Podcast #88: Mary-Louise Parker on Relationships, Motherhood, and Religion

By Tracy O'Neill, Social Media Curator
November 24, 2015

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Mary-Louise Parker is an actress best known for her role on the television show Weedsfor which she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress is 2006. With her new memoir Dear Mr. You, she adds author to her list of accomplishments. This week for the New York Public Library Podcast, we're proud to present Mary-Louise Parker in conversation with Mary Karr on relationships, motherhood, and religion.

Mary-Louise Parker LIVE from the NYPL

Mary-Louise Parker LIVE from the NYPL

In Dear Mr. You, Parker delves into some of the formative relationships of her life. She notes that her relationships have often attained a heightened level of intensity because of a tendency to imbue them with import:

"I think I overinvest in other people and I overconnect to other people and that’s my relationships are so intense sometimes because it’s that release that you get when you feel seen suddenly, which is at war with the majority of me, which hates to be looked at. I do crave being—you know, you want to be really seen by someone and connecting to somebody is paying attention to them and what do they need and what are they thinking and what do they want for Christmas, and I just saw them touch that tie, or—those kind of things I remember, and it’s overconnecting that which makes disconnect from other things, which makes me leave the mail in the freezer or, you know, that makes me forget huge chunks of the day. And it’s not that I’m saying I’m so martyred or I’m so saintly that I’m overconnecting. I’m not sure that that’s necessarily a good trait. Sometimes it is and sometimes it comes out of a generosity and sometimes it comes out of need, you know? And it’s hard to say which is which. I’m not really probably self-aware enough to say which one is acting at which point. You know, when you’re being generous, we want to believe that all our generous gestures come from goodness but sometimes they come out of need, I think. Need to feel like a good person, feel like we’re seen as a good person."

Parker is quick to note that she's been fortunate to have a rewarding career that has allowed her to spend time with her children, unlike her own mother. In this way, Parker's attained some balance between her work and her family life:

"My mother... had four children, she didn’t have anyone helping her at all. You know, there were times when my father didn’t have a job. And you know, my dad was looking for work or he was at work, and she was just trying to get food on the table and get us taken care of. And Eileen—to be a single mother is a different kind of pressure but I have had the luxury at times because my job allows me, when I do work, I work very intensive hours, but then I have times when I’m off and I can take them to school every single morning and I can be the one that puts them to bed at night and if I can be I will be, that’s much more interesting to me than going out and going anywhere. It’s just, it’s much more fulfilling to me, it fortifies me in the way I wanted my whole life, you know, I wanted that."

When Karr noted that that Parker's memoir might be seen as framed by a spiritual search, Parker explained her view on religion. She does attend church but permits herself interpretive and curatorial space:

"For me, it’s a conversation, it’s an ongoing conversation, and it’s a—it’s a search, and any of the words you use sound so cliché it’s difficult to sort of put a name to it, but it is something that I look for, and I do go to church, and I go to different kinds of churches, and I have moments where it’s very hard for me to remember my religion or remember God or remember spirit and then moments where I rage against it... one day one of my children said, 'I’m feeling kind of sixty/forty about the cross thing, about did he come down off the cross or not? Sixty-five maybe he did, you know, thirty-five maybe he didn’t.' I said, 'Okay, let’s talk about that. Let’s see how you feel when you go in there, if you feel that way afterwards.' It’s okay to feel whatever you want to feel or think whatever you want to think and take from religion or not what you can, but if you do take, there is something there sitting in the room with a bunch of people who are trying to arrive at something to be better people. And if you find those rooms, then religion is extremely useful. If you find rooms that shut their door or their windows, or even shut their door just a crack, those are the rooms that exclude and you don’t want to be in those rooms. But there are rooms in the world where people are trying to find that and those rooms, I believe, shoot something up into the stratosphere."

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