|Involvement, Truth, Detachment: The Narrative of My Mother.|
|A problematic genre that has evoked much discussion is the life story, especially when it entails one’s own family and tells the story of one’s own mother. Despite warnings about the hurdles I would encounter, I have started interviewing my mother. It has lead to considerations about involvement and detachment, and about how in the process of narrating life stories people both take things for granted and cover them up.
Only now does my mother have a life story; aged 84, a widow for two years. She tells me, in weekly sessions, about her youth in Indonesia (warmth, freedom), the years before she married and had children (freedom, friendship, drawing), the period when she was bringing up a family, her depressions, and how it is now – a phase that she experiences similarly to the time before her marriage: freedom, an independent rhythm, friendship; the wheel come full circle. Since my father’s death she has blossomed: she has gained her own voice, she observes the world, she has a story to tell.
My closeness to her is an advantage in our talks together: she trusts me and feels confident with me. She would never tell so much to a stranger. And I can empathise with what she has to say. The disadvantage is that she is so much part of me (or I of her) that I run the risk of finding the things that she says quite matter-of-course – when they are in fact remarkable; that I don’t ask questions because I know that she finds them painful, that I collude in avoiding the same subjects as she does, and that I adopt our family’s feelings of hesitance and timidity without even realizing it. How much truth can she cope with? And how much can I bear? What does she want to save me from, and what do I prefer not to hear?
Her life story is a version that she can manage pretty well. She would not tell these stories so frankly and openly to an outsider; but an outsider would be more perceptive of things that I perhaps miss. Emotional and sociological distancing could contribute to another ‘truth’, comprising a more-encompassing narrative.