“This is not ‘to’ or ‘for’ Hugo but because I’m sorry, Hugo.” So Toronto author Jowita Bydlowska dedicates her 2013 best-selling memoir, Drunk Mom, to her infant son. Prefaced as an apologia for her dereliction of maternal duties, the text immediately announces itself as a work of confession; an addiction and recovery narrative; and a reality check on the “good mother” myth. Born in Warsaw and raised as a teenager in Woodstock, Ontario, Bydlowska had battled alcoholism for years before first tackling her addiction. After three and a half years of sobriety, she felt it safe to indulge in a glass of champagne at a party honouring the birth of her baby. Bydlowska writes of that drink: “It was nothing. It was celebrating.” It was, of course, much more than that: it was the beginning of her eleven months of drunken motherhood, the source material for her compelling and controversial memoir. Here, taking the warts-and-all approach to life writing, Bydlowska exposes her raw and traumatizing experiences with blackouts, deceit, shame, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, and depression as she battles herself and her bottles to be “a good mom” to Hugo and “a worthy partner” to Hugo’s father, Toronto writer Russell Smith.
On November 13 2013, Bydlowska visited Ryerson to speak about her book with students in Professor Liz Podnieks’ English course Studies in Auto/Biography (ENG570). Throughout the term, students have been reading and thinking about the genre of auto/biography in relational terms, querying, for instance, who has the right to tell life stories that necessarily involve others, the ethics of revealing family secrets, and how contemporary memoirs drive and reflect audience demand for self-revelation. Perched casually on a stool at the front of the lecture hall, Bydlowska—a graduate of Ryerson’s Journalism program—addressed issues such as these as she engaged in a vibrant and intimate discussion with the students. She provided candid insight into her writing strategies, her conception of memoir as an imperfect account predicated on memory, the imperatives and consequences of making the private public, and her responses to the media which has both castigated and championed her for her taboo-breaking depictions of “bad” motherhood.
Throughout the term, students have been reading and thinking about the genre of auto/biography in relational terms, querying, for instance, who has the right to tell life stories that necessarily involve others, the ethics of revealing family secrets, and how contemporary memoirs drive and reflect audience demand for self-revelation.