How are you keeping? You haven’t sent me a postcard yet. I check everyday. I will send you a special postcard in reply, just as soon as yours arrives. Or I’ll send postcards to you, like wayward butterflies. My mother always sent me postcards. You know, it was also my mother who taught me how to read.
I told you’d I’d write about The Books of Women, so let me do that now. You’ll see the sampling from my collection are by a diverse array of authors, not just women. These are The Books Read by This Woman.
My mother taught me how to read, through bedtime stories, patiently reading with me every evening when she came home from her long days at work. While we’ve had a typical mother/daugther relationship fraught with lots of conflict and friction, we’ve also had many tender and loving times together. And she’s responsible for the best parts of me, there is no doubt, for at least the early emergence of these aspects of my life and personality, and my values. She didn’t want me to have a small parochial life, as she felt hers was. And she encouraged me to immerse myself in the arts in a very authentic way — for the pleasure, the discovery, the learning and the the soul soothing artistic forms offer.
My Feisty Ma
It’s been a long week where at Conundrum Towers. My independent feisty mother is in the hospital, kinda dramatically and it’s been a haul. Who knows what the future holds? It’s especially challenging to have a loved one in hospital, in a very strained and broken health care system, during a global pandemic. It’s very complicated visiting. I’ve had very little sleep.
Nature Follows Her Own Path
How will she fare?
We do not know.
It is to weep, and yet it is to hope for what we can’t know yet. It is to look at that evening sky and understand all the beauty and curiosity, the magnificence of clouds, and how those clouds are a force of nature. Nature is not concerned with humans. Nature takes her own course.
My Mother’s Canon
It is my mother who primarily exposed me to a diverse array of books and writing, genres and forms and styles and content. My Books of Women library is not just books by women, but books from a diverse range of authors. The books outside of the cannon, books by women and BIPOC, where mostly introduced to me by my mother. It was not a conscious thing. She read voraciously, and still does. She wanted me to read the books which inspired her, even if they were not books I was assigned in school. She always encouraged me to look at things “slant”, the life long Emily Dickinson adherent that my mother is, the lover of the new perspective.
A Ravenous Hobby
The books my mother gave me to read were not a part of my formal education. These were books I read “on the side”, in my spare time. You know when people used to, or probably still do, list reading as a hobby? I was a ravenous hobby reader, although underneath that I was preparing my subconscious and my conscious for being a writer, although I did not know that at the time. And my mother wasn’t a scholar. She was from what we would call the working poor, for generations.
My grandmother was a nurse who swooped about in a uniform that looked like it was a nun’s outfit out of The Sound of Music. She trained in a hospital in Boston, back when you lived in a nurse’s residence, and the head doctor and head nurse owned you and your life and your time, long before nursing became a degree in a university. My grandmother worked as a private nurse, tending to “invalids” and had three children in three years. I don’t think she took much time off. And then my mother because a nurse with the exact same training, but in Halifax at the Victoria General, or the VG, as people call it still. She too had three children and worked her whole life. And every morning she read magazines and newspapers. And every evening she read books.
These women read because it fed their minds when they weren’t working. They longed for a range of perspectives, insights, inspiration and voice.
What We Inherit
And then I read many of these same books, to my dearest blue eyed cousin, Fred. We went on the same adventures through old graveyards and trails in the woods and told and read stories by fireplaces and bonfires. It’s the gift passed down through time, the gift of the long view and wide eyes.
The Books from my Twirly Shelf
So, pal, you see that this awakening I had when I realized how my formal education had trained me to see the world through the eyes of men, to value this perspective above all else. And yes, the triumph of the human spirit is when we can find our humanity in the experiences of others, in a diverse and wide ranging world of others, not just one hegemonic group. This is the problem with patriarchy, where the lens and experiences of men are viewed as the defining filter, the portal to understanding the human condition. Everyone else disappears. And it was through this realization that I then understood how hard it is for us to break through this early socializing. And it goes a long way in explaining why men so often call women’s writing “chick lit” unless it resembles male writing.
The Feminine Aesthetic?
The feminine approach and aesthetic (whatever the fuck that actually is) is equally as valuable and illuminating on what it is to be a human in this complicated world. But we’ve been trained to diminish and discount it. Maybe not all of you, but I was, in my formal education and the world around me. My window out of that box was the one my mother built for me, even if she ultimately couldn’t crawl through it.
I love you. Keep on through these hard times. I will tell my mother you said hello, my dearest friend, and that will bring her as much comfort as gazing out the big window she finally was moved beside.