Infiltrating the Literati

Just when I was feeling kind of low and powerless and generally blah (that’s the technical term), the universe tossed me a bone in the form of a distraction. A big honkin’ distraction, in fact: A reading of one of the essays I contributed to See Mom Run at an event to benefit our local public school.

When I agreed to it, I assumed it was just another “mom thing.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love my mom things!)  I didn’t give it much thought. But when the giant posters started appearing all over my neighborhood, I realized that um, no. It was not just another mom thing.

It was Tad Friend. It was Paul Zelinksky. It was Janice Eidus. And it was Gabriel Byrne – yes, that Gabriel Byrne – doing a little piece from this guy called James Joyce.

Answers: Yes he is, yes he is, and yes, very.

And then there was uh, me. Mom-101. Reading about talking toys.

I spent the entire day in a heightened state of anxiety, making self-deprecating jokes to fend off the heavy feeling that I was about to be completely outclassed. When I climbed the stairs to the art gallery where the event was held and saw Liz Gumbinner, Author, on my name tag at the sign-in table, I was terrified of being discovered. Like someone I knew would see my chest and point at me and screech that horrible alien sound that Donald Sutherland made at the end of the 1970’s Invasions of the Body Snatchers remake.

Fake! Fraud! Why, you don’t even have a Masters, you Mom-101 person.

And then I realized what I was doing. I was falling into that trap. The one where people assume writing about mom stuff is somehow less interesting/important/worthwhile than writing about pretty much anything else. Love. Tragedy. Racism. Taxidermy. That our stories, however frivolous or profound, just don’t count. Or they don’t count to the people who count. Or something.

I couldn’t believe that after all these years of defending the power and the essential voices of mothers as memoirists, that I had become my own worst, painfully insecure critic.

But when I started reading,

the crowd smiled.

They nodded in recognition at references to the talking toy keyboard. They laughed in the right places. As I plowed through the essay they continued to laugh, even as the humor-enhancing effects of the Chardonnay was wearing off. At the end, they clapped, and not just in that polite sort of way. Nate beamed. We might have even sold a book or two.

I felt like an author. Maybe for the first time ever.

And it was a really freaking great feeling.

Even if I did look like Popeye.

[event photos: Aki Tuccu]


50 thoughts on “Infiltrating the Literati”

  1. Very cool. Glad you didn't fall into the trap.

    You are as literati as other literati. Master's degrees just make people stupider, usually.

    Sorry I said Gabriel Byrne was skeevy. But I meant skeevy in a good way.

  2. Oh. My. GAH!!! Congrats, Liz, that sounds very cool. And you don't look like Popeye. Well, much, anyway. I'm sure it was fleeting. Aaaaaackackackack.
    and Gabriel Byrne is dreamy. Almost as dreamy as James Joyce.
    I played Molly Bloom in Ulysses once, back when I was an actress, pre-kid, and for awhilke they were casting about for a Leopold Bloom and there were some rather famous actors in the running–i mean, not George Clooney or anything, but, like, John C Reilly was in for awhile and then some movie came up, but anyway, at one point, there was talk, just anecodtally, of maybe Gabriel Byrne, which made no sense b/c he was way too sexy for that particualr part, but anyway, long story short, I almost passed out. Like, ears started ringing, things went dim. So. Nom nom. Gabriel nom Byrne nom nom. Wait, were we talking about something….?

  3. after i saw gabriel's photo i couldn't continue reading, but i'm sure the rest of your post was informative and your evening very cool… ; )

  4. Isn't the culture a bitch? No matter how hard we've tried to raise our daughters to believe they are important/worthwhile/valuable members of society by exercising choices (to work or stay home, to play with trucks or with dolls, to write about mathematics or children), Old Man Culture somehow creeps into every fiber of our being telling us what frauds we are!

    You'll be fighting this fight for the rest of your life. And you-the you who continues to write about it and rail about it-will win every time. Promise.

  5. Whoot! I love that post! This still makes me laugh. I have an island of misfit toys. It's called “the fundraiser yard sale.” Doing good with bad toys.

  6. As a member of the audience and your fellow author/ mom compatriot, you rocked the house dear Liz. Besides, how did you think I felt reading “Sanitation Mom” after a poignant recitation about Hurricane Katrina? Thanks for coaching me on my delivery! Next stop, the NY Times Center (okay – maybe not but dare to dream 🙂

  7. It's true Beth (Role Mommy), I owe a lot of my performance to your most excellent lead-in. Thanks for giving me a better transition from “a woman had a heart attack looking at the flood waters and died on the spot.”

  8. Fantastic! Good on you. You're so right – sometimes it's easy to dismiss the mum stuff as something less important when it isn't at all.

  9. I would totally have thrown flowers at you. Which would have probably gotten me thrown out. That might have been kinda cool.

  10. two things. One: You make a lovely looking Popeye. Two: If I still lived in New York, I would have been stoked about hearing Liz Gumbinner read and kind of whatev about Gabriel Byrne. I mean I loved The Usual Suspects, but I effing loathe James Joyce.


    I'm not even that excited about Gabriel Byrne. I'm that excited that you felt like, and were treated like, an author. Which you are.

  12. So awesome! I would have loved to be there to listen to everyone, especially you, author.

    A side note on octopi – I've just discovered the world of amigumuri (cute crochet creatures) and hopefully I can find a good vendor of sealife to forward to CMP. 🙂

  13. you look great! and it sounds like a great event. thanks for getting up there — you are an inspiration to us all to continue doing what we do, mommy label or not.

  14. You make me feel proud to be a mother, actually. When my children were very small I felt a sense of loss and despair. Like whole sections of my mind were becoming atrophied through lack of use. Your writing shows that that does not have to happen – far from it – but that it is perfectly possible to take the experience and turn it into something creative and useful. Something which obviously resonated with your audience and touched them in some way.

    I have an audio-book of Gabriel Byrne reading selections from James Joyce and his voice, accent and intonation brought the text to life for me. It sounds to me like he was reading from something he loved, and which evidently resonated for him (he was a teacher before becoming an actor) as an Irishman.

    Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your evening with us. I only wish I could have been there too.

  15. You did great 🙂

    How come it's always at work I find these great blogs and articles – never happens at home at night? I must learn that I could risk choking in laugh behind my “cubicle”.
    I totally follow your fear with that image of the Sutherland movie 🙂 Scarrrry!
    Maybe GB felt it too (many female attendants, I see), by the looks of his (all too cute) hair-do?

    Can I get your book here in Denmark?

  16. Score one for mom-lit! Congratulations, Liz! Someone said about the little rag I publish that it's important to have good writing in the “motherhood canon.” I think this qualifies. Way to hurdle over the chronic self-doubt and loathing that afflicts mom writers everywhere. To feel legitimate=a necessary toast, or at least a super big latte to celebrate.

  17. Good for you! I'm so glad that you were there to represent mothers as memoirists! And that you didn't fall into the trap. You rock!

  18. I'm not a big Mom-blogger…well, I'm a blogger, and a Mom (new Mom of a 5 month old), but what you speak of is a whole-nother realm from what I know (a very cool realm that I love hearing about). I absolutely love reading your story and checking in on your blog a few times a week, and feel as though you're like a neighbor that fills me in with what's going on in your Mom-blogger world. I love that you represent bloggers everywhere and love even more that you put confidence back into yourself for what you truly believe and promote through your recent achievement – congrats, pop another can of spinach popeye, you're great at what you do Mom-101!!

  19. You did great and your picture is wonderful. I also admire you tremendously, because with Gabriel Byrne in the room I would have been rendered speechless and legless.

    Keep it up!

  20. This event was such a great idea. Whomever thought of it, deserves tremendous kudos. Not every community could pull it off, however yours is a blessed one for sure. I am truly envious. COngrats on your success. You have united many Gabriel fans with this event!

  21. How fun – and you are way too cute. Congrats on the reading and the book and for catching yourself before you sold yourself short. Be proud of yourself — we're all proud of you. 🙂

  22. It's so funny to me that you can even DO self-deprication at this point, considering your level of absolute awesomeness.

  23. That is SO cool.

    It's easy to talk our talk (We are worthy! We are valid! We are amazing!) but it is much harder to get up there and walk our walk. Like you said, when the chips are down it's a little harder to believe, if only to ourselves.

    You are a real author, and have been for a long, long time. Congratulations on the reading.

  24. What the world needs now is a good laugh, and that's what you do well, Liz Gumbinner. Don't ever apologize for that. You write like buttah.

  25. OMG Gabrial Bryne reading Joyce! The very end of Ulysses? I am impressed by your poise. I definitely would have been weak kneed and speechless….

  26. OMG how could you even read with GB in the room looking at you with his sultry mouth and those blue eyes and templing those long fingers under his chin. I would have fainted from the strong Mojo.

  27. Oh my goodness! I just read your linked post about the talking toys and have to share about my sons play mat. It's eerie reminder to play is a high-pitched voice that asks, “Where's baby hiding?” Totally gives me the willies. Thanks for sharing and keep on writing, you are legit and quite hillarious too.

  28. Love this story. And glad to see you didn't chicken out and went for it. “Author” does sound good. And keep in mind, usually Gabrielle has someone else write his material.

  29. Thank you Edward, a few people pointed that out to me beforehand and it actually gave me great comfort. Still…Joyce. Yeah.

  30. One giant leap for mum-kind! Corny, but true. I grow weary of people asking, “but what do you DO?” As though these two lovely critters and my full-time stay-at-home job are not enough.

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