I’m often moved when women open their hearts and share stories. When a woman’s story resonates with my own experience, I feel affirmed; when she has struggled with something I’ve never encountered, I’m inspired and challenged to view my own world in a new way.
I had this latter experience recently reading Nancy Thurston’s autobiography: Big Topics at Midnight, A Texas Girl Wakes up to Race, Class, Gender and Herself. Nancy is a client living in Portland, Oregon, and though we’ve never met in person, I had got to know her at a soul level through our sessions. Still, I had little idea about the details of her past so when I picked up her recently published book, I felt like I was being introduced to a near-stranger.
The more I read, the more I grew to respect this privileged young woman who was seriously in love with Jesus, and very much a good girl living on the straight and narrow. At first I wasn’t sure I could relate, but as the story unfolded, and she let me into her questions and struggles, I began to feel the resonance with my own questioning.
The issues Nancy tackles in this book are Texan-big. She looks at her wealth, her traditional Christian values, her family’s relationship to slavery, her assumptions about gender… each question prompting a crisis of faith while opening her to a more expansive life and inner freedom. Through all this, she tackles her internalized patriarchy with complete honesty, always turning the mirror back on herself while also looking squarely at the world around her. She doesn’t provide answers for society but neither does she avoid the necessity to get out into the world and work with various groups and organizations.
We hardly ever hear women talk about money. It’s often a taboo subject, particularly when they have more than others yet Nancy shares her challenging dialogues with her husband about their finances with complete candor, and I find this immensely freshing. I sense it might have been easier to just ‘give it all away’ and be done with it, but instead she struggled with her feelings, listened for inner guidance, and stayed in the difficult conversations with various people, thus letting this side of her feminine power mature.
When women write about themselves, they tend to share their vulnerability, and perhaps one of the places we are most exposed is in our spirituality and our personal relationship with God. Again Nancy does not shy away from this conversation. With considerable soul-searching, she left her church when she could no longer agree with their patriotic flag-waving displays after 9-11.
Healing depends on listening with the inner ear…
The book is full of synchronicities and delightful pilgrimages to places in her past. One unusual device she uses throughout the book is conversations and vignettes with ancestors on her feminine family tree. With intuition and imagination (as well as photos and anecdotes) Nancy connects with men and women from decades past, pulling their voices forward into her rich life-tapestry now. This whimsical device could be risky, yet I appreciated it as a more feminine and holistic approach for Nancy to see her life in this larger family context.
Any good memoir invites us to reflect on our own lives and after devouring Nancy’s book I came away with questions of my own. What are the big issues that I have struggled with throughout my life?
How does my story fit within the larger societal fabric?
What have I learned through my personal struggles that may be a gift to others?
The emergence of feminine consciousness is bringing with it a social upheaval that is like a great dyke giving way…
As a Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman pioneered new insights into feminine psychology and inspired many women through her Body-Soul Intensives. (The quotes I’ve used throughout this blog are Marion’s writings from The Pregnant Virgin.) Her memoir, Bone Dying into Life, is a gripping tale of her encounter with uterine cancer. Her journal outlines how she surrendered to the process, trusting her deep body-soul connection with Sophia, the Great Mother. Through excruciating medical procedures, she courageously continued reach for meaning and beauty in her life. Bone is an inspiration to anyone facing serious illness and seeking to be fully engaged and conscious in the process.
Another client of mine, Katrina Bos, wrote an inspiring personal account of her own bout of breast cancer and the inner growth this prompted. What if You Could Skip the Cancer? is not a glib or cheery self-help book. It is an honest account of Katrina’s journey, and that is what makes it compelling. She does not tell you to ‘do it her way’, instead she challenges us to be fully present to the difficulties in our own lives.
Jane Fonda’s popular autobiography, My Life So Far, details her struggles to find herself behind the celebrity veneer, while Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter, is a tale of radical breakthrough from a constricting Christian ethos into a more vibrant feminine spirituality that honours her body and soul.
The mature feminine will not tolerate the demands and projections of the patriarchy…
Women’s memoirs tend to be bone-honest. When women speak up in a safe setting, their intimate stories often resonate with everyone present in the room, and the details of their lives feel less important than their heart and soul-journeys. It is each woman’s courage, integrity, honesty, and willingness to be raw and fully open to life that inspires others..
All the books I mention here (and there are many more) rarely preach or offer cliched solutions. Instead, they invite us into an inner sanctum where pain and healing, love and loss, fear and joy dance together, fuelling the fires of transformation.
Please add your own inspiring memoirs to this conversation. We need many, many stories to guide us as we leave the patriarchy…
P.S. On June 13th, Nancy Thurston will be giving a reading of Big Topics at Midnight at Wonderworks in Toronto.