Mama at the Movies: Must Read After My Death

My latest column is up now at Literary Mama:

When I first learned I was pregnant, I started a journal on my computer; seven months into the project, my hard drive crashed and the most detailed journal I had ever kept was lost. Since then, I fill Italian paper notebooks that I buy in bulk at a local art store; I keep one next to my bed with a pen marking my place and the journals from earlier years are piled on a low shelf of my bedside table. If I ever had to flee the house, I would scoop the journals up on my way to get the kids.

I do this for myself, to keep hold of my sons’ fleeting childhoods and to make sense of my life. I reread the journals frequently. I am a researcher searching for patterns, seeking context or comfort in the midst of challenging periods, and I am a writer looking for anecdotes for my public writing. But I wonder sometimes, what will become of this private record when I’m gone? Will my children preserve it? Do I want them to read it? Will their children be interested in their grandmother’s life?

The documentary film Must Read After My Death (Morgan Dews, 2009) has me thinking about these questions of legacy and privacy more pointedly than usual. Filmmaker Morgan Dews composed the film entirely of the 300 pages of transcripts, fifty hours of audio diaries and Dictaphone letters, and 201 silent home movies he discovered after his grandmother Allis’s death; the boxes were all carefully labeled in thick black marker with her initials and a message: “Must Read After My Death.” The film makes a searing portrait of a typical American family, one that slips gradually, mysteriously, from happy to tragic while they all unwittingly document the change.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest…

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