Collect Call to My Mother: Essays on Love, Grief, and Getting a Good Night’s Sleep – Lori Horvitz (New Meridien Arts)

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When Lori Horvitz was twenty-one, she backpacked across Europe without a set itinerary. She arrived in Oslo, after riding a night train from Frankfort, and decided to call her family back in the States. Since this was in the days before cell phones and e-mail she had to go to an international post office and make a collect call; her mother, upon answering (on a “turquoise rotary telephone”) refused to accept the charges. Horvitz called her then-boyfriend, an anarchist, who did accept the charges. When she returned to Manhattan, she and he moved to Minneapolis, then almost immediately back to Manhattan; eventually they split up. Horvitz began to date women, starting with a British woman she met while traveling abroad.  Horvitz’s mother would die four years later, in a car accident.

This incident would haunt Horvitz (literally) for years, and she would revisit it in a workshop on financial literacy for women, with her therapist, and in her creative non-fiction: it is the title essay of her second collection of essays, Collect Call to My Mother:  Essays on Love, Grief, and Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. As the opening essay, it establishes the basis for the rest of her collection:  her mother, sparing in money, was also sparing in affection to her daughter, and this had a profound effect on Horvitz’s search for a long-term relationship. The premature loss of her mother similarly would cause bouts of insomnia and anxiety for years afterward; Horvitz would spend years exorcising these childhood demons and adulthood ghosts.

The essays in her collection, arranged chronologically (I presume) chronicle her travels, physical, intellectual, and emotional.  Horvitz spent most of her twenties traveling, so that she “didn’t have to think about my family, or missing them, or if they thought about me. I could wander and make new friends, as if they were family.” After achieving an MFA and Ph.D., she eventually left New York and settled in Ashville, NC. When she started dating women, they were “unavailable,” either physically and/or emotionally distant. In “The Last Freight Train,” she explicitly describes how her attachment style (which she labels “anxious”) would invariably seek out women with “avoidance” attachment styles in a repetitious dance. Several essays (among them “The Gift-Giver,” “The Scent of Nag Champa,” “Three Veterinarians”) describe this dance, with unflinching honesty, which her body often recognized before her brain. (Which is not to say that there isn’t a wry humor in Horvitz’s essays: in “Search and Rescue,” she compares Internet dating to finding a new dog over the Internet.)

Of course, the level of self-awareness needed to acknowledge these insights required years of (metaphoric) wrong turns, dead ends, and running in place. But just as she was traveling away from her birth family and chaotic upbringing, she was simultaneously traveling towards self-awareness, and self-acceptance. For example, after visiting Auschwitz she began to embrace her Jewishness (“Comfortable Shoes”); after remaining closeted during her twenties and thirties, she eventually even accepted feminist (“Big Guts/Big Hearts”) and queer identities (“Victory Lap”). As arduous as these disparate but connected journeys were for Horvitz, she retells them with honesty, humor, and grace; and not to give away the ending, but yes, she does eventually get a good night’s sleep.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske


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