“Owls are duplicitous. They are both warning and comfort.”
Terry Tempest Williams’s “When Women Were Birds” is one of the most beautiful and poetic memoirs I’ve ever read. She somehow precisely describes the experiences of women in the most perfect words, as if someone reached into our hearts and pulled them right out.
At the center of the book is Williams’s mother’s journals. Williams was raised Mormon, and when her mother died, she inherited her mother’s fifty-four journals, one for every year of her life. Apparently women are encouraged to keep journals in this faith, which is something I learned from this memoir, along with so many other things. The kicker? When Williams finally gets past her grief enough to open the journals, she finds that they are all blank. All fifty-four journals are filled with empty pages.
“When silence is a choice, it is an unnerving presence. When silence is imposed, it is censorship.”
Eileen told me the premise of the book when we were chatting about it, and I almost lost my mind. WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEY ARE BLANK? I immediately downloaded it to be sent to my iPad kindle app so I could start reading it as soon as I got home. I screamed at Eileen “WHAT DOES IT MEAN?”
“So many things,” she said.
“To withhold words is power. But to share our words with others, openly and honestly, is also power.”
The memoir also has fifty-four chapters, and each one explains something different that happened to Williams and how she remembers her mother. It’s as if you are in her brilliant mind as she tries to work through the reason her mother’s journals are blank.
So, why birds? You just have to read it. But not only is this a breathtaking book, there are several parallels to my life, including the fact that Williams also calls her grandmother Mimi, just like I do.
Her words. Oh, her words. There are parts of this books that are so incredibly “woman,” and make me proud to be one.
“Muriel Rukeyser asked the question ‘What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.’ The world is splitting open.”
Williams is brilliant and inspiring, and every woman should read this memoir.