF DEATH! Or, as a family member has reminded me, the HAND TO BUTT TALK. Thanks for your comment, Leah. I know I’m not alone. ~Linda Clare, aka Miss Crankypants.

  2. I was scanning the list of your archived blogs, Miss CP, and I spotted Anne Lamott’s name. Had to read what you said about Ms Lamott, supreme mistress of language and wit. What a writing superstar! I adore the Anne Lamott quote.

    Anyway, so sorry I missed this one first time around. My mother is gone, (God rest her sweet soul) so now I can tell the stories about how she couldn’t pronounce “quiche” so she called it a “quickie” and always thought my answering machine was a “Service,” no matter how often I tried to correct her. She simply couldn’t imagine how we could afford a “Service.” Weren’t they terribly expensive?

    So save the eyebrow stories. There’ll come a bittersweet time when you can share them without fear of getting, “The Look of Death,” or being called by your entire first-middle-last name.

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