Literary Disco on Writing About Your Parents
Julia Pistell, Rider Strong, and Tod Goldberg Discuss the New Essay Collection Apple Tree
This week, Julia, Rider, and Tod read and discuss a number of essays from a new collection, Apple, Tree: Writers On Their Parents. Edited by Lise Funderburg, the collection presents new essay from 25 writers, each examining their relationship with one or both of their parents. In this episode we discuss the essays by Ann Patchett, Daniel Mendelsohn, Mat Johnson, Kate Carroll de Gutes, and S. Bear Bergman.
Tod: As I was reading this and thinking about writers and their relationship to their parents, a lot of times people will say to me, When are you going to write a memoir about your mom? I always say, every single book that I’ve ever written has been about my mom. … I wonder if that’s true in all art. There is always something that I’m dealing with my parents, whether it’s my mom, who was in my life but crazy, and my dad, who was not in my life but was crazy. Because I’m always writing about identity, I think that there is something that naturally goes back to this relationship I didn’t have with my parents. I’m curious, for you both, you have different kind of art you’re making on daily basis; is your art related to your relationship with your parents?
Julia: Not directly or am I actively thinking about it but I have really come to understand how much they have shaped my worldview. It’s impossible to say no to that. My parents, like Rider’s, are very in touch with their emotions and really open to talk about difficult things.
Tod: That must have been cool.
Julia: That quality absolutely informs comedy. There is a bravery to that that is hard to teach. You almost have to be tricked into thinking that’s how the world works, to be brave enough to get onto a stage and riff. You have to feel safe, with a lot of trust. The thing that has affected my improv life the most is that they definitely have this perspective that everything will work out and there is no need to freak out.
Imagine how much that affects anyone improving. I’m just going to try something; I’m sure it’ll be fine. That’s my general life attitude, and that’s one hundred percent from my mom. … I’ll never forget, we had a big comedy show the night of the 2016 election. We all thought that Hilary was going to win, and we had the last results coming in as we were doing these sketches. There was that moment we all had, it was getting bad and people were freaking out. We had this bit planned with my mom, since she is the biggest optimist in the world. She is always positive, so we called my mom and put it on speakerphone in front of a hundred people, and we were like, Heather, tell us it’s going to be okay. There was this super long pause, and all she said was, I don’t know.