Strout’s narrator says, “…recording this now I think of something Sarah Payne had said at the writing class in Arizona. ‘You will have only one story,’ she had said. ‘You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.'”
Life is easier, in some ways, when things are neatly divided into them/us, bad/good, never/always boxes.
When those boxes crumble, when the lines between certainties blur, our assumptions and givens shake. Things get trickier and more interesting.
A few box-crumbling events have happened in my world over the past few years:
a friend’s husband was accused of molesting their granddaughter. I believe that he did not do it.
another friend was attacked in her home and brutally beaten. She found her way to deep forgiveness.
a trusted employee was arrested for domestic violence. I decided to pay for his bail.
In an either/or world, I believe in accusers/victims no matter what; I want my friend’s attacker to go to prison for as long as the law allows; I draw a hard line and fire the batterer.
In the grey zone, I can be open to the possibilities of believing in the accused, marveling at forgiveness, and hoping for the batterer’s change.
My bias remains toward accusers and victims. I believe there is no justification, ever, for emotional or physical violence and also that it is very, very difficult to stop learned behaviors like battering.
Living a little bit more in the grey helps me better understand my own story. Living in the grey is expansive. Challenging my assumptions makes my ultimate conclusions–or what will be my interim conclusions–more nuanced, more complex, more allowing of further refined understanding.
Living in the grey allows the possibility of telling and hearing all the stories.
I met Alana Sheeren via my friend Jeanne, that great connector, and for the past couple of years I’ve followed Alana on her blog and social media.
She’s doing a series of interviews called “Transformation Talk.” Here’s what she writes about them:
Every Thursday for a year, starting in September 2012, I’ll post an interview with someone who is a force for good in the world. These men and women have either deepened their passion or found their calling after experiencing a loss, trauma or diagnosis
I want to broaden the conversation around grief and its transformative power. My hope is that in their words you’ll find echoes of your story. In their inspired actions, you’ll see yourself and your immense possibility.
About a week ago, I had the pleasure of being the “someone” she interviewed. Here is our conversation.
I realized this morning that today is April 11, a day that for me has become a day of unexpected transformations.
April 11, 2007 was the day my ex-husband was arrested. April 11, 2011 was the day I gave my first public talk to a group. And now April 11, 2013, through no foresight or planning on my part, is the day of my first interview.
I really appreciate the work Alana is doing with respect to grief and loss and their transformative power. Thank you, Alana, for being part of my ongoing transformation.
This morning I happened to be reading Deborah Tannen’s Talking from 9 to 5, the chapter on women bosses.
Tannen critiques a Newsweek review of Margaret Thatcher’s memoir for its handbag image: “The image of Thatcher ‘clobbering them with her metaphorical handbag’ undercuts the force of her actions, even as it gives her credit for attacking her opponents. A woman clobbering men with her handbag is an object of laughter, not fear or admiration.”
Thatcher died today, and this afternoon’s New York Times article about her life references the handbag metaphor, too: “Brisk and argumentative, she was rarely willing to concede a point and loath to compromise. Colleagues who disagreed with her were often deluged in a sea of facts, or what many referred to as being ‘handbagged.'”
Regardless of any reservations I might have about Thatcher’s policies, and these are subject to revision based on this piece by Andrew Sullivan, I have to admit that I admire her force, her commitment, her political will. I think for a moment that I wouldn’t mind having it said about me that I “handbagged” someone. I like a good handbag as much as anyone, and I have been known to resist conceding when my convictions are at stake.
But I’m thinking again. In between this morning’s coincidental reading of Tannen on handbagging and this afternoon’s reading of the Times on Thatcher, I had an intense conversation with a man about another man’s use of the word “rape” to suggest “plunder” in casual conversation. I believe with Tannen that words matter, and that “rape” is a very specific kind of sexualized violence and a word that should not be used lightly. The man I was talking with invoked dictionary definitions and said that I have a chip on my shoulder.
He’s right: I do have a chip on my shoulder about rape.
Meanwhile, I’m asking myself how my memoir stands up as a story, not only my story.
I ask myself, Does it have the necessary ingredients for the heroine’s journey? Have I written a main character who faces obstacles and, as a result, changes just as much as a well-drawn fictional character?
In a recent nytimes.com piece called “Make Me Worry You’re Not OK,”, Susan Shapiro writes, “My favorite [personal nonfiction] essays begin with emotional devastation and conclude with surprising metamorphosis.”
We want metamorphosis in the stories we read and the stories we live. We want to find beauty and meaning in what we have shed.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, “Secrets, like fairy tales and dreams, also follow the same energy patterns and structures as those found in drama. But secrets, instead of following the heroic structure, follow the tragic structure. . . . The secrets a woman keeps are almost always heroic dramas that have been perverted into tragedies that go nowhere.”
How do you or do I change our stories (lived and written) from tragedy to heroine’s journey?
We tell secrets, particularly those kept in shame.
Estes writes, “[T]he way to change a tragic drama back into a heroic one is to open the secret, speak of it to someone, write another ending, examine one’s part in it and one’s attributes in enduring it. These learnings are equal parts pain and wisdom. The having lived through it is a triumph of the deep and wild spirit.”
Telling my stories to an ever-widening audience transforms me from battered woman to proud member of the Scar Clan; it changes my story from tragic to heroic.
This morning when I heard the news of the Aurora shooting. I immediately thought of Jeanne, whose son lives in Denver, and who wrote a beautiful post today that weaves a whirlwind of reactions into a reminder to love each other.
I keep thinking about the story of one of the people who was killed. Jessica Ghawi was in Toronto just last month at the Eaton Center, where another shooting took place. She blogged about her experience here.
I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.
I hope she lived the past 45 days with those words in mind. I hope all of us can live with those words in mind.
In Walden, Thoreau wrote, “All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.”
On March 1, I had an idea so clear and bright that before I knew it, I was sending out this email:
“I’m putting together a month of blog posts for National Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is Women’s Education–Women’s Empowerment. Women’s stories are near and dear to my heart, and I believe they are important to you, too. I admire your writing, and I would be honored if you would be willing to share a story and/or photos in a guest blog post at www.angelakelsey.com. I’d love to read your stories of women who’ve contributed to your education and/or your empowerment, in whatever way(s) you choose to define the words and convey your stories. Poetry, prose, and photos are welcome.”
After the initial email, I exercised no more control over this series than I did over the hydrangea pictured here, and the pieces worked together just as beautifully, just as organically. With the exception of knowing that I wanted to contain the posts within the supportive bookends of Jeanne and Julie, I posted them in the order I received them, and if you read them in order, I think you will see that a whole, greater than the sum of its parts, was formed.
Part of me, not wanting to impinge upon the nest that’s been created of its own accord, wants to post an awestruck retrospective that simply says, “Wow.”
Wow to the synergy and the dance of the posts with each other. Wow to the openness and the willingness of the writers. Wow to the women they honor, the personal journeys they share. Wow to those who continued the conversation through their comments.
Another part wants to acknowledge the generosity of each woman who gave of herself and her life and her stories. Another part wants to highlight some of the themes that emerged.
So, in awe mixed with gratitude, I do a little of each, although these pieces are so tightly interwoven that they touch each other in many more ways than I can show here.
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Cheryl Ives primarily through Twitter, and today I’m very happy to share more than 140 characters of her writing. I find in her story a mirror of my own, and I hope you, too, will feel honored and seen in this latest Nest-Making post for Women’s History Month.
I have a mixed relationship with women.
I noticed early on that my mother seemed to do the most work, receive the most complaints, get the least praise, and take the short end of the stick in the family. I got the impression that being a woman means always giving more and taking less. Maybe I unconsciously judged my mother weak for putting up with it. I wanted no part of that for myself, my life.
Besides, girls made me nervous. They had strange rules no one explained, and they wouldn’t tell you when you broke them. They ostracized you and then claimed they were your friends. They were always whispering and giggling. I found girls consistently interested in boring things and bored by interesting things. I had no idea what to make of them.
Teenaged girls were worse – make-up, clothes, crushes, pin-ups…I felt pretty impatient with all of it. I faked what I could to fit in, but I never did. Then in University, the so-called Feminists I met made me mad with their demand that we all think the same, and their judgments of choices women made. I felt out of step with all womanhood, on all sides.
Bisexuality only complicated an already confusing relationship with the females of the species.
Workplace women presented another side of the creature. In the professional office environment, I saw undercutting behind faked support, overdone kindnesses masking shared smirks, resentments, and even sexual manipulation of men. That wasn’t all I saw, and many competent, respectable women rank among my former co-workers. But I felt that each of us, in our way, forged our own path. Women as community, in these workplaces, tended towards the social circles I thought I’d left behind in grade school – cliques with very specific expectations of each other. Even the most supportive team of women I’ve ever worked with often succumbed to the schoolyard dynamic. In this environment, success became isolating for women. For me.
So, to recap – I grew up thinking that being a woman meant being treated as less and asked to do more. I grew up without a sense of shared community with other girls. I made my way in my career without a sense of shared community with other professional women. Frankly, I didn’t really respect most of the women I met. I wouldn’t have believed that at the time, but looking back, I see it’s true. I saw most women as weak for being willing to do more and get less, and as mean for holding each other to that same reducing standard. I saw women restricting each other with judgements at any sign of “selfishness” or ambition.
And then, I had a baby.
Women who had never bothered with me pulled me into the fold. Baby showers, hand-me-downs, advice, cupcakes, casseroles, hugs – the side of women’s community that had always left me out suddenly surrounded me, drew me in, called me theirs. Women I didn’t know shared smiles and supportive words. Co-workers cooed over pictures. Women fussed over me pregnant, and as a new mom, in a way I’d never imagined. It felt like a cocoon of female support. It felt like…mother’s love.
When women tune into their mother, even women without children, everything changes.
When women tune into each other with love, it changes the course of history. I know, because it changed the course of my history.
The women of Twitter rode the heels of the mother-culture for me. In this world of non-physical interaction, I found myself enveloped with a community of seeking women, wise women, loving and giving women. Women creating and birthing, not babies but ideas, beauty and trust. A community of women surrounding and nudging each other, cheering each other on, clapping with joy and weeping tears together without even meeting in person. In this community, women of different ages, backgrounds, cultures and beliefs seek the common and share widely. In this community, I feel nurtured as my shoots of inspiration grub up through the soil.
I am daily deepening my understanding and participation in the primal nurturing care that women protect in this world of hard ideas and incomplete logic. Women have allowed the masculine to dictate what is valuable, and our systems have consistently failed to value caring and human life. Now, it lies with women to re-value caring in our societies through how we live and create community together, and how we support each other to carry this wider and higher until it infiltrates every system of government and economics.
It’s together that women can remind the world: Every Life Has Value. It’s together that we can nurture love and support for every shoot of inspiration, every shoot of creative life that reaches for sun. The mother-love inside us, regardless of whether we have birthed a human, can reach beyond our petty fears to love each of us for how we matter to the world. This is power unique to us.
And that inspires me.
Provocateur by trade and nature. After 16 years in the corporate sector and a two year non-profit experiment, I have decided to only seek work that I’m interested in doing, with people who are interested in doing it. In the meantime, I’m photographing, painting, speaking and writing about the things that matter to my heart. Website in progress athttp://www.ivesagency.com. Blog at http://mrs-which.blogspot.ca/ and open source novel at http://www.holdonhope.ca/timeless.