Posts Tagged ‘Writing from Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story’

I recently received,  through interlibrary loantwo more non fiction books by Susan Wittig Albert (author of the excellent China Bayles mystery series).  Work did not allow the concentrated reading that I enjoy on staycation, so it took me a couple of weeks to read them.  Here are my takeaways (and I apologize to faithful reader MaryBeth for the text being curvy; both books were large and printed on light weight paper that was impossible to hold flat while reading ;-):

Work of Her Own came to me from a library in Boise.


It was published in 1992; there is a newer edition with a new intro that may discuss how it translates to the modern day.

It was published in 1992; there is a newer edition with a new intro that may discuss how it translates to the modern day.

It’s rather bad of me to not know who wrote the foreward.  I did not make a note, and the book has already gone back to the library.


from the introduction

a very good question from the foreward

a very good question from the foreward

I have read Albert’s two excellent memoirs but it had not quite sunk in what a powerful career she had before she became a self employed writer:


I enjoyed learning that this favourite memoirist of mine is on her third marriage (like me!), and that she feels that “home is a warm, sustaining place to be.”  (I already knew the latter from her memoirs about the joys of her life in the Texas hill country.)


From her other memoirs (Together, Alone and An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days) I had learned to my delight that her lifestyle includes, like ours, the economy of living in a “double wide”.  I also appreciate and share the concept of “right livelihood” even though I know that not everyone has the privilege to achieve that idealistic state of being.



I am one of the lucky ones who has the joy of right livelihood.  In 2007, I had the big revelation about doing work that brings joy, and in fact this past month we officially quit one job that did not fit that qualification.  (There had been some lingering vague impression that we still had said job even though we felt it had ended last autumn.)   It is a continuing challenge to winnow the jobs to the ones that do bring joy (even if not all the time, because the work is sometimes extra hard).  One of Albert’s interviewees says “I get paid a living wage, but I don’t work for money.  I work for joy.  All my work is my true work.”  (Working for joy, not money, means making a lot of choices about things one will not be able to afford to do, at least in my case.  Choosing, as Albert did, to live in a humble and paid off abode makes it possible to enjoy some luxuries.) 

 Digression:  The book I am currently reading, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, tells the truth about living in real poverty and would make a good companion piece to Work of Her Own, as not everyone has the option of working for joy.  Author Linda Tirado writes:  “If we could just agree that poor people are doing the necessary grunt work and that there is dignity in that too, we’d be able to make it less onerous.  Put another way:  I’m not saying that someone doesn’t have to scrub the toilets around here.  All I’m saying is that instead of being grossed out by the very idea of toilets, you could thank the people doing the cleaning, because if not for them, you’d have to do it your own damn self.”  (She also makes clear that dignity requires a living wage.)  Since I cleaned houses for 18 years in Seattle (more lucrative than gardening but not as much joy) and often had people respond to my answer “What do YOU do?” with variants of “Ewwww”. I fervently agree with Tirado. (End of digression.)

Work of Her Own addresses the issue of women in big important careers feeling the pressure of setting an example.


I was pleased to discover that Albert is a strong feminist (as I have been since, oh, age 13).  I wonder if in the corporate and university world, could there ever be a power structure that was “power with, rather than power over”.  It’s a world beyond me, as I have never had what my mother called “a real job”.


When Albert writes that some women in the career world, in order to survive, have to develop a “strongly male-oriented bias and a tend to uphold and defend the masculine culture of ideas and ideals” I had a flash of enlightenment that the two women in my life with whom I had the most trouble were my mother, who worked in an office and who often told me she “hated” women and found them “boring”, and another former friend from a high powered career who said she preferred working with men and who strongly hinted that she also preferred the social company of men to that of women.

Below:  Here is what I have never had to do and probably could not do, and it is what a dear friend who works in an office has to do every day:

quotation from one of Albert's interviewees

quotation from one of Albert’s interviewees

dilemma  On an uplifting note, here’s some praise for my several librarian friends and for mothers who encourage reading:  “I vividly remember my first visit to the library.  My mom took me, just the two of us, as soon as I was old enough to have my own library card.  I walked into the womb of the world that day.”  Whatever problems my mother and I had with each other, I am always grateful that she created exactly that same event in my own life.

I’m particularly fond of this passage by an interviewee who says that she


You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens, as not every story has a rosy ending.  Some career-leavers had a difficult time and some could not continue on with “work of their own”.

Writing from Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story


Susan Wittig Albert surprised me in Writing from Life by being more spiritual than I expected, in the women’s spirit way of Starhawk and Z Budapest, both of whom are quoted in the margins.  Like An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days pertinent quotations are arranged in sidebars beside the main text.  Organized into chapters exploring different journal topics, the books is full of excerpts from women’s memoirs and from participants in Wittig’s Story Circle classes. Those were the parts I loved.  I have to admit I skimmed the meditations at the end of each chapter because I am so resistant to that sort of thing.

Authors whose memoirs I have read and adored are quoted in three books about aging: May Sarton’s At Seventy and Doris Grumbach’s Coming Into the End Zone, and Nancy Mairs, and I now intend to read Flora Scott-Maxwell’s The Measure of My Days, “a classic on the experience of aging”.  About An Unknown Woman by Alice Koller (also now on my must read list):


 I appreciated this paragraph about women’s obsession with weight:


And I now use this as an opportunity to recommend the excellent book The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos.

One of my favourite chapters in Albert’s writing book was:


Having been severely judged by a then-friend and found wanting when I went through a period of depression in early 2014 (better now!), I am grateful for these passages.  When I shared them on Facebook yesterday, two friends remarked that severe depression does not inspire creativity.  I feel that Albert addresses this clearly with the words “disabling depression”, and after these passages she cites Sylvia Plath as an example.  I take issue with the “happiologists” who reject all “negativity” and judge people for not being happy and perky all the time.  (I feel negative about always-perky people.)




feelings   I have friends who would be mired in depression without anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication, so we shouldn’t judge either choice.


I’m including the following “clipping” because I have heard so many women express the fear of becoming “bag ladies”.  I don’t think this has as much to do with seeing the homeless as “other” as it has to do with how many of us feel it could happen in our lives.


Of course, as a homebody I liked the chapter exploring thoughts about home:




(I may live in chaos but I still appreciate May Sarton’s point of view.)

In an exploration of friendship, I found this familiar but forgotten quotation and felt grateful that I do have friends like these:


Toward the end of the book, we are encouraged to do good in the world.


I particularly liked the following idea.  Someone more outgoing that me might already be doing this at Golden Sands Assisted Living:


Writing from Life made me think about how, while this started as just a gardening (and boating and Peninsula life) blog, I sometimes hint at more.  And I have so often in the past year written something revealing and then deleted it or, in one case, saved it in a still unpublished draft.  When does a blog dare become about more than just gardening?  Bob Nold’s The Miserable Gardener (one of my two favourite blogs) transformed into more than “just” a gardening blog and he said that when a reader questioned whether he thought it should have stayed just about gardening, he thought about it and said “no”.  I love the personal revelations in Kate Llewellyn’s books about her garden.  Something very personal had crept in to the gardening post that I published earlier today and then I deleted it, as usual. One wants to strike a balance between interesting revelations and self-absorbed navel-gazing.



Nancy Mairs is another favourite memoirists of mine; I recommend all her books.


mairs  Thanks to Susan Wittig Albert for two more “deep reads” and for inspiring the sharing of ourselves.  If any of you want to delve into the story circle sharing idea, I’d recommend this book and also Albert’s Story Circle website.  While her focus is on telling women’s stories, journaling is a catharsism open to all.  (A series of all of the memoirs by Simon Gray became one of my best reading experiences in 2011.)

A rainy day gave me time to write this; now a watery sun is emerging and it is time to go outside and pull some more touch-me-not seedlings.  But no….it is still quite chilly out, so instead I turn to finishing Hand to Mouth.


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