Sunday, January 04, 2015

Book #1: When Women Were Birds

Roger and I were in Salt Lake City for his Aunt Darlene's funeral the other day, and we stopped by The King's English bookstore on our way home. I always buy something when I stop in because I am committed to voting with my dollars there. As Roger wasn't inclined to buy anything for himself, I justified leaving with two books, including Terry Tempest Williams' When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice, a continuation of Refuge, her earlier memoir of her mother's illness and death.

In the book, Terry Tempest Williams processes the fact that her mother left her three shelves full of her journals which turned out to be completely blank (!) by exploring the idea of voice--how we find it, how we use it, why we silence it, and how silence can speak volumes.

Williams' love of creating written language does not seem to come from her mother. Her love of birds, though, and of nature more broadly, was deeply instilled in her by her family.

One of my early paradoxical memories of my own mother was that despite her utter dislike for birds, she studied her field guide and kept in a notebook a meticulous list of every bird she saw near our house at the edge of the woods. I did not inherit that drive. But I found comfort in her record keeping, and I have taken great pleasure in Williams' writing over the years as she describes the extraordinary details she observes in the natural world.

An old friend asked me yesterday why I write here, in a public way. I told him that it is a practice. I am trying to experiment with language, to find my voice, to sort through what I think, to remember. Making it public keeps me accountable, both to the discipline writing requires as well as for the ideas I express.

And I often wonder, will people change the way they see me as they read what I have written? Will they hear what I say differently if they discover I don't see the world or heaven or hell the way they do? Or the way I saw those things yesterday? Or the way I'll see them tomorrow?

I suppose I am keeping a record like my mother, but instead of birds, it is of my thoughts before they fly away.

No comments: