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Mom

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

Surprise! My mom interviews Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s mom!

Okay, to close out my week-long focus on Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s memoir, “I Am Not Myself These Days,” I have a little surprise for him: a mom-to-mom interview. I’m so excited about this!

So here is my mom (that’s me in the little nurse’s outfit)…

interviewing Josh’s mom (that’s little Joshie fixing a wedgie)…

Oh, I sure do hope this is a nice surprise for Josh and not too much of a shock. Okay, here are the moms:

When you first read Josh’s book, “I am Not Myself These Days,” what was your reaction to the details of his Technicolor life?

My first reaction to Josh’s “technicolor life” was such relief regarding his safety now, then sadness at the necessity of his journey, and finally great anger at some of his decisions…….much like when you lose sight of your toddler while shopping. Upon finding them once again, you are so happy to see them you want to shake them for your worry!!!!!

Josh’s witty humor is very evident in his writing. Is this something you were well acquainted with about your son?

Oh yes, as soon as Josh could verbalize it became very difficult to discipline him because most of the time, while he was not necessarily behaving as you wished, he was clever and just plain funny in avoiding the issue at hand.

He was also able to put into words what was going on around him in a very descriptive manner. I was driving a jeep over a washboard section of country road when Josh was about 3 or 4. He was humming to himself in that mindless way that children do and we hit a particularly rough spot in the road. He remarked, “Mama, you are wrinkling my tune.”

When you are mentioned in his book, Josh describes how he felt he needed to concoct a story to explain some of the details of his life with Jack. How did you view this hoax that Josh and Jack had created about Jack’s need for a beeper?

I knew the beeper story was not as it seemed. I wasn’t sure what exactly…..but I knew the “story” was pretty hollow. However, I felt my lack of confrontation and digging “forced” him further down a path of lies and he would eventually not like who he had become to the family; no longer really “true to himself” and his place within our lives. It was a chance I took.

When reading my daughter’s writing, I lose my usual critical reader’s perspective because I am so compelled by what her experience was in our family, and I am especially curious about anything said about me. How do you react to Josh’s comments about you which, by the way, seem quite complimentary?

Josh’s comments about me, good or bad, were interesting of course. But they were just that. We all appear differently to each other; especially in family relationships. We become who we are needed to be for each other. How many times do we each have a very different view of Grandma Sally? Yet she was very special and unique to each one of us. That is what a memory truly is. It’s all about perception isn’t it?

Have you ever asked Josh not to write about something concerning you and/or your family?

Absolutely not. I trust Josh in his ability to discern what would truly hurt another. And I don’t really have any fear regarding others’ judgements…..again it is all about perceptions and egos and trying, but usually failing, to be objective.

In reading Josh’s amazing story, were you alarmed by the dangers he faced, and the frightening situations he put himself in?

I was very frightened and alarmed at the dangers regarding Josh’s life at that time. And I am very thankful to have him safe, not bitter and most of all, free of emotional baggage….excepting Aqua’s make up case, of course!!! I credit his partner, Brent, for this.

How have you come to grips with having a fairly well-known writer in the family?

Having a “fairly well-known writer” in the family is exciting and wonderful, but has really not changed much for us. We are happy and interested in all his good news and pleased to provide respite when we can for him. Last winter Josh spent a week with us on vacation doing a final edit and it gave us much joy to be of use. Next time we shall charge rent!!!

What kinds of books to you usually read? What books are in the stack of books you’d like to read soon? What book, besides Josh’s has had the biggest effect on your life?

I read all kinds of books. Like most of us, I go in phases….all history, all biographies, all mystery, all romance, all memoirs, and so on. The only book in my pile currently is Gifts of the Sea which will be a re-read for a book club. I have just completed Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos. This will cause some “tension” I am certain but the book that has had the biggest effect on my life is the Bible. And if that is an unwise choice, you may use The Little Engine That Could.”

Congratulations on raising a brilliant and beguiling son, who is having lots of attention paid to his new book. Do you have any advice for me when my daughter’s book is sitting in the “New Arrivals” section of Barnes and Noble or Border’s Books?

I really am not good at giving advice (except to my children!!). When your daughter’s book is sitting in the “New Arrival” section of a bookstore, you won’t need any coaching on how to be proud, supportive and thankful. Keeping one’s ego in check and pride in down-to-earth proportions is not a bad idea either….of course, I am speaking about the writer, not the mom!!

We all know the pressure of “publish another book right way” is very real and consuming to writers and NOT dwelling on that is important. You can tell it’s not working for me.

Is there anything I have not asked, or that you would like to tell us about being the mother of the writer, Josh Kilmer-Purcell?

Being the mother of the writer, Josh Kilmer-Purcell is such a pleasure. I have learned much about the industry, which is fascinating, and met so many wonderful people. His inclusion of us all in his life is very generous. It has been a bit of a revelation for me to recognize that we are as important to him as he is to us. There it is again………..that perception thing.

Thank you for reading and answering these interview questions from one writer’s mother to another. I hope you have a fascinating year ahead. Susie’s Mom.

*

Aren’t they both so lovely? Don’t forget to pick up Josh’s book. I know I always provide Amazon links for ease, but it’s always best to buy from your local independent bookseller.

Hmmmm. I wonder if my mom likes Josh’s book or my book better? I’m off to ask her exactly that.

My mom and I dish about Hillary Carlip’s memoir.

I was only on page 7 of Hillary Carlip’s QUEEN OF THE ODDBALLS when I called my mom and told her she had to go buy it that very day. I love reading books at the same time as my mom so we can talk about them.

My mom, of course, will read the last chapter first. I wonder why she does this? I should ask her. And then, because – like me – she can’t keep a secret, she’ll tell me how the book ends.

Well, so my mom and I emailed each other about Hillary’s book, and I’ve decided to post our notes in their entirety.


My mom is in yellow. I am the nurse.

Hi Susie, I’ve been reading Hillary Carlip’s amazing story in “Queen of the Oddballs.” I keep thinking how my childhood would have really been energized and greatly improved if I had had a friend like Hillary! The combination of having that dynamic energy, sense of humor, and a real knack for creating adventure would have been loads of fun. The fact that the adventures would involved getting close to all my favorite performers like Carly Simon, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and so many more – well that would just have been a fantasy come true. She even had a mom that would give her a ride up to Laurel Canyon so she and her friend could stake out Carole King’s house. What are the chances that these days, someone like Carole King would invite a couple of teenage strangers into her house, while she did Lamaze exercises on the kitchen floor? Things have changed so much that now it would be unlikely that things would turn out so well. MOM

Hi Mom,

I think you’re right that that kind of fun couldn’t happen today. People are too afraid to let strangers in for lemonade anymore. Isn’t it great how all the people in her neighborhood had lemonade on-hand?

Another thing I have wondered about was how she happened to be plopped down, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, into the midst of a celebrity fiesta like that? I thought she said her father sold baby furniture, and yet the rest of the place seemed to be bustling with movie stars. In any case, do you suppose growing up in that environment was a catalyst toward filling her life with creative adventures and a zest for getting herself into celebrity-related activities? Had she grown up where I did, in a little town in Northern California, where no celebrities lived, would she have still found a way into Hollywood, acting, singing, writing, and juggling?

I’m really interested in your question about whether her environment was a catalyst for her desire to have creative adventures. Maybe. I always wonder if the artist’s soul is something we’re born with, and we either fight or follow that calling. Or maybe it’s born of the experience of feeling like an outsider. I was talking to [Mr. Henderson] about this recently, and about why struggling writers and painters and actors won’t give up despite all the rejection and the long odds – and he said, it’s because the soul won’t be told no.

Feelings of alienation seem to be associated with many artists who develop a great soul that insists on being expressed. Hillary developed a Technicolor interior life, and it was soon matched by her outer experience as her fantasies were put into action. She differs from many people in that she possesses tremendous energy and chutzpa to barrel through obstacles. In reading her story and her various victories, especially those in her teenage years, you can see how focused she was on one thing at a time that had to be achieved. She would come up with every possible way of getting to that goal, and eventually she would get there. She was never timid or self-limiting in her actions. What a lesson for us all!

Another thing I have noted is that many times in life, one “oddball” impulsive choice, like sending in for a book on juggling, can be a major turning point in one’s life. For example, Johnny Carson learning magic tricks as a child, or Joseph Campbell being taken to an American Indian exhibit by his father when he was a boy. It makes me cast about in my own mind as to what things came up in my own life, like singing along with my parent’s collection of Italian opera librettos as a child, and then studying Italian for the rest of my life.

I love the stories about Johnny Carson and Joe Campbell.

What stopped you from pursuing opera?

I did pursue opera in a way. I still go to the opera all the time – I’m going again this Saturday night. I also continue to love Italian, and just came home from grocery shopping listening to Italian tapes in preparation for our trip to Sicily next Sunday. I’m not sure the accidental introduction to something that grabs you needs to always lead to a profession in that field. I did mention this idea a couple of nights ago to a writer I met named Ann Gibbons, whose new non-fiction book just came out entitled “The First Human: The Race to Discover our Earliest Ancestors.” She jumped to tell me her own story. During her university studies, a friend of hers wanted her to go along to a lecture about human evolution. She was immediately intrigued by the subject and the hook was set. She had majored in Journalism, but always took a lot of science courses because they interested her. As it turned out, she ended up using both. She became a writer for Science Magazine, and has pursued the thing that she loves. Later, she went to Africa with a colleague and talked to the Frenchman, Michel Brunet who had discovered a fascinating human skull in Chad. She was off and running, following her bliss, and eventually wrote her book.

That’s a fun thing to trace – how a person’s passions merge with what’s around them and their own strengths and shortcomings and so on over a lifetime.

So I wonder, in the case of Hillary, what the passion was?

In this book, it seems as though she’s always on the periphery of celebrity – an extra in a movie but not a star, a singing telegram in a house of celebrities, a fan at a concert who wants to be considered a friend. It’s almost like she’s willing to try on any costume or job that might move her from the periphery to a sense of feeling a part of things. You know, finally recognized or valued.

I was so intrigued by the stacks of detailed journals she described keeping. That was so poignant to me. It seems like the theme of the book is this idea of trying to be noticed and hoping you matter.

Maybe it’s that determination to matter and be someone that led to her “cross-pollination” of so many different talents, but it seems to have worked for her. Maybe her special gift is to be able to write about her experiences in a way that shows others what fierce tenacity looks like.

One last thing I’ve been wondering: What does a reader gain in reading the last chapter first? : )

Nothing is gained by reading the last chapter first except that you get to read right away why she wanted to “bitch-slap” Oprah. I had unfortunately flipped the pages of the book to see what kind of titles and pictures were in there and accidentally saw that irresistible line in the last chapter. It was, actually, one of my favorite chapters. Every once in a while I read a book backwards (well, usually it’s more like a book review or magazine article) because I have started it from the beginning 2-3 times and I need to try something different. Try it on a book review, you’ll see it works quite well. Just read each paragraph or section starting with the last one, and work your way up. MOM

*

I think my mom didn’t fully own up to her reading habit. That’s all right. As someone who occasionally does this, as well, I can give my own reasons. Do you remember when you were a kid and an hour felt like a day and a week felt like a year? Now think back to when your parents said, “Kids, get in the car!” You said, ”
Where are we going?” It didn’t make a difference in the truest sense; you were in for the duration no matter what. But as soon as they said, “California!” Or “Kings Dominion!” Or “Funeral of a relative you’ve never met!” Or “Safeway! Now, buckle up,” you knew how to settle yourself. Because it helps to know your destination before you start looking out the window and taking in the scenery.

That said, I recommend to all of you who have the willpower for it, to read a book in its proper order, first chapter first, last chapter last. That’s my advice for the day.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

n.l. belardes October 5, 2006 at 2:12 pm

No wonder I always used to read some of the last chapter of a book first–your mom and I have the same birthday! Must be something in the air. I really had to train myself to stop with the habit. But the temptation is still there…

I did read the end of thie blog entry before the beginning and only just now realized it.

Strange.

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Susan Henderson October 5, 2006 at 4:07 pm

Hee. That’s funny.

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