Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Their Daughter the Writer

Chanukah is finally here, and you know what that means: family dinners. And because my parents are divorced, the family dinners are doubled. So this past weekend I spent the second night of Chanukah with my mother and the third with my father, and I couldn't help but laugh at how different the two evenings were. Besides the fact that my father is an accountant who reads biographies of dead presidents and listens to country music and my mother is a therapist who attends yoga and Buddhist meditation groups, the way they speak of me and show their support is very different.

My mother thinks everything I do is wonderful. She subscribes to Time Out, Crimespree and buys whichever issue of Curve I have written for. She speaks of my work as if it deserves a National Book Award, as if getting a 200-word book review published in Crimespree is a feat only to be accomplished by the most talented of writers. To tell you the truth, I could vomit on a piece of paper, hand it to her, and she'd say how she loves my experimental writing style and my willingness to take risks in my work. After dinner and presents, she proceeded to take out her box filled with my publications and pass them around so the family could read. Nicole, of course, gives me the look that I've seen a million times, the one that says, "No wonder you have such a swelled head!" But we all need this person in our lives, the blind cheerleader who will always tell us how wonderful we are, even if we suck.

My father, on the other hand, is more practical. He wants to know how much I get paid for each publication and gauges his support from there. He is more impressed that I am able to support myself financially than he was when I got an agent. I hear him on the phone, telling his friends proudly, "Yup, she's finally off my tab." A whole different type of support. And at this dinner, as I am grilled about the status of my novel and my father makes suggestions about grad school, Nicole gives me a completely different look. It is the look that I've seen a million times, one that says, "Don't worry, I think you're wonderful." But we all need this person in our lives, the skeptic that you want to prove wrong by actually being successful. Sometimes this is what drives me, more than making my mother proud because that is easy. Sometimes I am driven by my stubborn determination to prove my father wrong, and this can be just as effective.

Whenever I talk to writers, especially ones that are still working toward publication, I love hearing about their parents and what they think of their children's writing. My friend Marcus, always raves about how supportive his parents are, how they are always his first readers, whereas Dennis Lehane says that his father still asks when he is going back to teaching to earn a steady living. Some parents think their writer offspring are ruining their lives while others think they are G-d's gift to the literary world. My mother would buy fifty copies of my book when it gets published, while I'm pretty sure my father would just get it at the public library. I could never publish anything and my mother would still think I'm talented. My novel could hit the NY times bestseller list and my father would still ask if I wanted to pick up some extra cash by helping him at his office.

Some may prefer one support method over the other, but I think having a mix works best, when you have one parent swelling your head and eliminating your insecurities before the other takes a pin and bursts your bubble, bringing you back down to earth.

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