I have joined a book club. Patti Digh, the host of this online community of readers, has chosen 12 books with the theme “Women’s Voices”.

One of the books for 2013 is Terry Tempest Williams’ When Women Were Birds – Fifty-Four Variations on Voice.  I shan’t preempt any discussion of this powerful memoir but this book and this mantra via Viv McWaters – Start before you’re ready – have pushed me to begin this ‘something’ that moves beyond my other more purpose-built blogs about facilitation, Australia’s social history and travel.

The opening of Ms Williams’ book left a significant impression on me.

I am fifty-four years old, the age my mother was when she died. This is what I remember. We were lying on her bed with a mohair blanket covering us. I was rubbing her back, feeling each vertebra with my fingers as a rung on a ladder. It was January, and the ruthless clamp of cold bore down on us outside. Yet inside, Mother’s tenderness and clarity of mind carried its own warmth. She was dying in the same way she was living, consciously. 

“I am leaving you all my journals,” she said, facing the shuttered window as I continued rubbing her back. “But you must promise me that you will not look at them until after I am gone.”

I gave her my word. And then she told me where they were. I didn’t know my mother kept journals. 

A week later she died. That night, there was a full moon encircled by ice crystals.

On the next full moon I found myself alone in the family home. I kept expecting Mother to appear. Her absence became her presence. It was the right time to read her journals. They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful clothbound books; some floral, some paisley, others in solid colours. The spines of each were perfectly aligned against the lip of the shelves. I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal.  It was empty. I opened the third. It, too, was empty, as was the fourth, the fifth, the sixth – shelf after shelf after shelf, all my mother’s journals were blank.

Williams explores what it means to have a voice and the choices we make about using that voice.

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.

I’m wondering what will emerge and hoping I can find a voice that gets the balance between public and private right.

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