Saturday, January 3, 2009

She Took to Her Bed

I was about to recycle an old Vogue magazine when I saw this piece by Devon O'Brien: "A Heavy Heart." It intrigued me because of its thematic connection to Haven Kimmel's book She Got Up Off the Couch. The topic in both instances is a daughter's assessment of her mother's strategies for coping with a less-than-satisfying life.

In O'Brien's case, her mother took to her bed, where she surrounded herself with books, magazines, and remote control devices, horrifying her daughter as she gained weight and retreated from the world. (At the same time, she became a receptor, taking in culture, absorbing it, and retaining many positive facets of her personality.) Devon developed a constant low-grade fear of getting fat, priding herself on thinness. She mentions her weight again in another piece at the Huffington Post, this one about Martha Stewart.

My own bed is my favorite place to read and retreat, though I never eat (or watch tv) there. "A Heavy Heart" made me think again about mothers and daughters, the options they choose, and the way their lives and bodies are entrained and entwined. Because O'Brien's article (like Kimmel's book, and Honor Moore's The Bishop's Daughter) is confessional, it begs a question always asked around memoir: Who "owns" this story? Where and when and how does it get told? (I link to Honor Moore above through a site by Mark Harris, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Delaware; the comments reflect some of the ambivalence aroused by Moore's topic.)

I was trying to remember why I bought this particular issue of Vogue ("the Shape issue") when the page fell open to a piece called "Edible Education," with a beautiful photo of Alice Waters holding a basket of clementines. (I can't seem to find this photo online.) Okay, so much for recycling: now it goes back on my shelf, an archival glimpse of the (female) body in 2005. I like the image of Drew Barrymore with the lion on the cover, too.

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