As the whirlwind tour is winding down for Praise of Motherhood, I was able to finish the book and can review it just under the wire of the end of the tour.
Living well takes practice, you know. It’s not all a ride that someone is going to take you on; you gotta take yourself on a path, even if it’s a fucked up path. (p. 152)
That quote is one of my favourite throughout the book. I think it sums up the feeling I got during the book – that things can be hard, and beautiful, and ugly, and really freaking uncertain. And yet, we take the path we do, and we have to both live with it and come to understand it. And Jourdan does that through writing about the loss of his mother and memories, thoughts, and grief that surfaces.
One of the things that struck me most about this book were the moments. That there was a lot of processing, wondering, places where Jourdan really examines his relationship to his mother, what that means, and who in the world was she outside of Mother? The moments that grabbed me the most were the ones that touched down into concrete moments and pictures of his world. It gave me a sense of both what it meant for Sophie to be both His Mother and Not His Mother. This particular excerpt was lovely:
[My mother] let us sulk after our tantrums, work through the misunderstandings. She sighed a great deal and cleaned up a good deal more and every day told us she loved us. Through those superhuman efforts, she made us the only normal family around.
We – my sister and I, the dogs, the cats and hamsters – all conspired to make the house a mess. I used to burn things. My sister scribbled things on the antique furniture. The dogs shat in shoes and the cats scratched at one of the couches. The hamsters escaped from their cages and nibbled their way into the yellow flowery curtains. And there were chinchillas in cages always kicking sand around, birds spitting out seeds, fish forever dying. Hard work. (p. 39)
Those descriptions, while they weren’t exact of my own childhood, were a poignant reminder of what makes a life and how messy and complicated it can get. And that sometimes, those moments are really superhuman efforts.
While Jourdan doesn’t necessarily know what went on in his mother’s mind, the explorations of her potential thoughts and possible life scenarios feel true to the bone. They feel like questions and explorations I’d like to make, if I had the bravery to do so.
The monks were singing in Russian, and she understood, but she did not care about the words, or even the melody, but only what the singing represented; submission to a thing so frightening it could only destroy. Her view on the matter of God, for so long a pleasant one, was shattered. (p. 77)
But, reading through this memoir, the questions that he has been left with and that he works through (spoiler: there really are no answers), but in some ways, it’s a kick in the ass asking me, “How much do you know?”
And yet, though there has been no end to the horror of the world being motherless, everything is creeping back to normal. I find new ways of mourning and cannot let go of the suffering, it only feels correct to writhe, but I am again attending to daily chores, making new promises to new people, and the mourning has become a new way of being, purposeless, leading to no loosening of the knot. I am mourning because it feels good to mourn, because it prolongs the pain.
And this baffles me – I suppose this is no way to grieve, but it feels like the only honest way to do it. (p. 122)
And he is honest. The books feels like it’s no-holds-barred, that honesty is the way this gets written, and that we get through. It’s the honesty that will give us the most insight. That said, I also found the instances where Jourdan wants to “rewrite” things, wants to change them, or at least? Find the uncertainties.
Because the past seems to inconclusive, so full of little uncertainties that grow bigger every time one thinks about them, it becomes almost a game to see if a knot can be tied around the past to choke it, kill it and examine the contents of everything that has been without worrying about it biting back. (p. 141)
There was no biting, but there was a lot of thought – and will continue to be a lot of thinking about this one. There was no biting, but there was the sharp twist of truth that comes when it’s as honest as we can be. Jourdan told his story in this one, as I’m fond of saying, the world needs our stories. The world needs us to come forward and share what is in our hearts.
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About the book: Praise of Motherhood is a son’s tribute to the woman who not only gave him life, but helped him live: through various psychotic breakdowns, tumultuous teenage years, and years of feeling out of place in the world. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
About the author: Phil Jourdan fronts the lit-rock band Paris and the Hiltons, runs the fiction press Perfect Edge Books, and occasionally works on a PhD. Visit Phil on his blog, music site, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.