Tag Archives: honesty

Mary Jo Doig Reviews: Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother

Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother
edited by Kate Farrell

Unlimited Publishing LLC, 2011. ISBN 978-1-588-32217-3.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 01/28/2012 at http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org Story Circle Book Reviews. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons

In this lovely collection of stories, twenty-five daughters have penned unique and very diverse stories about their mothers. Divided into two sections, Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother is about both Mother Love and Mother Loss, stories that will stay in your heart long after you have tenderly closed the book’s back cover.

I will not soon forget Shelly Chase Muniz’ words in “Even Then” about her gentle, caring mother who—rejected as an ethnic outsider in her own childhood community—taught her daughters to have respect and compassion for all people, not excluding the homeless alcoholic who arrived each day at their family-operated store, hopeful for a gift of food. “Mom had a sandwich ready for him and a cup of coffee to comfort his jittery nerves. She never asked Ben for money, but often he would take her broom and sweep the sloped entry to the store as payment.”

Muniz continues, “All my life, I never heard my mother raise her voice. I never heard her yell at my father, nor he at her…. Their tenderness transferred to us, three girls who never had an occasion to learn how to fight.”

In “Quiet Morsels with My Mum,” Rebecca Milford scribes how her mother, after having tried every possible way she could think of to help her daughter cease her anorexic behavior, quietly and gracefully began an approach that powerfully conveyed her love and acceptance of her daughter and ultimately became the pathway to Milford’s healing.

Yet mother hunger and loss are also pervasive in our society. Many who have suffered this deep loss are easily visible; they are the “bad girls,” as Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg describes them: the girls who have a “propensity for drugs, drinking, sexual activity, and little tolerance for school….”

These stories also evoke powerful emotions. Laura McHale Holland, youngest of three daughters, exquisitely tells her story of profound loss, when her mother decided to end her life when Holland was just two years old. Holland grew to struggle with her own darkness for many years and skillfully takes us with her through her childhood and adolescent shadows as she determines not to remain in the void that claimed her mother.

The depth of the role model she became for her own daughter was not fully clear to her until the day her middle-schooler, assigned “to sum up what she’d learned from her mother,” wrote “…that life is a gift and you should enjoy each and every day.”

“I was stunned,” Holland said. “I had never said this to her. I was focused on messages like always do your best and you can do anything you put your mind to. But my daughter dug deeper and found wisdom I demonstrated in my daily actions but was not consciously aware of, wisdom that was hard earned. And what better message could I, a daughter of suicide, give my own daughter and the generations of daughters and sons who may follow?”

Holland then concludes, “The sorrow fused with my mother’s choice to end her life when mine had barely begun still resides deep within me, a silent companion. But her legacy is nevertheless rich, not in the few facts my mother-memories contain, but in the way her actions forced me to live with darkness and find joy in life anyway.”

In all, the voices of these diverse and compelling writers lead the reader through sunlight, shadows, shifting sands, and sometimes even a tidal wave in her mother relationship, yet each arrives into an ultimately peace-filled place where pain can still sometimes be a visitor, but where sunshine is a primary resident. This remarkable little book is filled with an uncommon grace and wisdom.

Listen to the authors read their stories.

The editor of this collection, Kate Farrell, earned her masters at UC Berkeley. She has been a language arts classroom teacher, author, librarian, university lecturer, and storyteller in Northern California since 1966. She founded the Word Weaving Storytelling Project to encourage educators to learn and enjoy the art. Now Kate sees a new tradition of storytelling among women, that between daughter and mother. What was mother really trying to tell us? Sometimes she spoke in actions and not words. With this anthology Kate hopes to find out and share the wisdom of our mothers and the meaning daughters bring to this unique and deeply bonded relationship—through memoir. Visit her website.

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Filed under Memoir

Expose Yourself for Art

This morning I awoke from a disturbing dream: I had left my MAC with some friends in a computer lab in Mexico City and needed to communicate. When I finally made it across the city, I found my equipment disconnected and not where I left it. The attendant of the computer room turned out to be Fernando, one of my Spanish teachers from the language school I’d attended in Mexico City. Fernando had been a sweet, easy-going fellow. In my dream, he had turned manipulative and controlling. He spoke politely, I had committed some error and I was not going to use a computer, and no way was I going to collect and carry away my own equipment. In fact, he planned to take it—he wanted to suppress my voice. I woke up frustrated and feeling very vulnerable. I haven’t thought of Fernando in eighteen years. What could this possibly mean?

I turned to my journal, wrote down everything I could remember about the dream and assessed everything I was feeling. As Julia Cameron says, “Writing it out, I stepped back to safety. Writing it out, I experienced my vulnerability and used it to find strength.” As I wrote something shifted. I left my morning pages feeling positive and ready to face the day.

But that isn’t all. I began to uncover meaning. I’m not in Mexico, and I don’t have connection to people from my school anymore except through my memory and my writing, but I’ve got the right to speak! Don’t I? I used Amber Lea Starfire’s prompt #6 under the chapter, Authenticity, in Week by Week to explore my feelings: Free write for ten minutes about the fears you have about doing what you think you’d love to do. What might happen? Is it okay to be happy? Why or why not? Write about the worst and best that could happen….

In my memoir, Saints and Skeletons, I’m talking about some things that some people, including me, may not want to share with the world. I’m writing about things that make me vulnerable, but that’s good. If I write from a place of vulnerability, I’ll be speaking honestly. I will practice in my journal. The journal will allow me to break out of my patterns and create myself in a new way, using the vulnerability and honest talk as a tool to describe my life and direct it. I’ll clear out some of the brush that hides the truth about me and my life—in this case, about my life in Mexico. I’ll use the journal to make myself brave enough to stand up to the Fernandos of the world, and tell it like it was, openly and compassionately when I get to the ‘for publication’ pages.

I’m discovering that as I write to my vulnerabilities, I make myself more transparent—to myself—and more open to what it is to be human on earth now. In a way, I’m developing a greater depth of compassion for myself through journaling, a compassion that spills over to my fellow humans (I never lacked animal compassion!) Julia claims that if she writes it, she begins to practice it, and ‘it’ is more empathy for people—a fine skill for a writer to embrace.

The idea of writing from a place of vulnerability can be frightening. It can leave the writer exposed and uncomfortable. I’m no different but I’ve noticed that once I write about something and let it go, I don’t own it any more, or maybe in the writing, I’ve dialed down my vulnerability and I don’t feel so uncomfortable. Maybe it’s easier when I remember that I want to express myself, and to do that I must poke around inside to find out what I feel and why. Practicing in my journal is my first step to creating the art I want Saints and Skeletons to be. I can embarrass myself, contradict myself, and change my mind in long hand until I find my authentic, honest voice. Then I can take it to the computer, yes, the confiscated MAC, and imbue my work with my tender, vulnerable heart. Fernando won’t be able to take that away.

Class prompt: Julia Cameron’s Honesty Initiation Tool from The Right to Write

I call this tool the “Flashlight.” Putting things in black and white gives us a flashlight to find our way through the gray. We begin by honestly asking questions. We answer until we arrive at honest answers. The writing itself is the clue to when we are on the right trail. When we are writing honestly, the writing heats up and we can feel that. When we get cold feet about the truth, our prose goes cold as well. The we need to pry the icy surface and see what we can dig up. We can try sentences like:
“If I let myself admit it, I…”
“If it weren’t so risky, I’d…”
“If it didn’t scare me, I…”
“If it weren’t so stupid, I’d…”
Under the surface we find our conflicting feelings, the “yes” and “no,” the “I love him but…” specificity of emotional honesty. We can trick ourselves by word games into self-disclosure when we are stymied:
What animal is he?
What season is it?
What kind of music?
What food?
Using language, there are a hundred different ways to excavate our buried truths, to arrive at our difficult knowings.
“If it weren’t so threatening, I’d admit…”
“If I let myself know it I feel…”
“If I let myself feel it I should…”
“If I let myself entertain the thought, I should…”
“I’m not ready yet, but eventually I need to…”
Any of these gentle prods moves us closer to honesty. When we arrive at internal honesty, internal clarity, it becomes far easier to take external actions. It is a matter of breaking down actions into very small, do-able increments. The page is an ideal place for lists, for brainstorming, for venting and inventing.

Assignment for class: Work with Julia’s prompt. Focus on some unresolved anger. After you’ve asked and answered your questions and feel you have a grasp of this anger, write a rant! It may be a song, poem, short fiction, personal memoir, or a scene in you current project. How much energy, honesty, and vulnerability can you pack into your rant? Bring it to class and let us hear your vulnerable, honest voice.

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Honesty in Memoir–Start by Journaling

Who am I, what do I believe, and what is it I want to do? These and similar questions are top of mind these days, in part because I had the privilege to proofread newly released Week by Week, A Year’s Worth of Journaling Prompts and Meditations written by Amber Lea Starfire. The book is a collection of writing prompts and musings by the author that are designed to encourage and enhance self-awareness and healing through journaling. The book is arranged into weekly themes with daily prompts to inspire journal writers to deeply explore themselves and their relationship with the world. The themes include: Spirituality, Family & Relationships, Authenticity, Obstacles & Opportunities and more.

My opportunity to read Week by Week came right after I’d finished Julia Cameron’s The Writing Diet: Write yourself Right-Size and was beginning to enjoy writing my “morning pages.” Digging down into my mind with a pen had at first seemed self-indulgent, but by the time I’d worked through that first book, I’d begun to feel more comfortable with the process, and I had begun to see how I could use my insight into my motivations and behavior as tools to help me deepen my fictional characters. Then I was rear-ended, and it was no fender bender. Only by the mysterious movement of the Universe was I not seriously injured. That got me really thinking! And along came Week by Week.

I’ve learned another use for journaling—calming the mind. Writing on the topics in the book kept me going. I wrote about my physical experience, my luck. I wrote myself out of a big case of the jitters. A friend called it PTSD. I agree, I was traumatized by being hit by a car hurtling along at 50 mph. I’m still clenching the steering wheel and thinking don’t hit me, don’t hit me everytime I slow don, but I’m back in the saddle. I meditated on Amber Lea Starfire’s meditations. I started to heal my trauma, and I noticed I started to heal old wounds, too. Everyone said journaling is a great thing to do, and now I’m a convert!

It’s synchronicity how things that are on my mind crop up in one or both of my books of prompts. (I’m also using Julia Cameron’s The Right to
Write, An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life,
Penguin Putnam Inc. 1998) My current writing project, a memoir of the time I lived in Mexico, has me stymied. The writing is getting tricky now, because I’m going to have to reveal my “dark side”—my bad behavior, my insecurities—I’m going to have to expose my inner secrets. I’ve noticed that I’m working hard to avoid revealing myself and my writing is taking on a false tone. I might as well quit writing the book if I can’t be honest—or write a novel!

So the topic of honesty in memoir (and in life in general) has been coming up for me in my journaling. Today I randomly opened Week by Week to “Honesty.” The prompts got me thinking about my time in Mexico, and I realize that I may not know myself, or my motivation from that time. I may be hiding the truth even from myself. Amber Lea calls this pockets of deceit and I feel like that’s all my pockets are filled with. She posits that the truth is getting to an absence of deceit. Truth, she claims is simple and unpretentious— an attitude not just a standard.

My journal entry today: To write Saints and Skeletons I have to be unpretentious. It’s the only way. I must say, “I engineered the entire fiasco because I was so empty inside, so insecure, that I needed to manipulate this guy to be with me. I hooked him in with the glamour of adventure and romance. I bought his attention. It was easy. He was weak, lacking in moral fiber, greedy and lost and like a jerky, exaggerated Mambo, we each knew our steps and we danced it down and dirty in perfect syncopation. I lured, he followed. He pulled back, I manipulated….” This memoir is going to require that I assess my own honesty, emotional, intellectual and moral.

Lucky for me I’ve got Week by Week to prompt and guide me past the shadows obscuring my emotions. In my journal, I’ll find the truth, admit to it and when I get to those difficult chapters in Saints and Skeletons, I’ll be able to adhere to the facts. I’ll be able to (metaphorically) stand up and claim myself. No excuses. No regrets. “Here I am, Readers. I dare you not to love me!”

Here’s prompt #4 under Honesty in Week by Week : Write about the facade or mask you wear in the world—your public face. If the public could really know you, what would they know about you? If you’re in my classyour assignment is to keep a journal for the duration of the session. Write each day. Start by writing to Amber Lea Starfire’s prompt. When you have exhausted your thoughts on your “public face,” take what you learned about yourself and write a poem, essay, short story, or use your understanding to create a short scene in your novel. Plan on reading your piece at the next class.

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