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Read an Excerpt from the Book
It was Veterans Day; the Pope spoke into a microphone so the thousands around him could hear his weary voice. And in the airport lounge my sister and I waited for our flight to take off, trying not to listen to the televised broadcast of the Pope’s solemn speech. I held my sister’s hand and heard her say fuck for the first time.
“fuck, do you think she’s going to be okay”
and I said “I don’t know”
and she said “but why aren’t they telling us what’s going on”
“I don’t know”
“I don’t want mom to die”
“I’m so scared”
and the Pope went on, speaking of the dead, the men whose lives had been lost in a terrible war, and he praised them, their families, for the courage they’d shown. He spoke of Christ, but not much. Sometimes he closed his eyes and paused. From the airport lounge, sitting in front of the television screens, I had to rely on the cameras for a sense of what being there was like. Safe and comfortable and mourning out of patriotic or humanistic duty, in a spirit of contemplation. The Pope did not know that my mother was dying in a little hospital in Portugal. Neither did the lady who announced, on the intercom at the airport, that out of respect for the men who had lost their lives during the war however many decades ago now, we were all invited to stand for two minutes of silence. Everyone else in the lounge stood up, but my sister and I remained in our seats and hugged each other.
As far as I knew, my mother was dying or dead, a small, tanned Portuguese woman with curly dark hair and two dogs, two kids, a lovely loving wonderful lady, all of that sob-story stuff. It turned out that when we were waiting for our flight, she was still alive. She would only die in the evening, after the Pope was done speaking and everyone was having dinner and no longer thinking about the veterans. But nobody had warned me. Nobody had warned anyone. Everybody was on the way to Portugal, my uncle, my grandfather, me and my sister, all of us trying to protect someone. They didn’t tell me what had happened until I arrived in Portugal. I didn’t tell my sister everything I knew, which was next to nothing, because I wanted to think I could protect her. I spoke to my father on the phone and he was in tears: “I will be there when you land,” he said,
and I said:
“but why, what’s going on”
“I’m not sure, I’m not sure, but if I were you… oh, Jesus, if I were you I would brace myself for the worst”
And he broke into tears and hung up. They had been separated fifteen years.
On the plane my sister and I spoke little. I told her it’d be okay. I told her even if the worst happened, I’d be around for her. You’re my little sister. Tell me about Denver. How are classes going? She gave short, bored answers, and she asked me about my life. I told her I’d been about to take the train to Paris from London with a friend when I found out something was wrong with our mom.
“but what’s wrong with her” my sister said
“I don’t know”
“why don’t they just tell us”
“because they’re trying to keep us sane”
“how can I be sane when my mom is dying all of a sudden”
“I really don’t know”
When we arrived in Portugal, and I saw my family standing together waiting for us — my grandparents, my father, my aunt — I knew at once there was no hope.
Read an Interview with the Author
1. Who was your mother?
Hey, perhaps the obvious thing is that she was the single greatest person in my life–a woman who set everything aside to help me when I went through a few rocky years, a lover of animals and nature, a professor of mathematics and computer science who worked because she needed something to do…
She was that lady who’d bring clothes out to the homeless people in the streets when it was cold. She spoke Portuguese, French, English, and Russian fluently. She took people into her life and made them stronger, happier. She drove very carefully.
She was one person among many to die from something as trivial and terrible as an aneurysm; just one out of all the people who died on November 11th, 2009, for no reason, and without saying goodbye to any of us.
And, now, she’s the subject of my book.
2. Who are you?
I’m a bearded, forever-anxious guy in his mid-twenties living in the UK. I’m working on a PhD in Literature and Religion. I have a band, I run a press, I write articles for various publications, and I pace around a lot when I talk about things that interest me.
3. Why did you write Praise of Motherhood?
Because I couldn’t bear the idea that my mother’s death might be just another sad event in the lives of a few people. I wanted my mother to be remembered somehow — not just by those who knew her, but by those who could end up wishing they had known her.
It’s not easy losing a parent, and I wanted to write my way out of some dark places. To focus on the good things. To remember with gratitude the way she did everything she could to make her children feel okay.
4. Were you a mama’s boy?
Of course, I was. She was worth the teasing from my young classmates. I loved her even when I was furiously angry with her.
5. When were you furiously angry?
From the age of 14 to 16, I was so psychologically unstable that I had to leave school for a while to stay in a private clinic and “recover” — which means they pumped me full of medication and made me sleep for a few weeks. This happened twice. My mother’s support was crucial back then, because I was a mess. I hallucinated, I was paranoid, and I wanted to die. Of course, like any screwed up kid, I took it out on my mom.
I’d get so angry that I couldn’t breathe. Everything seemed to hurt me–physically and emotionally. Because I trusted my mother so much, I took her for granted, too. I knew she wouldn’t abandon me if I broke down or lashed out. She was a saint about my outbursts.
6. Is that what Praise of Motherhood is about?
In part. What you’ll find in Praise of Motherhood is a series of short chapters on various ways I related to my mother. Let me be clear that it’s not a book about mothers in general. It’s a memoir about my relationship with my mother, before and after her death. It deals with my weird adolescence, then it moves on to questions about her private life that I’ll never be able to answer, and then it turns toward fiction. I imagine a world in which mother didn’t die on that day. I try to reconstruct conversations I had with her and my father. Then I end the book because I could go on forever and I think it’s best to be brief.
7. What was it like to show the book to your family?
It was less terrible than I’d anticipated. My great fear was that someone might object to the way I’d written it. It’s not “conventional” — there’s a scene in which I imagine my mother breaking into pieces and my sister and I have to tape her back together before she accuses me of having killed her. That scene worried me: what if my sister hated it?
I’m happy to say it all went well. My sister found that chapter moving, and my grandparents each expressed their support. My father, who hadn’t been married to my mother for over a decade, was equally moved and helped me through the various drafts.
8. Is everything you write in Praise of Motherhood true?
If you read it, you’ll see that some of it is obviously fiction. I don’t think the right distinction here is between fiction and nonfiction; it’s between truthfulness and untruthfulness. The book is certainly truthful: if I make things up, as in the chapter where I imagine what my mother’s “secret life” as an occasional spy might have been like, it’s to show what I think about when I wonder about her as a private person. I paint myself pretty much as I was back then: irritable, self-involved, afraid. I paint my mother just as she was: patient, terrified of losing her child, and often helpless but willing to do anything.
The events that I depict in the more “conventional” chapters are true. The dialogue is obviously not going to represent exactly what was said, but the spirit of the past is contained within it.
9. Who is this book for?
It’s for people who have lost someone they loved and want to know how someone else handled their pain.
It’s for parents who need a reminder that their children can and will end up appreciating all the sacrifices, all the patience, all the secret suffering.
And it’s for anyone who is interested in teenage depression, psychosis and anxiety, and wants to read a memoir about how those conditions affect family relationships.
10. What’s next?
A novel that begins with a mother’s funeral… and then goes in a totally new direction. I started it just as I was wrapping up Praise of Motherhood, and I was ready to let go of those memories for a while, but the image of my mother’s coffin going into the earth has stayed with me so vividly that I had to begin a work of fiction with it. But beyond that, it’s an entirely different thing.
Read a Guest Post by the Author
I wanted to write a book that expressed the impossibility of letting go. We’re often told, when someone close to us dies, that we have to move on, that things will get better. I couldn’t accept this back then: I didn’t think it was possible to let go of my mother, who had been so patient and kind during my weird teenage years.
The first two versions were entirely different from each other in form and tone, but they did have a certain delight in chaos in common. I was mourning the only way I knew how: by adopting a hundred different voices, each trying to say something about my mother that the others couldn’t say. One chapter was pure dialogue; another was a series of letters; for a while I wrote in breathless page-long paragraphs because it was the only way I could feel “honest” about what I felt. I’d swing from rage to self-pity to sadness to bliss to sheer bafflement.
It was only when I decided to turn this book into something that others could actually read without going insane that I figured out how to structure a book like this. I cut a great number chapters because they were “honest” but unhelpful. I tried to make myself a sort of antagonist, so my mother’s qualities as a human being could be emphasized. I left things relatively ambiguous instead of offering anything like words of wisdom to my readers. I tried to leave the book as open as the wound that stayed after my mother died.
This has irritated some people. They ask why I don’t provide a real sense of what my mother was like on a day-to-day basis, or why I focused so much on how she affected my life instead of just writing about her, as a person in her own right. Fair questions — but I never set out to just “write about my mom”. I wanted to write about the struggle of losing her, and what made losing her so painful. That’s why I ask questions in the book that I never really answer: because I was never able to answer them myself. They are questions that will remain.
Praise of Motherhood isn’t a book praising all mothers across all ages. It’s not meant to praise the idea of “motherhood” itself as some glorious ideal. I wrote this book because I wanted to transmit something of my mother to those who didn’t know her; those who, perhaps, need to hear that it’s okay to say you love your mommy and you wish she could still be here when you feel like crying.
About the Book; 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.
The Social Media Events – This is Where the Prizes are!
Blogaganza on Novel Publicity. We’re kicking-off on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog. We’ll ask Phil 5 fun and seemingly random questions to get everyone talking. Leave a comment or question in response to the post, and you may win an autographed copy of Praise of Motherhood. CLICK HERE TO VISIT BLOGAGANZA.
Twitterview. A tweet is tiny, only 140 characters, and we all know writers loooove to talk. Come join us for a live interview via Twitter as we ask Phil to sum up his book, writing habits, and personality in teensy tiny tweets. We’ll open to questions from the audience at the end of the interview. One question-asker will win an autographed copy of Praise of Motherhood! Join us on Twitter at 4 PM EST by searching #emlyn. READ THE TRANSCRIPT HERE.
Google+ Sharing Contest. Here’s an awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see Praise of Motherhood’s book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Praise of Motherhood is also up for grabs. GO HERE TO SHARE!
Facebook Sharing Contest. Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see Praise of Motherhood’s book cover included with it). On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Praise of Motherhood is also up for grabs. Sharing is caring, people. GO HERE TO SHARE!
Super Big Finale Contest. Phil Jourdan isn’t afraid to admit that he’s always been a mama’s boy. In fact, he wrote an entire memoir to celebrate his mother and help move through the pain of her death. Please visit Phil’s latest blog post and share a special memory you have of your mother. The most touching memory-sharer will win a $100 Amazon gift card, and one random commenter will also win a $50 Amazon gift card. Let’s celebrate our moms for all they do, but let’s not forget they’re only human, too! CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE CONTEST.
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