As a little girl, I would sit quietly at family gatherings and listen as my mother and her sisters told stories. I was never center stage, always the quiet observer taking everything thing in–the stories, the laughter, the cadence of their voices, even the lessons they probably didn’t know they were teaching me. Almost everything I know about storytelling I learned from them in those moments.
As I got older, this became my role. One time, sitting in my sister’s living room, I set up my camcorder and hit record and I remember my Aunt Wanda telling me, “You need to listen to these stories. You need to write them down.” I hope to do just that someday, to tell the stories of the strong women who brought me up to be the person I am, to tell the good and the bad and the hard and the funny.
It is through stories that we stake our claim in the world and make our experiences matter. It is through our stories that we know and understand each other. It is through our stories that we learn and change and do better.
At those family gatherings so long ago, as I watched my mother and aunts leg wrestle and play spoons and tell their stories, I didn’t know that I would someday call myself a writer but life is full of the unexpected.
In 2010, I sat with Deborah Goldstein in the front row of a panel at BlogHer and lovingly heckled Ann Imig while she presented. I had met Deborah online in 2009 but that was our first meeting in person and I didn’t know Ann at all before that panel. I had no way of knowing that Deborah and I would eventually become co-publishers of a site called VillageQ and that we would become friends with Ann, who had just started Listen To Your Mother in Madison.
In 2012, I returned to BlogHer to read my work in public for the first time as one of the Voices of the Year and the next day, Heather King approached me and said, “Hi! You don’t know me but I loved your reading and I think we should bring Listen To Your Mother to the Twin Cities.” I said, “Yes! We should!” I didn’t know then that we would, along with Tracy Morrison and Galit Breen who I did not yet know.
In 2013, I sat with Heather, Tracy and Galit in Galit’s dining room in Eagan as we cast our first Listen To Your Mother Twin Cities show and said, “I want to read.” The marriage equality fight was gearing up in Minnesota and I felt incredibly vulnerable but also believed I had something to say. They all supported me and said, “Then you should read.” It was strange to have the power to claim a spot in our show and I wanted to feel that I had earned it so I said I would write and submit two pieces to them and they could decide if either of them was a fit for the show. They chose my piece, “Not A Princess,” a story about my complex feelings about my daughter’s non-conforming gender expression.
I didn’t know then that the story would eventually be chosen to be part of a book, Listen To Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now. That book was released today and with that, I can now say I have been published in print for the very first time.
I am grateful for the unexpected turns of the past few years, for the people in my life who support and encourage me, for all those times I sat back and listened to my mother and aunts. I am grateful for their stories and my own and the stories of others.
As my son said this morning, “Congratulations, mom! Now it’s time for your book.” And this does feel like a beginning.
You can buy the book at these booksellers and, if you are in the Twin Cities, you can come to Subext on 4/22/15 at 7 p.m. to hear me read along with Kate St. Vincent Vogl, Jennifer Ball, Haddayr Copley-Woods, and Mary Jo Pehl.
Tickets are also on sale for the third Listen To Your Mother Twin Cities show that will take place on 5/7/15 at 7 p.m. at the Riverview Theater. I hope you’ll join us in a celebration of motherhood and the power of storytelling.