Merle Woo

Merle Woo was an author that, unfortunately, suffered from the fact that our class is only 75 minutes long. There are times that I wish we could stay longer and talk, but by the way zippers begin to sound at 11:43, I don’t think that many share that sentiment. And I can’t blame them. Most of them are full time students, taking many classes, with work to do for each of them. I have the luxury of devoting more academic time to this, my only class, than they do. We did not have a class discussion on Woo, but the instructor did give us a question to think about on our own time.

The piece by Woo included in Available Means is in the form of a letter to her mother. As a rhetorical framework, that alone appealed to me. I’ve thought about writing such a letter to my own mother, though the issues that I would raise differ significantly from Woo’s. Her letter does, however, deal with the relationship that she has with her mother - how it has fractured because of Woo’s identity and politics (lesbian, Asian American, feminist). “I believe there are chasms between us” (307), she writes. Woo describes chasms of understanding, swallowing attempts to communicate in their depths, seemingly unfillable.

However, Woo ends the piece on an optimistic note. “I feel now that I can begin to put our lives in a larger framework. Ma, a larger framework! The outlines for us are time and blood, but today there is breadth possible through making connections with others involved in community struggle” (313). The question given for further thought included the first sentence of that quotation, but I felt that the energy in the remainder communicated more clearly the meaning and hope of it. The question was: What is her relationship to her mother, and how is a larger framework needed?

It is as if Woo and her mother were so close, so zoomed in to the way that they related to each other, that great chasms seemed to separate their perspectives, hampering their ability to communicate. They could not bridge the chasm. They could not find a way around it. But by stepping back, defining their relationship, mother and daughter, in a larger context, they might find that the chasm is no more than a crack, something ordinary that can be worked around. Understanding that cannot be reached between mother and daughter might be found when they look at themselves as more than simply those roles to each other.

*Page numbers refer to the reprint of this essay in Available Means

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