Monday, March 17, 2014

An Evening With Sue Monk Kidd

Every once in awhile a book comes along that changes your life.  
You read it over and over again as the words absorb into your skin, becoming a part of you.
Such was my experience when I read The Secret Life Of Bees.
Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.
Before this I had never read a story about Women. Sure, I'd read silly fantasy/sci-fi stuff where women are sexy sidekicks or big, tough, ass-kickers, but I'd never read anything about Women, real Women, Women coming together in their own right, in their own way. It was breathtaking.
I was drawn in by these amazing Women, held captive by the Black Madonna and swept away by the enchantment of bees. (The bees, being one of my main loves in life, made the book so much better)
For years, one sentence has stuck in my mind and refused to let go.
"Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open."
It's near the beginning, after she takes the lid off the jar where she has been keeping a bee. At first, the bee doesn't realize that it has been freed. It climbs around the inside of the jar as if it's still trapped. Once it realizes, it flies away. Lily hears a voice in her head telling her that she is also free, that she doesn't have to stay within the confines of the life that she knows and thus her adventure begins.
It was then that I realized that the same was true for myself. I didn't have to stay stuck in the rut that I had found myself in. I realized that I could do anything that I wanted with my life. It was a very liberating moment for me.
As the next few years past, I started to find myself and figured out who I was as a person and who I wanted to be. At the time, I was struggling with my masculine and feminine self and trying to figure out what that meant. I was still under the impression of media that told me that being a Woman would never be enough. That I would never be as good as a man, that as a Woman I would spend my life proving myself over and over again to like the things that I liked and to do the things that I wanted to do. I was secretly ashamed of being a Woman. Wouldn't it have been better, easier, to had been born a man?
I was back home visiting my parents and had just finished reading The Secret Life Of Bees for the second time (my pick for a short lived book club) and I was talking to my Mom about it (who has also read it many times) and she recommended that I read another book by Sue Monk Kidd, which she promptly leant me; The Dance Of The Dissident Daughter
The acclaimed spiritual memoir from the author of The Secret Life of Bees
I was amazed to find that I had no idea how to unfold my spiritual life in a feminine way. I was surprised and, in fact, a little terrified when I found myself in the middle of a feminist spiritual reawakening.
Sue Monk was a "conventionally religious, churchgoing woman, a traditional wife and mother" with a thriving career as a Christian writer until she began to question her role as a woman in her culture, her family, and her church. From a jarring encounter with sexism in a suburban drugstore to monastery retreats and rituals in the caves of Crete, Kidd takes readers through the fear, anger, healing, and transformation of her awakening. Retaining a meaningful connection "with the deep song of Christianity," she opens the door for traditional Christian women to discover a spirituality that speaks directly to them and provides inspiring wisdom for all who struggle to embrace their full humanity.
If The Secret Life Of Bees had opened me up, Dance Of The Dissident Daughter helped set me free.
I don't often do this, but here is a facebook note (my early form of blogging, more about my life than about geeky stuff) that I wrote during this time to try and express what I was feeling.
The Sacred Feminine
January 14, 2009
I’ve been feeling strange again lately. Feeling as if nothing has any meaning anymore. I feel very lost and quite confused. But I’ve been doing my very best to ignore it.
Well, tonight it seems that I can ignore it no longer.

I had an old friend visit me tonight, and when he left I felt awkward and almost dirty spiritually. There was no cause for this except for something in the back of my mind was triggered by part of a conversation that made me second guess some of my actions from earlier in the year. I felt like I was trapped in a dream that was trying to tell me something, but that I desperately didn't want to listen to. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I poured myself a bubble bath and climbed into the hot bubbly water. I reached for the book that I was about to start and somehow stopped myself. I put the book down and reached for a different one that I had just recently picked up again after getting away from it for a few months. “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” is a Woman’s journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine by Sue Monk Kidd. I started reading when I came across a passage that she had found in another book that had helped to change her life. It read:
“Whether we have taken the path of the fathers, educated ourselves in their institutions, learning their language, seeking their goals, energizing ourselves with success in their endeavors, or supported the fathers in their path, creating their homes, birthing and rearing their children, encouraging their dreams, healing their wounds, we have most often made beauty out of our work. We rejoice in our careers and in our children. We are proud of our spouses’ achievements and our belief that helped those achievements happen… Then one day everything is dry. Dust, Crumbled and blowing away on stale wind. Being vice-president of the company no longer matters. Being a competent wife feels meaningless… The time has come, not to reclaim what had been lost, but to descend. To find the ground of our own being we must descend.”

I cried. Right then and there in the tub. Tears burst from my eyes and I let them flow. I understood. That was exactly how I felt. Dry, dust, as if nothing mattered anymore. I realized that I had been so frantically trying to hold on to something normal, something I so badly wanted to make sense that I had lost what I had been searching for. Myself. I had struggled for a very long time trying to balance my femininity and my masculinity. My femininity had been screaming to get out and I thought I had unleashed it. And I had for a while, but sometimes the world gets the better of me and I start to conform again. I start looking for love and acceptance from the men in my life despite not truly feeling it myself. I want them to see me, to love me. I want them to control me and bring purpose to my life. When I realized this, I wanted to be sick. Being controlled? That is my wish? No, it can’t be true. I’m stronger than that. I want more from life than that. I will not submit myself to being lower. I will not allow myself to come second in my own life any longer.
I feel as if the old me is made of clay and the new me is still trapped inside. All I can do is begin to break down those old walls, to strip away that clay armor that I always thought was reality. From now on I will make my own reality. But first I must descend, to the earth, naked in my new body and embrace mother earth and my own Sacred Feminine with open arms.
And you know what? I did break free. It took time and a lot of effort, but I became the Woman I wanted to be and I started to see all the other wonderful Women in my life for what they really were.
It's something that I'm grateful for everyday.
Thanks Sue Monk Kidd
I always wished that there was a way that I could express to Sue Monk Kidd what her writing meant to me.
Last week, I was given the opportunity. The Indigo near where I worked held a book signing for Sue Monk Kidd for her new book The Invention Of Wings
Hetty "Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved
Although I haven't read her new book yet (curse you hardcovers for being so heavy, bulky and expensive!) I decided that I wanted to go anyway, just to hear her speak.
I waited with a crowd of women that kept growing, along with our anticipation.
I started chatting with the woman next to me and soon I had a seat buddy, which is always nice.
Eventually the moment arrived and Sue Monk Kidd made her appearance.
 And I was star struck!

I find it funny how star struck I was. I've met all sorts of geeky celebrities and I was just as star struck meeting Sue Monk Kidd as I was when I met Carrie Fisher or Jeremy Bulloch.
She was amazing. She talked about her new book and the meaning that it had to her.
It's so rare to hear about the journey that the author took, but you could really feel it as she read passages from the book that gave us a glimpse of the hearts of her characters, and thus, her own heart.
It was beautiful.

After she finished speaking, they let us go up row by row to get her autograph. As I waiting, I started talking with a few of the women around me. The woman in front of me was feeling nervous about meeting Sue Monk Kidd, so I asked her what it was she wanted to her and it allowed her to figure it out before she got up there. Then she asked me the same question, so I told her my story and how much it meant to me that we were all coming together as women for this event.
Finally, it was my turn.
I went up, hands shaking and handed her my books; The Secret Life Of Bees for me and Dance of the Dissident Daughter for my Mom.
And I told her, with tears shining in my eyes, how much her books had changed my life and I was amazed at how her own eyes filled with tears.
I told her about how her one line about an open jar had stuck with me all this time.
She smiled at me and said, "You're jar is open... but you already knew that."

Wow! Just wow!
How does one take in something like that?
I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet Sue Monk Kidd, to share my experience with her and to let her know that her writing could effect someone so profoundly.
My jar is open....

No comments:

Post a Comment