A Good Book for Mother’s Day: When Women Were Birds

May 13, 2012

“Each day I begin with the empty page.”
— Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

When Terry Tempest Williams’ mother died, at age 54, she bequeathed her journals to her daughter.  The beautiful, cloth-bound books took up three shelves on a bookcase.  And when Williams opened them a week after her mother died, she found that every page was blank.

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice is Williams’ attempt to decipher the meaning of her mother’s gift.  Williams is now 54 herself, the age her mother died, and over the course of her life she reflected on many possible meanings to the mystery of the empty pages.  For example:

  • “To withhold words is power.  But to share our words with others, openly and honestly, is also power.”
  • “When silence is a choice, it is an unnerving presence.  When silence is imposed, it is censorship.”
  • “Empty pages become possibilities.”

This book prompted me to think about what legacy will I leave my daughter.  I actually don’t want to bequeath her too much material stuff.  I want her to be free to acquire and collect things that reflect her own values and lifestyle, and not be burdened with my things, valuable or not.  What’s most important to me is leaving memories — of times shared, family recipes, etc.  This blog, in some ways, could serve as a legacy of my life, at least the parts I am willing to make public.

All legacies are incomplete.

“I thought I was writing a book about voice.  I thought I would proclaim as a woman that we must speak the truth of our lives at all costs.  But what I realize . . . is that I will never be able to say what is in my heart, because words fail us, because it is in our nature to protect, because there are times when what is public and what is private must be discerned.  There is comfort in keeping what is sacred inside us not as a secret, but as a prayer.”
— Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds



5 Responses to “A Good Book for Mother’s Day: When Women Were Birds”

  1. Cassie Says:

    First, I love books with birds in the title. Second, I love the idea of this book. Whenever I write in my journal (frequently) I’m always thinking about what the person who finds these will think, or what my child will think. Will they think I’m the mother they thought I was or the person…or will they think I led this secret life on the page. I love this idea. I can’t wait to read this book, thank you, thank you.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I admire you for keeping a journal. This blog is the closest I come to a real journal. Yours sound like cherished keepsakes.

      • Cassie Says:

        I knew a girl in high school who blogged (I, of course, thought she was really lame then) and for her birthday, her boyfriend printed out every blog she’d written and binded the full thing. I was pretty jealous at that point, but a blog is just as good as a journal. : )

  2. […] A Good Book for Mother’s Day: When Women Were Birds, May 13, 2012 […]

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