Alice Suskin Ostriker, a poet, mother, feminist, educator whose hands I would love to kiss, penned these words in Writing Like A Woman:
“The writer who is a mother should, I think, record everything she can: make notes, keep journals, take photographs, use a tape recorder, and remind herself that there is a subject of incalculably vast significance to humanity, about which virtually nothing is known because writers have not been mothers.”
Alice’s work has been called “an essential part of our history”. She writes passionately about the peril and blessing of motherhood for a writer, and I extrapolate her use of writer to any creative woman. When we stir motherhood in to our lives, we are colored by what W.B. Yeats yearned for, an interesting life.
And it is those interesting lives for which I stand.
The most pervasive response I hear from women who attended Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others or who read An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice or who spend time in the Out blog series about mothering and creativity or who write with me in the Powder Keg Sessions, is that “I thought it was just me!” “I felt so alone until now.” “I had no idea other women felt these feelings.” “I thought I was the worst mother ever.”
We have been persuaded by some force I shall not name, but which remains a force of impressive power, that our struggles as women who mother are mundane and uninteresting, the toils of those who wipe and fold, who worry and pray, who organize and execute lunches, careers and college applications are not equal to the stories of others, particularly those stories told by men. We learn from these voices in our culture, where museums hang paintings of women, but few painted by women, where newspapers review books by men but far less frequently books by women, where recognition of the value of mothering and child rearing is a flicker on the screens of our legislators…. all these forces mount up. We have accumulated an intense silence around mothering which OUT aims to remove. The wipers and planners, the story tellers to children, the good night moon monologists end up thinking they must be the only one bottling up yearnings and dreams, putting full sentences on hold until the kids leave the house. My mentor Paulus Berensohn, a internationally recognized teacher of art teachers and extraordinary man, told me that some of the most beautiful art work he has seen is made by women in their fifties, emerging from the child-raising years, and able to get on with the thoughts they had paused during their mothering years.
I say, why wait?
I say, the voices of women who mother, who create, are worth hearing from when the heat is hot and the yearning groaning and full. I think it is of dire importance for us to add to the world these stories so that women rise up to advocate for the needs and concerns of each other, to advocate for the well being of families. I think we would have a more just and verdant world if categories were dissolved as Gloria Steinem suggests and mothers could stand next to the people who have had all the benefits of uncluttered floors to traverse as they get to work every day. In her words,
“Hearing the stories of others reveals the layers of injustice.
We follow the thread to see the simple things that are wrong.”
I add, that we also reveal and value the things that are densely right, necessary for life, and important for all people. If by telling the stories from inside motherhood, one life is changed for the better, than I say we have accomplished our mission. Apparently we did that.
Here is Sarah’s response:
Simply unforgettable. I sat in the audience, transfixed by the words of the beautiful women who stood before me. I could feel their love, strength, pride, and their pain radiating through their voices, and I was amazed. I think I sobbed the entire two hours. Thank you for sharing your stories… I truly felt like I had come “home” in a room full of strangers, because of our common bond of motherhood.
I have been mulling over the evening. The packed house at Dewey Historical Hall, the old wood, the warm light, the tea, cake and cookies, the generous souls who showed up for an evening of Mothers Reading to Others.
The Circle of Fifths who opened the show. I asked them to stay for the entire evening, adding their open listening to the mix. One of the girls wrote this to us.
I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by it, in all honesty. I thought it was more of an event for mothers or people of a more adult age, but I was so captivated by every story and reading and I wasn’t expecting to be so intrigued by each person. It was so great!
Several culture shifting things happened that evening.
1. New women writers’ voices were shared with an audience on video.
2. Established authors struck out in to new territory and traversed this ground together.
3. The stories and art of women who are mothers took away from the vast lack of stories told from inside mothering and filled that space with a certain kind of truth that our world is hungry for…stories that honor and celebrate the creative spirit that lives in each of us and what we do with that in the face of the compressive affects of mothering.
6. We all had an enormous amount of fun.
7. We launched the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers with big wide beams of light. Here is to a month celebrating and kindling women’s voices. Here is where you can learn more about it.
Let no reader here doubt the sacred pleasure I take in mothering.
Let no reader here wonder if I regret one fat minute of nagging or wet towels or broken legs or long distance loving.
Let no reader doubt that the women of OUT back away from beauty and fierceness of being a mother with a voice. All of us fashion in our own particular ways, art from the alchemical press of mothering, making from the mundane a legacy that will allow mothers of the future, like of today and tomorrow, space to breathe beyond the expectations of proscribed behavior for mothers that our culture has supported. If one day, some of us see changes to our tax codes and parents who are able to stay at home to mother, do so without financial peril, then we will have contributed to increasing the value of mothering. There is no time like now to find that voice of yours, answer the tickle around your heart that says, hmmm….me too. The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers can get you started.
Overall, I had the feeling of just coming to a clearing in a dense wood. Standing with the women of Out of the Mouths of Babes we are expectant of the women who will join us and add their stories to this circle. Today, I welcome Jenni Eaton, a writer, teacher and mother of five from the Washington D.C. area. She literally mines an ordinary day for something quite wonderful. Welcome Jenni!
More photos of Out and stories to come.
My visit with Gloria Steinem was grand.
For now, it is time for dinner.