Comments from last week’s post a motivation to keep moving forward

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Whenever I write about my relationship with food and my mom, I’m always humbled by the number of people who send me messages to say they related to what I wrote about. My last blog post — a narrative comprised of several personal essays I’ve written throughout the years — generated a lot of meaningful responses.

Longreads, a site that posts long-form stories, posted a link to it. Friends and strangers commented on the post, and some people messaged me to say that they, too, have struggled with an eating disorder and found comfort in knowing that they weren’t alone. These are the messages I hold dear; they remind me why I need to keep sharing my story so that in helping myself, I can help others. I measure the success of a piece not just by how cathartic it was for me to write, but by how many people say they saw a piece of themselves in it.

I got just one note with constructive criticism, which I expected; it’s hard for people to offer criticism on a piece that’s so personal. The person said she thought the part about my eating disorder came too abruptly at the end, and she wanted to see me write more about this. That is my intention; I just need some time to sort out what I want to say and how I want to say it. I’ve had enough time to process my mother’s death, so it’s easier to write about it with depth and perspective. When you’re still struggling with something, though, it’s harder to write about it with the distance you need to look back and make sense of it all.

I think one way to approach it is to start developing other characters in my narrative — particularly my dad and my grandmother. They were there with me throughout my eating disorder and saw me at my worst. Writing about my relationship with them will inevitably mean writing about food and how they helped me through my difficulties with eating — and in some cases perpetuated these difficulties.

One of my mentors, Roy Peter Clark, has always said that a page a day equals a book a year. My goal, then, is to try to write for 30 minutes a day. I have to be realistic and acknowledge that some days I won’t have time to write, but I’m going to try my best. I think getting in the habit of writing regularly about food and relationships will make it easier to confront some of the issues I’ve been too afraid to commit to paper.

I’ve also been reading a lot of food memoirs and essays for inspiration. I’m reading “Best Food Writing” — part of a series of books that contain the year’s best essays on food — and I just started reading Dayna Macy‘s “Ravenous” tonight. I plan to read “Day of Honey” by foreign correspondent Annia Ciezadlo next. Reading about others’ experience with food gives me ideas and the motivation I need to move forward in my own efforts to write a food memoir. And so do your comments!