“When Mom Was My Age” is an interview series between daughters and mothers. New interviews appear every Monday. If you would like to participate, contact Jane.
The following interview is with Caroline Gerardo (age 42), reflecting on her life at age 19, interviewed by daughter Blaire Barbeau (age 19).
Where did you live?
In June 1978, I had finished my first year of college. I lived in the dorms and for the summer I lived in London working as an intern for Index on Censorship.
What was a typical day was like?
I worked full time while I was in college. I went to school on scholarship and paid for all my expenses. During the school year, I was a lifeguard and worked transcribing cassette tapes for an English professor who was working on a book. Sometimes I did both these jobs at the same time. I still had excellent marks.
In London, I rented a flat with four other women. We lived above the landlord in one room. I spent my days reading and memorizing the poetry of writers banned in their home country, and compiled a set of poems for an anthology. I painted and took photographs, but most of these were lost in a fire we had in 2003. I learned to shoot a gun at a range. I ran every night in the streets.
What did you worry about most?
As an American who grew up in a suburb, I never worried about personal safety. But living in London I was aware of conflict between the Irish Republican Army and the British Army. My eyes were opened to a world that was more political, with violence visible. I never worried about my future, I just became aware of how fragile life can be.
What did you think the future held for you?
Everything I ever wanted. I was positive I could do anything, make anything, create everything I ever dreamed of, if I put my mind to it. This attitude is a driving force still in me today.
How do you look back on that age now?
My innocent eyes seemed to open every door for me. I was fearless.
I think Mom still has that quality of joy and desire to try new things.The interesting part of doing this interview is that she has a daily quality of teaching by example, and with Midwestern old fashioned sayings. I thought these were quotes of some famous intellectuals, but I learned many are just her own version of inspiration. When I started this interview, I expected she was going to talk about career and art. Most of all she spoke about keeping hope always in your heart.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.