Day 121 of 366: Blog Challenge 2012
It seemed like a natural thing for a mother to say on her deathbed to her 31-year-old daughter: “I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won’t look at them until after I’m gone.”
I had woken at 3 am and heard a woman – Terry Tempest Williams – talking on Radio National about the journals her mother had left her. Being a journal writer myself my ear was immediately tuned in to hear more.
Terry is an American environmentalist and writer and was being interviewed about her book: When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice (2012) which is a personal memoir written in response to the reading of her mother’s journals after her death.
But what captivated me was what happened when Terry went to read the journals:
“They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful cloth-bound books . . . I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It too was empty . . . Shelf after shelf after shelf, all of my mother’s journals were blank.”
What, she wondered, could possibly be the meaning of such a thing? Answering that question triggered the book “When Women Were Birds.”
When I heard Terry talk about these empty journals, I felt angry. Why would a woman go to the trouble of buying these beautiful journals … and then write NOTHING in them? What sort of a woman was she? I could hardly go back to sleep with these questions running around in my head.
Obviously, one will need to read the book “When Women Were Birds” to find out exactly what Terry made of it all but we do know that in her attempt to make sense of this interesting turn of events, she explored what it means “to have a voice – as a woman, a writer, a Mormon, a naturalist, a mortal human being.”
And this also captivated me. Terry felt that because her mother was silent, that SHE – Terry – should now learn to find her own voice. The interview I heard was about how Terry found her voice. Not necessarily by doing a lot of ‘talking’ but ‘voice’ as in using it for influence – for good. Learning to speak when necessary.
Terry learned to speak up when she needed to by saying the “best thing” rather than by using a lot of words and in this she was aided by certain woman who taught and influenced her.
It led me to start thinking folks, about how us women find our own voice in our lives. In fact, by chance this morning I had run into an acquaintance when I popped out to the shops for 15 minutes which turned into an an hour and half chat over coffee!
But what we were talking about was this very subject: being able to speak our mind (nicely) in truth. In other words: FINDING YOUR VOICE. It had not occurred to me that this was aligning with what I had heard during the night until I began my research this afternoon.
So I began to wonder: how do we find the way to say what needs to be said? Does it mean that we will alienate those we speak truth to? And when is keeping quiet more important than saying our piece? Such important questions to ask my friends.
Yet, the thought persisted: I could not think of anything worse than a mother who purposely left her journals ‘blank’ and then made a point of telling the daughter to read them?! What was this about?
However as I write, I see that in some ways, my own mother bequeathed to me her own ‘blank journals.’ She did not actually keep journals as such, but she did not reveal enough of herself to me either. Terry is not alone in this. How many of our mothers left behind their thoughts and desires, disappointments and triumphs? Not many I fear.
Do we actually know so much about our mothers that we could say: “Wow, is that what my mother thought?” All my mother left behind was a few random thoughts that she let slip at times and I have been left to piece them together to find out what my mother was really thinking deep inside.
Perhaps Terry’s mother was of the same generation as my own mother: they did not divulge a lot about themselves and we have been left to wonder …
And maybe … just maybe … their silence has indeed helped us to FIND OUR OWN VOICE TOO?
Perhaps our mothers did give us a gift after all in leaving us their ‘empty journals?’ Perhaps they have told us not to be like them … that because of their silence we need to find our own voice and use it.