By Amie Newman
What reminds us of our mothers? What do we see, smell, think, hear that tilts us towards knowing? As adults we barely recall – or want to recall. For me, it’s Patti Smith. Her beautiful plain-ness strikes me like the dark murky mix of my mother’s turmoiled young adulthood. Young parenthood between two worlds. Poetic in its sadness. In its realness. Poetic in its young destructiveness.
Yet not without a maternal expression of love. Not without the desire to love, to be present. To be a poet. For my mother, as a young woman, through song. For Patti through song. To express the unexpressed yet deeply felt.
My mother searched for release in a man. In many men. The only place she thought she could find it. The only place her world allowed her to search.
Patti pushed through. Patti found herself and immersed herself afraid and real. Dipped full-bodied into the beauty of truth and pain and brilliance. Patti Smith is strong and smart and deep like my mother.
My mother is not her true self. Or maybe she is more of herself. But she doesn’t know who she is as she did not know decades ago as she did not know years ago as she’s never known. She’s lost herself to a society that told her she was not good enough, human enough, really, man enough — to be worthy.
What reminds me of my mother? The smell of cigarettes in bed, long fingernails and wet cheeks. Depression and laughter. Books and a tamped passion never fulfilled. What reminds me of my mother? Me, in my untamed emotion. Me, in my battles with my body. Me, in my love of people.
Hillary Clinton reminds me of my mother. Hillary Clinton physically looks like my mother. Displays a tenacity of spirit like my mother. Who reminds me of my mother? All of the goddamned women in this country who were led down a path of emptiness, a path that wound up at a dead-end, a path that circled the men in their pointlessness. All of the girls who were abused, raped, screamed at on the streets, told they were ugly, fat, shown they were less than by a media intent on pandering to the simplest of male desires.
What reminds us of our mothers? Our broken parts and whole hearts. Our existence as human beings trapped in the body of women and unable to break free from the ways in which society sees us. The boundaries, some invisible and some so unceasingly concrete, you cannot pass through. You are not for this. This is not for you. I’m so tired of the realizations that come daily, weekly, that let me know that I could have done that had I just been stronger. I could have done that had I realized earlier than this moment the only thing holding me back was the energy to fight. The belief in my intelligence to confront.
What reminds me of my mother? My obstinance. My frustration. My inability to leave not-good-enough alone. I may not always have done all that I can do but I have always done more than was expected. I have always done more than what society told me I could do. More than what my own family told me I was capable of. I have shredded my body, brutalized my self-esteem, stomped on my skills and spit on my talents and then pressed through. This reminds me of my mother.
I have kept going and dug deeper until I uncovered the root of this disgust – it was and is not natural. I was taught to hate myself, my body, my thoughts, my desires, my talents. I chose to stop hating. I chose to uncover and unwrap and decided that imperfection is what lies in all of us. Mistakes and failures and ugliness and struggle are not for the wrong or the rejects. I wish my mother knew. I hope she knows now. They are for all of us. I embraced, slowly over the years, the idea that for me to be whole I had to know that I was anything but. I embraced the idea that for me to be whole, I had to know my weaknesses, myself as incomplete. I wish this for my mother. Wholeness is not the absence of challenge or anger or sadness or mistake or difficulty. Wholeness is pressing on with all of your being, with hope and pain and love and forgiveness. But wholeness is also not an endpoint. It’s not stasis or all knowing. Wholeness is being and continuing to be not despite your failures and battles but with them.
My mother reminds me that I am and that I am not like her. I am a part of her and always unsticking myself from her. My mother is her mother and her mother and we are all ourselves threaded and frayed and beautiful.
Amie Newman is a strategic communications professional and creative writer and editor with extensive experience bringing social change organizations’ stories and issues to life. Amie’s expertise spans global health and development, health and gender equity, and reproductive justice, and she’s worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rewire News (formerly RH Reality Check), the International Women’s Media Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Exhale, Foundation for a Just Society, and Humanosphere. Her personal essays have been published at Manifest Station, Role Reboot, Ask Me About My Uterus and Bright Magazine.