Taking my writing more seriously, I have begun to work with a “Writing Coach” to work on developing my “voice” and to free up the process. In our last meeting she talked to me about what blocked my writing, who’s critical voice do you hear that stops progress and says “You can’t do this, what makes you think you have anything to say”? I roll my eyes as she begins to probe, I understand the exercise, at one point I paid money for “help” exploring this terrain and I’m not really pleased to visit old painful territory again. Besides, aren’t we are talking about my writing?
She persists with the probing and I haltingly relent and point the finger at my parents. My mother was married to an affable insecure functional alcoholic, in a town that she never really liked; her solution was to work at controlling her environment and requesting ample space and respect from all around her. On the other hand, my mother would literally give a more destitute person the “shirt” off her back. I hated her control from the time I was about three and we never reached a comfortable peace. She wanted an obedient son that would be a successful in a hostile world and I wanted someone to talk to.
My father was a perceived by all as being “hen pecked”. My father grew-up in our small town and literally knew everybody. He was always supportive to everyone, coached and managed the local “Negro” basketball and softball teams. My father was a musician. He was an easy person to talk to. My father was an alcoholic; which was no secret to anyone and left no place for shame. Our father to son, sober, conversations was short and blunt. “Phillip, no matter how smart you are, you have to be 3 times better than the white guys”. I hated that conversation; but more, I hated that reality.
So the coaching continues and I know that what she says is right about having to confront your fears on a daily basis; learning to get past those voices of doubt. I look out the window wondering how I broach the conversation of race. My mother made sure I knew how to place my napkin in my lap, how to hold my knife and fork, which utensil to use and when, insisted on proper English, and I was never dirty. She was proud when “whites” commented on how well-mannered and well-dressed my brother and I were. Making the newspaper’s published “honor roll” made both my parents proud and gave my father bragging rights. For me, it caused resentment and harassment from various black and white peers.
Out of nowhere she asks, “Do you love your mother?” I bristle and flush. What kind of question is that?