“They sat there in the fresh young darkness close together. Pheoby eager to feel and do through Janie, but hating to show her zest for fear it might be thought mere curiosity. Janie full of that oldest human longing—self revelation” (Their Eyes Were Watching God, page 7).
I can’t stop thinking about Zora Neale Hurston’s words. Self-revelation. The oldest human longing. At the beginning of the novel, Janie returns home after a year-and-a-half absence. Pheoby wants to live vicariously through her friend, but she doesn’t want to come across as nosy. Janie wants nothing more than to tell her story. The rest of the novel is that story.
And that’s friendship—telling our stories, sharing our burdens, gaining self-awareness and insight through processing. But what about blogging? I suppose self-revelation, regardless of form, comes from a longing to connect.
I wrestle with what to share on the blog…with oversharing…crossing boundaries…telling stories that might not be mine to tell. I’m sure I could pick up the phone and share more with my friends and family. Then there’s the part about being an introvert and exhausted at the end of my days and weeks and recharging my energy through my quiet time. And there’s the part about not knowing what to say until the words appear on the page. I often find answers inside my heart all along.
As I re-read Their Eyes Were Watching God, I’m contemplating more this time through Janie’s journey and self-discovery.
Funny how we absorb — the good, the bad, emotions, behaviors — such is life. Things subconsciously stick. Bad things happen, I get it. But we can make choices in handling those experiences that are beyond our control. We can surround ourselves with whatever we want to absorb.
You want to be a better writer? Surround yourself with words.
Read above your usual level and absorb the techniques of the experts. Absorb their words, sentences, paragraphs, style, and structure — details of time and place, character, dialogue and gesture — inspiration and imagination, understanding of the human condition and more. Name it and notice it.
This April I’ve been devouring memoirs. Maybe you’re looking for something to read next.
This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession is the debut of Cameron Dezen Hammon. On page one, Hammon takes the stage at a suburban megachurch to sing at a funeral for a teenaged girl. Her cell phone buzzes in the pocket of her dress. It’s the man she might love, not her husband and father of her daughter. And from the opening scene, Hammon’s honesty and bravery hooked me. She grapples with misogyny in religion, infidelity in marriage, and doubt in faith. I couldn’t stop turning pages, and I can’t stop thinking about this book.
Educated by Tara Westover had been on my to-read list for a couple of years. I listened to it on Audible, but I wish I had a copy. Born to Mormon survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Westover was 17 the first time she stepped into a classroom on the campus of BYU. The following passage strikes at the heart of this book and the ideology of Westover’s childhood. This conversation is the steppingstone she needs to further education—at Cambridge, then Harvard.
“By the end of the semester the world felt big, and it was hard to imagine returning to the mountain, to a kitchen, or even to a piano in a room next to the kitchen. This caused a kind of crisis in me. My love of music and my desire to study it had been compatible with my idea of what a woman is. My love of history and politics and world affairs was not, and yet they called to me. A few days before finals, I sat for an hour with my friend Josh in an empty classroom. He was reviewing his applications for law school. I was choosing my courses for the next semester. ‘If you were a woman,’ I asked, ‘would you still study law?’
Josh didn’t look up. ‘If I were a woman,’ he said, ‘I wouldn’t want to study it.’
‘But you’ve talked about nothing but law school for as long as I’ve known you,’ I said. ‘It’s your dream. Isn’t it?’
‘It is,’ he admitted, ‘but it wouldn’t be if I were a woman. Women are made differently. They don’t have this ambition. Their ambition is for children.’ He smiled at me as if I knew what he were talking about, and I did. I smiled, and for a few seconds, we were in agreement.
Then, ‘But what if you were a woman and somehow you felt exactly as you do now?’
Josh’s eyes fixed on the wall for a moment. He was really thinking about it. Then he said, ‘I’d know something was wrong with me.’
Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club was a trudge for me. There are funny and heartbreaking parts. I enjoyed Karr’s vocabulary and sentences and images, but for whatever reason, I didn’t feel compelled to turn pages. In connection with the other two memoirs, all three authors goes through tough injustices. Hammon and Westover both triumph and learn something about themselves. As for Karr, I prefer her book The Art of Memoir, especially if you’re interested in writing one.
My friend asked the question, “If you could tell your younger self anything, what would you say?” And so here goes:
Dear Little Crystal,
Be true to yourself and live your God-given purpose. Be honest and courageous, proud, confident, and unapologetic. Keep your body, mind, and spirit strong. Love wholly and forgive fully. Don’t let anyone shut you up or down. Maintain boundaries for bullshit and remember you can do hard things.
Your Bigger, Wiser Self
And as a follow-up, “If you could encourage yourself in any way today, what would you say?”
Be kind to yourself, progress is progress, and don’t ever forget your own best advice. I love you!
P. S. Today I’m celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality. For more information go to InternationalWomensDay.org.