Over the past six years I’ve been working with ordinary women who are writing the ordinary stories of their lives.
Why would anyone care about my story? each one asks in her way.
What does my life matter? I’ve done nothing special. I’m no-one important. Who would be interested in my life?
Yet just what constitutes these ‘nothing special,’ ‘unimportant lives’?
I healed from a chronic illness. I left an abusive marriage. I raised my children alone. I lost a child. I was raped. I nursed my dying mother. I was sexually abused. I was abandoned. I am living with breast cancer. I am raising a disabled child. My family rejected me. I adopted an abandoned child. I was widowed. I lost my mother. I raised four children. I stayed in my marriage. I built my own business. I decided to keep the baby. I left my religion. My child is a drug addict. I left my homeland. My husband left me for another woman. I couldn’t have children. My daughter was raped.
Each one is a staggering narrative of survival, and a triumph of the human spirit.
What is startling is that none of these women thinks of herself as a hero. Each one is innocent of her own greatness, oblivious to the power and wisdom in her story. These women do not appreciate or value their own courage and how their lives are lanterns to others. In most cases, not one of them has ever been told ‘you are beautiful, you are brave, you are an inspiration.’
Men who fight in wars are bestowed with medals, salutes and state funerals. Sports stars are over-valued, over-paid and treated as a subspecies of little gods. In our culture, celebrities are lauded over for their wealth, their wardrobes and their Oscar wins. While men still fight wars (real and on sports fields), women on the whole, work to nurture, bring life and beauty to the planet. Quietly.
As women age and we pass into our forties and fifties, our status plummets dizzyingly. As pertness gives way to gravity, and our generous bodies stop bleeding so we can no longer bear children, we stop satisfying traditional standards of beauty. We become shadows. We grow invisible. Some try to hold back time, and Botox our sagging butts and boobs back into youth. Some of us grieve. Our children leave us. And it’s round about this time that a woman may decide that she’s going to (finally) do something for herself. Just herself. That’s when she finds me. That’s when she whispers, ‘I’ve always wanted to write… but who would be interested in my life?’
It is one of the best kept secrets in the universe right now that true power and wisdom reside in these women and their experiences. Our planet is desperate for their teachings. Our world urgently needs the lineage and luminance of their humble labour, unrewarded, unacknowledged.
And so when people ask me, ‘why do you work only with women? And women over forty?’ here it is. It is my spiritual calling, my mission if you like, to help women write and curate their stories as a collective act of conscious healing so that together we can tip these narratives back into the world.
What I know is that women’s stories – of growth, healing, transformation, creative endeavour – are the medicine this world needs now. When written from a place of deep knowing, with care and craft and conscientiousness, the personal voice speaks into the universal voice. And each time a woman stitches herself back into the fabric of life with words, she create a groove for someone else in which to rest her own tremulousness. One woman’s courage breaks ground for others.
In a troubled world, I believe our work as writers is to use our words to inspire, nourish and grow the spirit – our own, that of the reader, the planet, or the Great Spirit that runs through all things.
Perhaps when the world has learned what it takes to leave an abusive marriage, what it asks of the human spirit to forgive your rapist and what work is needed to heal an illness, we will find a way to deserve our future.