I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
June 1, 2019: Michele Filgate
In the plane train at the Atlanta airport, a flight attendant said, “That looks like a good book.” I looked down to see the bright pink book in my hand. What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About, edited by Michele Filgate. When I nodded, she took a photo of it for her book group. And, really, how could it not be good–fifteen writers writing about what they can’t talk about with their mothers. As the epigraph states,
Because it is a thousand pities never to say what one feels… –Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway)
It took Michele twelve years to write the title essay that led to the anthology. “There’s a relief in breaking the silence,” she writes. “This is also how we grow.” Michele credits Jo Ann Beard’s collection The Boys of My Youth for showing her “what a personal essay can really be: a place where a writer can lay claim for control over their own story.”
In Michele’s essay, originally published in Longreads in 2017, she describes the sound of silence after her step-father loses his temper.
It sounds like an egg cracked once against a porcelain bowl. It sounds like the skin of an orange, peeled away from the fruit. It sounds like a muffled sneeze in church.
Cathi Hanauer has to write about her father to even get to her mother. Which has always been the problem.
So I emailed my mother, saying I’m writing about the things we don’t talk about, and would she be willing to, well, talk to me about them. She said yes.
Melissa Febos writes, “What we didn’t talk about were the things I designated… I could only tell her the truth when I faced it.”
Alexander Chee writes about calling his mother the night before his first novel is published to talk to her about what he has not yet been able to talk to her about.
Dylan Landis slips in and out of the past. As a girl, she would notice the muscles around her mother’s mouth, how they would sometimes soften. “I wonder if she holds her face in a pleasant posture for us much of the time.”
Kiese Laymon started writing to his mother at the age of 12, writing that became the memoir Heavy.
In writing the book, I discovered that I’d never been honest with anyone on earth.
I first discovered Carmen Maria Machado at AWP a couple of months ago. She was signing books next to the Writing by Writers’ booth and the line was l o n g… Now here she is again just a few months later. She and her mother do not speak anymore.
I think of her distantly, like someone I knew from an intro-to-biology class my first semester in college, instead of the woman who raised me.
Brandon Taylor, whose first book is forthcoming from Riverhead Books, writes of details and truth and of course, his mother.
She loved to tell stories. She believed in magic. Nobody stood up for her so she had to stand up for herself, and after a while, she got tired of standing.
The ending of his essay is one of the best things about this book.
And there are so many others writing about what they never have before–Leslie Jamison, Bernice L. McFadden, Julianna Baggott, Lynn Steger Strong, Nayomi Munaweera, Andre Aciman, and Sari Botton.
Michele Filgate is a contributing editor at Literary Hub, and she teaches creative nonfiction at the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. Only weeks ago, she completed the first year of the NYU MFA program, where she is the recipient of the Stein Fellowship. In an interview at The Rumpus, she said,
Books are the other way I make sense of my pain [therapy being the first]. My boyfriend says that I’m most myself when I’m reading. I think he’s right. That’s when I feel at home in the world.
In 2016, Brooklyn Magazine named her one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture.” What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About is her first book and a collection that will make you think–about what you and your mother don’t talk about and what you do, about what you wish you could and why you don’t.
Read how MICHELE FILGATE spends her days.