Maya Shanbhag Lang talks about her sublime memoir, WHAT WE CARRY, how it’s really about negotiating adulthood, but also about traditional family roles, estrangement, how her daughter is such a gift, plus living with compassion.


By Leslie Lindsay 

If family shapes us, how can we break free from the myths and injustices? What if those stories were never true in the first place?

WHAT WE CARRY

~MEMOIR MONDAY|ALWAYS WITH BOOK~

A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK PICK

Featured on GOOD MORNING AMERICA

Starred Review LIBRARY JOURNAL

“What if we aren’t really mothers at all, but daughters, reaching back to be mothered?” This is a paraphrased section from Maya Lang’s exquisite memoir, WHAT WE CARRY (Dial Press, April 2020), which I absolutely loved. This story shimmers with precision and perception; it’s at once raw and graceful, a tender exploration of family and fraught mother-daughter relationships.

Maya Shanbhag Lang grew up idolizing her ‘can do’ physician mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from India to complete her residency in psychiatry, while raising her children and keeping a traditional Indian home. Maya’s mother had always been caring and supportive, but then…something shifted, something Maya didn’t understand.

Now, in Seattle, 3,000 miles from her mother, Maya is married and expecting her first baby. She’s alone in a new city and a husband who travels for work. And the baby comes, and so, too does depression. Maya reaches out. Her mother is a psychiatrist; surely she will be of help. But she’s not. She dismisses Maya, her worries and concerns. She says, “you’ll find a way.”

Maya does find a way, but it’s not easy.
 WHAT WE CARRY is so much more than estrangement and new motherhood; it’s more than postpartum depression and anxiety; it’s also about early-onset dementia and selfhood. It’s about myths and stories we’re told in childhood; illusions of our family origin. At each turn, there is deeper insight and understanding, it’s about what happens as we let go; it’s about motherless daughters, mothering ourselves, and parenting our parents.

It’s a must-read.

But first, please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Maya Lang to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Maya, welcome. Oh—this memoir! It is resonating on so many levels for me. What begins as an internal investigation soon becomes external, a glorious examination of love, of letting go, of becoming. It’s about mothers and daughters, yes, but so much more. In your own words, what do you ultimately believe WHAT WE CARRY is about?

Maya Shanbhag Lang:

Thank you so much, Leslie. For me, this memoir is really about negotiating adulthood. It’s about how to respond when we lose our footing, and how to reconcile past and present so we can step into the next version of ourselves.

There are the challenges we take on in life, and then those that are foisted on us. The latter make us dig deep. They never arrive at a good moment and they never come with a playbook. But those are the challenges that define us. They force us to evolve. Ultimately, what shapes us against our choosing is what makes us shine.


“In What We Carry, Maya Shanbhag Lang has created a gorgeous memoir about mothers, daughters, and the tenacity of the love that grows between what is said and what is left unspoken.”
—Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk


Leslie Lindsay:

We often talk about carrying the world on our shoulders, the emotional heft of…life. WHAT WE CARRY traverses generations, but also palpates the skin. You struggle with myriad physical ailments in addition to your postpartum struggle. We carry family lore and secrets in us like a stone. Can you expand on that a bit?

Maya Shanbhag Lang:

After my daughter was born, I felt such pressure to get motherhood right. I kept funneling that anxiety into a quest to be perfect—or, at least, to seem that way from the outside.

In hindsight, I was scared that I was inadequate. My mother made it look easy, like raising a child was no big deal. I wanted to prove I was enough. I couldn’t relax.

The stress came out in my body. Lumbar disc issues, sciatica, thoracic outlet syndrome, hip bursitis, a torn rotator cuff. Basically, my body broke down. When a doctor suggested chronic stress as a culprit, I laughed and said, “I’m a mom,” as if that explained it. I thought motherhood meant being over-taxed, that this was the job description, that I wasn’t strong enough. It never occurred to me that I was doing too much—or that my mom made it look easy because she put far fewer expectations on herself.

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Photo by Orione Conceição on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As a daughter of a mother with severe mental illness, whose demise really began when I was a child, I related to so many aspects of WHAT WE CARRY. I worried I’d become like my mother, because…genetics. Like you, I think my daughters help me be a better version of myself. I give to them what I never received as a child. I get the sense Zoe is like this for you?

Maya Shanbhag Lang:

My daughter is such a gift. Her arrival made me think about who I want to be. I had all of these values in my head that I wasn’t actually doing anything about. I valued courage, for example, but I wasn’t going after my dream of being a writer. I valued health but didn’t take good care of my body. I never would have become an author—or a late-in-life athlete—if not for my daughter. I went after my goals not despite her, but because of her.

purple lavender on field during sunset
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Also, early on, when Zoe is a baby you try to ‘do it all,’ as you believed your mother once did. Again, I am nodding at the themed birthday parties, the photo-ready bedrooms, the trips about town. I’m even nodding about the desire to write. Here’s what I think is so profound: maybe if we make it appear perfect, we are giving ourselves what we felt we never had. Can you talk more about this, please?

Maya Shanbhag Lang:

At a certain point, I realized the photo-ready life I was curating wasn’t for my daughter; it was for me. My own childhood was so dysfunctional. I wanted to give my daughter what I had never known: perfect birthday parties, an organized home, a blissful childhood with family dinners and laughter.

But living that way is like producing a sitcom in your home. It’s exhausting. The funny part is that my daughter doesn’t even like any of that stuff. She dislikes organization, prefers when things are messy, doesn’t enjoy birthday parties. (We are very different people.) So, I had to learn not to re-parent myself through her. Her needs and desires are separate and distinct.

I still sometimes catch myself wanting to give her what I didn’t have as a girl. I can sense in those moments as I reach for her that I’m really reaching back in time to my childhood self. I’m usually able to stop myself, but if I don’t, she’ll put her foot down. She knows who she is. Kids usually do, I think. We just have to listen.

boy running during sunset
Photo by jonas mohamadi on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What advice might you give someone currently struggling with estrangement—aside from the COVID-19 concerns?

Maya Shanbhag Lang:

I talk in the memoir about parental estrangement—and, specifically, about my choice to stop engaging with my father. That was an incredibly hard decision for me. I felt paralyzed by guilt. Being Indian, I come from a culture where you’re traditionally supposed to bow before your parents and touch their feet. That’s the custom. It speaks to the deep respect children are supposed to have for their elders.

But toxic and abusive personalities prey on such expectations and traditions. Cutting my father out of my life freed me. Being around him shook me. Even just a meal with him would agitate me.

Becoming a parent opened my eyes. It made me think less about good daughters and more about good parents. If Zoe ever felt that traumatized by someone, I would tell her that no relationship was worth it. I figured the same message must apply to me.

abstract art artistic autumn
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s been such a palpable shift in the world lately. How are you coping? Does writing help? Or, maybe you’re letting the field grow fallow as you collect moments and experiences?

Maya Shanbhag Lang:

What a strange time this is. We’re all in a mass psychological experiment that none of us signed up for. For me there’s an eerie quality to it, a subtle creep, like a fog that sneaks up on us at different times.

I’m not a believer in shaming people out of their emotions. That whole, “Buck up, you’re fine!” message feels to me like a form of bullying. And it never works, at least for me. The space we give others is really the space we give ourselves, so I think compassion is deeply important.

As a writer, I tend to absorb people’s emotions, to notice how everyone is reacting, so all of that has kind of jammed me up. I couldn’t imagine working on my next book right now. Instead, I’m coping by focusing on my daughter and my students. And by going on long walks when I can. Nature helps.

 Leslie Lindsay:

Maya, this has been fabulous. I so loved WHAT WE CARRY. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Maya Shanbhag Lang:

I think you covered it all. Thank you so much for this interview, Leslie! I appreciate it.

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Artisitic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook.

For more information, to connect with Maya Lang via social media, or to purchase a copy of WHAT WE CARRY, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

~BOOK CONCIERGE~

I was reminded of the work of Melissa Cistaro (PIECES OF MY MOTHER) meets SHADOW DAUGHTER (Harriet Brown), with a touch of WITHOUT A MAP (Meredith Hall) and perhaps maybe MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS (Hope Edelman); these titles may enhance and expand your reading experience on themes presented in WHAT WE CARRY.

Maya Lang by Beowulf SheehanABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Maya Shanbhag Lang is the author of What We Carry: A Memoir, a New York Times Editor’s Choice Book highlighted on “Good Morning America” and others, and The Sixteenth of June, a novel. Her work has been featured in The Washington PostThe New York Times, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She holds a Ph.D. in Literature and is the daughter of Indian immigrants.

 

 

 

 

image1 (5)ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and is at work on a memoir. Her work has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Cover art on Up the Staircase Quarterly, other images in Another Chicago Magazine (AJM) and Brushfire Literary & Arts Review, poetry in The Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Journal. Leslie has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

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#alwayswithabook #amreading #memoir #mothersanddaughters #parenting #dementia #estrangement #fathers #family 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Dial Press. Author image credit: Beowulf Sheehan. Artisitic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook]

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