Monday, January 18, 2010

Rebel with a cause or what makes sisters different? And are there regrets? I've had a few.

There is a pecking order. The older one escorts the younger one through life. They undergo many of the humiliations first. They focus the parents' attention and let the second slip through with much less scrutiny. The second, third and fourth time round parents get a chance to rejigger.Experience may prove that being over protective doesn't necessarily matter. Or that certain rules are just . . . well, absurd.

On the other hand, some parents stick to their guns even as the world changes around them. By the time I was a teenager, I saw there was only one way to avoid conflict with my mother. I lied to her. My mother told me that I shouldn't have sex till I got married, this from the woman who headed a family planning clinic and handed out contraception to everyone and anyone. She also told me that if I smoked pot I wouldn't be allowed to go to college. I wouldn't have had any fun at all if I'd listened.

Amelia's father forbade her from taking flying lessons. That worked out too. Yes, your parents only want to protect you from yourself, and yes yes yes, it's so hard to let your child go. I discover it myself with a son who wants to move three thousand miles away. It's gut wrenching, but necessary.

I wonder what Muriel's life would have been like if Amelia had lived. What sort of peace they would have made . . .certainly it must have been hard to be her sister. Not the least because Amelia wrote chiding letters and made it clear she was the boss. She wasn't just older, she was Amelia. Publicly Muriel made it clear she thought her sister a saint. Privately, I find it hard to believe she didn't have some doubts. Sisters do. They love each other, but it's never simple. Or easy. Being Amelia's sister was hard. She overshadowed Muriel. Then she disappeared.

I imagine what they would have said to each other, given the chance. I think it's a profound love you feel for your sibling. There's so much that you don't say to them, simply because they don't/won't hear. Or you're afraid of the response. What if Amelia could hear? What if Muriel could finally tell her? Think of the relief . . .think of the possibilities.

If you could make amends, if you could say the thing you never said, what would it be?
We all have regrets . . .even Amelia.


  1. ???? I don't remember any indication in Muriel's or Amelia's memoirs about the dad forbidding Amelia to take flight lessons. What pages do I need to re-read...I thought he just backed out of supporting the effort once he found out how much it cost.
    If Amelia comes to recognize that she'd sometimes been trying to control Muriel, I think she might be especially inclined to apologize for having attached strings to her financial aid.

  2. Yes, I think that's a big one. The whole holding money over her head. I remember reading that he did say it was too expensive, but I was also under the impression that he thought it was unsafe . . . maybe my misreading, I'll go back and look as well, also I've read a few books now so they kind of merge together . . .How about the way Amelia chides her about not overtaxing their mother by having her spend too much time taking care of her grandchildren, another favorite piece of sisterly advice. I just ordered a copy of the letters online, I'm assuming you have it. I'm also looking forward to going to Harvard and checking out Muriel's gift to them when I'm up in Boston.

  3. When you visit the Schlesinger collection, would you let me know if you notice any documents relevant to AE's 1932 Atlantic solo? It's a subject I'm researching, and I haven't been able to look at that collection yet because I live on the other side of the country. The online index doesn't indicate there would be any such documents, but it doesn't hurt to have eyeballs looking.

  4. Definitely will. I'm going up in April.

  5. I like hearing the weavings between your life and Amelia's, each life is singular and yet seems to have much in common with other lives. I also am glad to learn the wonderful word "rejigger"- I had to this word and it is a fun and agile word. Your question- "If you could make amends, if you could say the thing you never said, what would it be?" is percolating around inside of me and different things come to mind...Mostly that I would have let my daughter have her emotions without any kind of guilt trip or drama from me...Good question that I will continue to ponder and also maybe act on.

  6. Colleen,
    I do think about the question so much. It's the basis for the novel and comes from my own experience with loss. There are things that never get resolved, I guess that's the hardest thing to accept. The wonderful thing about writing a novel is that you get to let the characters do what you could never do . . .and give them the opportunity for closure.

  7. It's interesting that in writing a novel you get to have characters do what you never could. This reminds me of the "corrective emotional experience" that is lauded by psychoanalysis. Since your novel is coming from your own experience of loss that will give it depth and power. I remember when your editor died suddenly years ago. Loss makes a vacuum in us, and nature abhors a vacuum, as the saying goes. I don't know much about aerodynamics, but it's my understanding that it is the vacuum created by airflow over wing tips that enables a many-ton airplane to lift thousands of feet into the sky. I wonder if there are any analogies to the vacuum we experience in our own lives through loss?

  8. the question is what we end up filling it with I suppose . . .and if it's substantial enough.