Notes on Terry Tempest Williams' 'When Women Were Birds'
“What if there were a hidden pleasure in calling one thing by another’s name?” – Rae Armantrout
(Nicknames. She Unnames Them. Rich and the language of the oppressor – it’s the only way we have to communicate. Humpty Dumpty – Lewis Carroll and the state of Utah – nonhazardous waste can be infectious and disease causing.)
(Language is so beautiful even in its rough parts; it allows us to connect, even when it allows for separation. The deliberate misappropriation of language is abominable, and those responsible should be cracked like an egg, made into an omelet and served on a paper plate to the animals at a shelter. Then they will become what they in their deliberate misuse have chosen to be – animals.)
I. “Her absence became her presence.” (That is now true for parents with cell phones.)
Journals were blank – identity crisis?
II. “To withhold words is power. But to share our words with others openly and honestly is also power.”
III. Liminal – of or pertaining to a sensory threshold
IV. “Solitude is a memory of water. I live in the desert.” (Do the expected; write the story that mom did not write.)
V. “When silence is a choice…” (So give people the “choice.”)
Peter and the Wolf and voice
VII. Grandma’s journals, birds, dad kills ducks
VIII. Terry Tempest Williams’ journals, experience with grandma in the woods, ends with dad’s “a bit flowery.”
IX. Speech impediment in 4th grade – “But the sure remedy to criticism and ridicule was” to keep quiet. Lisp work had great poetry. The art of speaking followed the art of listening.
“Honor the power of each word by delivering it as beautifully” as possible.
“Words are much stronger than I am.”
X. Back to the blank journals – (Fill them up already.)
My mother’s journals are written with invisible ink – (Now we get to the story.)
(The mystery without all of the clues – even the narrator doesn’t have all of the clues; had to remember the story about invisible ink. [Would lemon juice eat through the paper?] Can you mass print invisible ink?)
XI. Journals as a connection to mom.
XII. Child’s word discounted because of age. (Lame.)
XIII. Writing in code to protect the feelings of others while still being able to express herself. The list of everything that her mother’s journals are keeps growing. Words have a weight to them.
XIV. Sometimes, it’s what you don’t say that gives you away.
XV. Conversation is the vehicle for change.
XVI. Mom draws a bath with rose petals for Williams’ first period.
XVII. “Women peace together their lives from the scraps left over for them.” Deep and shallow – (the human contradiction, the human paradox, we can be both at once.)
What mattered most was time with family, time in nature, time with myself.
Watched our parents envy – responsibility was a garment they could not shed.
XVIII. (Damned blank journals – how do you read them? But why am I reading them?)
XIX. Essay on silence
XX. Birds represent longing for light, stars, rainbows, jubilant song. “Birds are a compass point.”
XXI. "In a damaged human habitat all problems merge.”
Mother gave me a framed broadside of quotes – May you find your own Walden Pond.
(What we see emerge is a complex relationship between Williams and her mother.)
XXII. The devil is an environmentalist? What?
XXIII. Mom in the present relationship – Williams in the past relationship.
The past and the gathering of friends and family make Williams sick and point her to grad school.
(The story is more about Williams than her mother.)
(Mom tries to do something nice for Williams, but Williams sees it as the opposite – cares more about what people will think about what she is wearing than Mimi’s feelings.)
(If Williams’ relationship with Mimi is colored by birds and the phonograph, what interaction colors Williams’ relationship with her mother?)
XXIV. Williams’ journey into the environment.
XXV. “’In the beginning was the Word.’ Nobody warned me about which one.”
XXVII. Essay on lovemaking, abortion and milk and blood.
XXVIII. (Why all the negativity up front? Is it the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance?)
XXIX. (The moment we fall for fragmentation, we subvert the work of women [secretary].)
XXXI. (Almost chopped up? And it’s her fault?)
Silence (Elizabeth Smart)
(She knows her mom; she wants more. Like her relationship with her mother wasn’t closed with mom’s death. Williams left something unfinished. It is possibly something that a belief system could help with.)
XXXII. Another treatise on white.
XXXVI. (We find the connections that we value; we create symbolism where there is none. “The female reproductive system?” That’s a stretch. I made the same list and got Mickey Mouse.)
(Under the mistaken belief that this book is about her mother; it says far more about the author – [Is that true of all books?])
XXXVIII. We all have to die of something.
Self-indulgent orange algae story – (Why do I care about your self-created ritual of marking like it is supposed to be somehow profound?)
XXXIX. “Policy is decided outside the boardroom. The meeting itself is a formality.”
XL. “True eloquence has an edge, sharp and clean.”
Utah freaking politics
“Good work is a stay against despair.”
“Writing is always an act of faith.”
XLII. “Find out what is not there” – (How do you do that when you place what is not there there?)
XLV. Finally, the explanation of when women were birds.
Empty pages were reserved for the bride’s own musings.
XLVI. Mom’s letter to Williams on Williams’ marriage to Brooke.
Williams – lonely, seen, protected
Williams’ marriage survives because they are apart; parents’ marriage survived because they were together outside of the children.
XLVII. Microscript – “I was her sister.”
XLIX. “I will tell you nothing.” (Self-serving again. Is there no story?)
Annunciation too personal
“A person’s silence can be heard as a lion’s roar.”
L. (Sometimes we need help to keep our voice.)
LI. Nice frickin’ list: like a brainstorm – how many things can I name that are white? The idea of a palindrome is cool.
“The sin that we commit against each other as women is a lack of support.” (Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling and Lynn Shepherd.)
LII. (Opera is a soap opera sung. [Soap is the sponsor… Opera. Melodramatic, hysteria is an appropriate response, nothing out of bounds, makes life seem calm by comparison.)
The Empress’ voice frees her and saves her husband
“It doesn’t matter what I say. What matters is that I am there.” (Dad didn’t have a voice while mom was alive.)
LIII. “The will of women is the will of life.”
The host and the guest receive.
LIV. Stroke – (It’s the real stories that make this worth reading. It’s too bad they are overshadowed by the ridiculousness.)
(Do any of us every fully understand the consequences of our actions?)
LIV(E). At least there seems to be some closure.