I spent the weekend at the Story Circle Network’s Women’s Memoir Conference in Austin. I love writing conferences because I get to be around people who love what I love, and I get to hear stories of all kinds. Sometimes I pick events based on who is presenting. This time, I didn’t know most of the presenters, but I went because I have enjoyed past workshops with Story Circle Network, and this particular conference is their big deal that happens only every other year. Was it time well spent? Absolutely.
I got to hear Gail Straub, Susan Lincoln, and Susan Tweit speak. I was able to attend workshops by Jeanne Guy, Carolyn Scarborough and Amber Lea Starfire. I picked up half a dozen books written by people at this conference, and the one I’ve already read – Lost Edens by Jamie Patterson – knocked me over. Her tale of trying a second time with a husband who had left her once spoke to me, though I’ve never been married. I could feel the desperation and desire in her heart with every attempt she made to save her marriage, and I ached for her, just as I ache for my girlfriends when they tell me their stories in person. Her writing was just that good.
Lots of little things came out of this weekend, including a reconnection with Johnett and Rose, two of my favorite spirits in Austin. But one big thing came out of the weekend.
As I sat in a workshop on journal writing, I started flipping through the pages of the spiral that I use to take notes when I attend these workshops. I came across something I had written in March of 2011 in Round Top at another Story Circle Network event where Christina Baldwin spoke
. The writing prompt was, “Once there was a woman who…,” and this is what I wrote.
Once there was a woman who was afraid of her own voice. She preferred to listen to her mother’s voice or her father’s voice or the voices of her siblings, so she made sure to surround herself by them always. If ever she sat alone and her own voice started to emerge, she rushed over to her family home so her voice could and would be muffled by the voices of others. It worked every time.
As she got older, she had more and more trouble rushing towards her family. Physically, she simply wasn’t as able. So in her old age, when her voice spoke again and she sat paralyzed and unable to move, she was forced to hear herself. And what she heard – really for the first time – surprised her. She heard truth, her own truth. She heard creativity and desire and beauty. And though she was at first afraid, she became grateful for her own voice, and she started to listen to herself for hours at a time.
Eventually, as she listened to her own voice, she started to crave mobility, and she started to believe that she could one day move again. The voice said again and again, ‘You can do it. You can walk. You can go anywhere you want to.’ And eventually, she did. And she was happy. For the first time, she was genuinely happy, and she was not afraid of her own voice or of anything else.
Reading these words of more than a year ago – words I don’t recall writing – I was struck at the fear within me. I carry a lot of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of disappointing myself, of being disappointed, and of disappointing others. I don’t want to be a person of fear.
As I read that entry again and again, I was reminded of a quote in the little book I kept when I was a kid. It contains the following, which I attributed back then to Katharine Hepburn:
If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.
To do what interests you, you have to know what interests you. To know what interests you, you have to listen to your own voice. This weekend I was reminded of that. So that’s what I’m trying to do.