“What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About”

Michele Filgate (far right) reading her essay in her anthology, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, with fellow essayees Leslie Jamison (middle right) and Melissa Febos (middle left), and moderator/author Dani Shapiro (far left).

Last Tuesday, I went up to New York City for the launch of What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, an essay anthology edited by Michele Filgate, my first essay instructor.

This event meant so much to me because it meant so much to Michele—her Longreads essay of the same title went viral in October 2017. It’s a powerful one that took her over a decade to write. She said she thought it was going to be about her abusive stepfather, but it wound up being about her mother, who she still has a checkered relationship with (and is still with that abusive stepfather).

Great turnout at McNally Jackson in SoHo for Michele’s book launch

Really great turnout (I had to stand in an awkward place)

When I took Michele’s Creative Nonfiction class online at Sackett Street, it was my first foray into personal essay. It was February 2017, I was still getting used to “New DC” after having been back for only a couple of months, and I was still really bruised from my horrible work experience. Michele was a lifesaver—taking her class at the moment I did was truly divine providence.

She encouraged us to write what we were afraid of. Now, I like to tell myself that I am fearless, something I’ve purported since I watched a car go up in flames outside of a burger joint in rural Virginia when I was in fifth grade. But when it came to my career, I was crippled. I felt I couldn’t write about my job because I would be blackballed and “never work in this town again” if I told the world what had happened to me and how I felt about it.

Writing from that place of fear not only helped me overcome it—I no longer care what my old employer thinks of me; they have no power over me, not even in the form of references—it also helped the thousands of people who read that essay. Think about that: one woman telling another to write into her fears helped heal thousands of people. DIVINE PROVIDENCE.

A few of us from Michele’s Catapult class at AWP 2018

I believe What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About will do the same thing. I have a great mother, but I know not everyone does, and even those who do have complexities and secrets in our relationships. Telling our stories helps us feel like we’re not alone. And when we feel like we’re not alone, we don’t feel shame. And when we don’t feel shame, we can move freely throughout the world as ourselves, authentically.

All I can say is an incredibly huge thanks to Michele, who knocked down the first domino in a powerful chain in my life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s