Mary Tyler Moore

Eileen Cunniffe

writes mostly nonfiction and often explores identity and experience through the lenses of travel, family, and work. Her writing has appeared in four anthologies and many literary journals, including Still Point Arts Quarterly, bioStories, Hofstra Windmill, Bluestem Magazine, Funny Pearls, and The RavensPerch.

Occasionally, her stories present themselves as prose poems. Her true stories are sometimes funny, and she likes to play a comic role in her own essays (and in life).

Four of Eileen’s essays have been recognized with Travelers’ Tales Solas Awards (two for food writing, two in the category of “most unforgettable character”).  Another received the Emrys Journal 2013 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award.

In two of her published essays, butter (yes, butter) has been an important character. Eileen also writes for Nonprofit Quarterly about the essential role of artists and arts organizations in civil society. Read more at: eileencunniffe.com

 

Memoir

Everything I Need to Know I’m Still Learning from Mary Richards

written by Eileen Cunniffe

Both a memoir and a love letter to Mary Tyler Moore and her best-remembered role, this story begins with an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where author Eileen Cunniffe’s real life mirrored Mary Richards’ television life, involving what might now be called “fake news.”

But there are other similarities as well, and reflections on what it was like in the 1970s, and is still like now, to be a single woman supporting herself in a world of mostly married (or at least formerly married) people.

Read by Catherine Nines

“I kept watching those reruns until Mary and the gang came full circle, back to their now-famous group hug. With Monday-through-Friday episodes, they sped through the 1970s in a time-warping way, even as they stayed stuck in the past.”

“I appreciated the show far more than I had as a teenager. I knew by then how hard a woman still had to work to be taken seriously, more than twenty years after Mary had proven herself. I understood just how elusive Mr. Right could be.”

“What I loved most was Mary’s resilience and her unflappable optimism. Week after week, regardless of how things had gone at work, or with her latest romance, she still tossed her tasseled hat high into the chilly Minneapolis air and started all over again.”

Q&A with Eileen

Tell us about your story...

Have you ever done something at work that was meant to be funny, but could easily have backfired? You have? Okay, and then you came home from the office, turned on your TV, and watched your all-time favorite sitcom character get in trouble for a prank that was eerily similar to the one you’d just set up?

I’d always loved Mary Richards, from the time I was a kid, but after that one memorable night in my mid-30s, I knew our stories would forever be entwined.

I carried the idea of this essay around in my head for a long time before I wrote it, and even longer before I was ready to send it out into the world. I had always loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show for its humor and its honesty. But I had to bump into some of its truths more than once before I could see that my life was, in so many ways, like that of Mary Richards, and before I could say—in writing—that I was totally fine with that.

What was the inspiration for this story?

With the help of some co-workers, I pulled a prank on a friend for his 40th birthday. Then I went home and saw an old rerun of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which Mary (with help from Rhoda) did something along the same lines, and it got her in big trouble. That was my jumping-off point. 

But the longer the idea marinated, the more I came to see that the story I wanted to tell was not just about that coincidence, but about what it means to be a single woman in a world that (still) looks sideways at that way of living.

What have you recently read that you loved?

I have just read (twice, because after the first reading I went right back to page one and started over) Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, by Anonymous. I resisted most forms of social media for a long time. But when I finally gave in and joined Twitter—mostly to engage in writerly conversations—I discovered the marvelous fictional character of Duchess Goldblatt.

I was hooked instantly by the humor and the warmth, as well as the distinctive the voice and that (sorry, Duchess) ridiculous portrait. The memoir of the real woman behind the fictional Duchess is more touching than I could have imagined. My favorite Duchess tweet—which Mary Richards might have liked, too—is this: “The only way to be reliably sure the hero gets the girl at the end of the story is to be both the hero and the girl yourself.”

Someday I want to...

Live in Ireland — where all four of my grandparents were born. Maybe for a year or two.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love “playing in the dirt” — gardening. I love the seasons in a garden, and I’m always a bit amazed when I plant something — especially from seed — and it actually grows. I’ve also discovered that when I’m stuck on a writing project, if I put it away and go into my garden, I almost always find the answer I’m looking for while I’m out there.

Anything else you'd like to share?

This story was first published just a few months before Mary Tyler Moore passed away. When the news broke that she had died, I got calls and emails from my sisters and my friends, who knew I would be feeling the loss — even though, in real life, our paths never crossed. I was so happy to see all the stories that were written about both Marys — Mary Tyler Moore and Mary Richards — in the days and weeks that followed. Clearly, their stories (fictional and real) mattered to many other people, too.

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