Do you remember the way your mother would see you off to school in the morning? Did she sit with you for breakfast, or was she busy in her room, getting ready for the workday? Maybe her own mother used to sit with her for breakfast in the morning, and that’s what’s become routine, along the ‘motherline.’
But we know habits aren’t always passed down this way.
Circumstances and times change. In Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss and Selfies (BookThug), Canadian poet Margaret Christakos explores the intergenerational similarities and inconsistencies among women – mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and so on.
This is a work of creative nonfiction that plays with form – we see poetry, prose, and the occasional Facebook post that operates as a window into how women utilize and tell their own narratives through social media. Christakos, in her “midlife writings,” lays everything bare and delves into topics many can relate to (but often, unfortunately, remain untouched), such as menstruation, miscarriage, and menopause.
She speaks frankly on these themes, among other important life milestones like partnership, divorce, and the death of a parent. We see how the narrator not only comes to terms with these events unfolding in her life, but how she considers the women who’ve come before and after her – how did things play out for her mother, and how will things play out, perhaps differently or the same, for her daughter?
What I do not say loudly is that in my family the women ended up sleeping alone and here I am now in that same choice and that same predicament and that same creative possibility … and that same idea of a daughter watching a mother be both lonely and full in herself alone.
Her Paraphernalia shows us how self-identification, while difficult, can be a beautiful thing, and self-portraiture/selfies are a major part of that now in this digital culture we inhabit. Christakos doesn’t roll her eyes at the practice or deem it vain as many so frequently do – instead, she assuredly approaches the selfie as empowerment, as a means to discover oneself and reflect back on how you were, how you looked on any given day, and feel a sense of self that you curated entirely on your own. Nobody is defining you but you.
Plus you can look imperfect, in fact, you must look imperfect. In a selfie, and across dozens of selfies the imperfections become a catalogue of becomingnesses.
Christakos describes the selfie as an all at once “luxurious” and “radical” act, and in doing so imparts the powerful idea that when you engage in self-portraiture you are affirming your own identity in a way that was never so available before. On any given day you can post a selfie to Instagram or what-have-you, and while there may be an audience of followers there, the photo can be entirely for you and your self-discovery.
One of the lines that stand out in Christakos’ exploration of selfies is her comparison to how perhaps what we’re trying to do is “recreate a slide” of our mother’s eyes across our own. We are trying to see for ourselves how someone who loves us unconditionally sees us when they look at us.
If you’re looking for an honest, beautifully written read about love, loss, familial relationships and everything in between, look no further than Her Paraphernalia. Christakos opens the book with a definition of paraphernalia as “property owned by a married woman apart from her dowry, for example her own things,” and what we find beyond this introductory page is a detailed account of what is entirely, uniquely, solely hers.
It’s a compelling read not least for the candidness with which she treats her paraphernalia.
(BookThug, Memoir/Nonfiction, Paperback, May 2016)
You can keep up with Margaret Christakos’ work at @MChristakos.
LESLEY LEROUX is a writer, editor and artist from Canada’s capital (originally the little island of Newfoundland). She graduated with a degree in journalism from Carleton University. Her fiction, nonfiction and photography have been published both in print and online, and she has occasionally dabbled in radio and television. She is a feminist, bibliophile and yogi who can be found tweeting about any of the above @LesleyLeRoux.