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Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Apr 11, 2019

The MOTHerview with Storyteller Amy Brill

by Suzanne Rust

Amy Brill

“I still hate playing pretend, though. There, I said it.”

How did you know that this was the Moth story you had to tell?

I've been a Moth person since the very beginning, with people telling stories in George's Dawes Green’s apartment. I'd curated Moth evenings, and volunteered with workshops, but I never had a story to tell until this happened. It was such a transformative event that it was clearly a Moth story--though of course I didn't know what it was really about until I started working on it with Meg.

You talk about how first-time mothers are so hard on themselves. What do you think makes us feel pressured to be so perfect? Do you think our mothers and grandmothers suffered through this, or to what degree is it a more modern “Instagram” dilemma?

I think it's a combination of a culture of "expertise," where there's always someone there to tell us what we ought to do in every situation; and a function of the Internet age, in which those "experts" are hollering at us on a million different pages and channels and networks and social media accounts. The 24-hour-news cycle, the "missing" kids on milk cartons--which surely informed Gen X's perception of danger and how closely we had to monitor and watch over our children--and the Internet age of self-fashioning for our personal 'public'--it's like a perfect storm of parental one-upmanship and angst.

When your first child was just a toddler, she noticed you running around like a maniac and implored you to, “sit down mama.” How long did it take you to be able to relax a little and enjoy being a parent?

I'm still working on it. But I'm better at it out in the world, like at the beach or in the country, than I am at home in the city, where the clock is always my enemy. I still hate playing pretend, though. There, I said it.

Your second child came into the world in a flash and taught you to be more in the moment. Were you able to hold on to that philosophy for other things in your life?

In some ways, yes. I'm less manic now when it comes to things like getting the laundry folded or the dishwasher emptied. It gets done when it gets done. I do listen to my kids, now that they're older, when they tell me to come outside and play, or sit down and look at their pictures. Not to be Hallmark about it, but these years have really flown by. They won't be children much longer. I love the people they're becoming, and I've definitely come to treasure more of those special moments. But I'm not like, Angel Mom, always ready with the homemade cupcakes and bin of flubber. We all know that kids can be annoying AF sometimes. I mean, let's be real.

You confess that you weren’t exactly raised to be playful and that it took a lot for you to get on the floor and be a “pretend animal” with your daughter. What did you learn about yourself while crawling around with her?

I learned that I hate playing pretend. Okay, seriously--I think I learned when I needed to push through my own disinterest or anxiety for the benefit of my kids, and when I could just say, "Mommy doesn't want to play pretend. How about we make a Lego fortress instead?" To find things they wanted to do that I could truly enjoy as well. 

Any words of wisdom to first-time parents?

Oh, god. All you need to start with is diapers, wipes, an infant car seat, and a good lactation consultant. And you need to teach your children how to go to sleep or you'll find yourself on their floor humming Edelweiss a hundred times in a row eight years later. You don't want to be that parent.

Who are your favorite storytellers and why?

My favorite storyteller of all time is Hector Black. He told his story, Forgiveness, the same night I told mine, and his words changed my life. He is the epitome of grace. I think of his story all the time, even after all this time. Go listen to it.

What did it mean for you to be able to share you story on the Moth stage?

Having had such a long relationship with the Moth, it was truly a joy to share the story. Plus, I heard from so many moms over the years that my story resonated with them. I was at a panel recently at a writers’ conference, and someone said, "Saying what's hard is what's moral about memoir." And I think that applies here. It felt like a moral thing to do--to share my own flaws and parenting misfires. To find the humor in that, and the pain of seeing yourself clearly, warts and all.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know? Are you working on any new projects?

Parenting young children is a distinct life phase. It's totally different from parenting bigger kids, who are more fun, more independent, and know lots of things. The early months--even the early years--to some extent, you just have to live through them. Some people love babies. I personally love having people who can talk and feed themselves and take showers. And now that they can do all that, I have more time and mental space to work. I'm almost done with my next novel, which is called Hotel Havana, and takes place in Cuba between the Second World War and the Cuban Revolution.

Please finish this sentence: Storytelling is important because…. 

It’s how we feed our souls.

For more on Amy, follow her on Twitter @amy_brill, on Instagram @amybrillbk, and visit her website, amybrill.com.

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