Iowa Writes

PATRICIA FOSTER
from Just Beneath My Skin: Autobiography and Self-Discovery


Autobiography’s intent must not depend on exposing the foibles and perversions of another person, skewering someone for her flaws and eccentricities. Instead, autobiography must show how relationship becomes conflicted, how the patterns of desire can be thwarted by our very human failings. In my own case, it was by writing a memoir that I came to understand my mother’s need for middle-class ambition and to respect that desire. Now when she tells me about redoing the dining room or the commercial success of one of my peers, I can be happy, knowing that such things bring her pleasure. And she continues to surprise me.

“You’re so happy with your life,” she said to me the other day on the phone. “I always listen to you because you know what you want.”

Autobiography’s intent must not depend on exposing the foibles and perversions of another person, skewering someone for her flaws and eccentricities. Instead, autobiography must show how relationship becomes conflicted, how the patterns of desire can be thwarted by our very human failings. In my own case, it was by writing a memoir that I came to understand my mother’s need for middle-class ambition and to respect that desire. Now when she tells me about redoing the dining room or the commercial success of one of my peers, I can be happy, knowing that such things bring her pleasure. And she continues to surprise me.

“You’re so happy with your life,” she said to me the other day on the phone. “I always listen to you because you know what you want.”

I laugh because it’s not entirely true. My dreams are just as ambitious as my mother’s, and just as slippery. Neither of us will get exactly what we want.

“I’m happy enough,” I say and realize it’s true, that each of us defines our own slice of happiness. After we say good-bye, I walk out to my backyard and begin pulling weeds from among the flower beds, pulling up the creepers that tangle in the roses, the juniper grass that is crowding the hostas and ferns. Across my lawn I notice the sunflowers just beginning to bloom, their stalks like long, fragile arms bent over the fence, the blooms a burst of yellow, the center a thick, velvety black. The entire backyard is a flood of late afternoon sun, the grass a startling green. On impulse I fling off my shoes and leap from my spot in the shade into that golden warmth. And here I stop for a minute. I stand absolutely still.

more

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


PATRICIA FOSTER

Patricia Foster is a professor in the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She is the author of All the Lost Girls: Confessions of a Southern Daughter and editor of Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul. Just Beneath My Skin is available from Prairie Lights bookstore.

Prairie Lights Bookstore

This page was first displayed
on February 15, 2007

Find us on Facebook