Nearly a decade ago I spent a summer in the Special Collections section of the BYU library. I wasn’t particularly sure of what I would find there, but I was hungry to know something of the women in my mormon history. I read lots of journals, including Emmeline B. Wells, Louisa Barnes Pratt, Minerva Teichert and the first young sister missionary to ever serve on her own instead of as a married couple or family.
The thing that sticks out to me most from that summer though is an image of a stack of newsletters written by a women’s suffrage society somewhere in small town southern Utah. The letters spanned about two years starting in 1890. While I do not remember the actual content of the stack, I remember so clearly that each newsletter was hand-written, and not just by one member of the society. Each month a different woman took charge of the newsletter and wrote her own thoughts in her own handwriting. A few copies were made to distribute and then the woman who had written the letter would read it aloud at the meeting.
An obvious metaphor that we are so familiar with is here–we each have our own story, and our own voice. And while this is true and worth talking about, these women (or men) instead of just having a story, lay claim to it by writing it out and speaking it without apology. That action has stuck with me all these years. If those women had merely kept their thoughts as thoughts and been too scared or self-critical to write them down, I would have never crossed paths with them–the thoughts or the people. Throughout the newsletters you can see places where words were crossed out, where the ink spilled, where the authors started and stopped and re-traced, which is to say, the letters were clearly an imperfect process.
A few months ago, in responding to one of my pieces, a commenter said something along the lines of “how nice it was that I could write sentimental little anecdotes about my children and relate it to the gospel” and then continued with something that invalidated and belittled what I’d written in my piece. I don’t know exactly why my writing struck such an ill chord with this particular reader, but I was surprised at the way that even though there are a thousand kind sentiments for a few unkind ones, those words stuck with me for a while in a way I wish they wouldn’t have.
I did start to wonder if that was all my story was, some saccharine moments rolled up into sappy mom metaphors that no one cared to hear about, and in those moments I was quiet. But those moments were not long. My story is filled with motherhood right now, how could it not be? And why would a basic tenet like motherhood not have something of value to offer in the world of telling our stories? Does the only valuable storytelling have to be well-spoken or well-researched? When I ask these questions, they are not to anyone else. I ask these questions to myself because I am most often the one dissecting the validity of my own story. I am learning. I am writing a book, and it is hard and scary and full of motherhood and things that are so so simple. I am learning to be kind to the words I want to speak and mostly my kindness starts by simply by speaking, writing or letting my thoughts know I care for them. Often, I write or speak with just myself as audience, and that act is still one of generosity and value.
So, while I did not intend for this to be a pep rally, it is sort of making that turn, so I will say this: please know that your story is valid, your story matters to people, your voice makes up a greater whole that would be less without you. If sentimental little anecdotes about your children are what you have to offer, do not hesitate or be ashamed that it is not more. You can always be more articulate, more informed, more aware of context, but those attributes are sharpened with practice. Your experience however, is not practiced, it is real and you are the only one that can tell it in the way it is hoping to be told.