“Life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness ... If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come,” wrote Franz Kafka.
For many of us, the right words are “work tirelessly at what you love.”
In Spinning Straw, Weaving Gold, my second collection of “uncommon” mother-daughter dialogues, I focus on the wisdom to be derived specifically from women’s work—which is, by definition, any work done by women.
As in Becoming Flame, I write of woman’s way in the world: the particular process through which she gains experience ... sifts and filters it through her stages of development ... and finally gains a confident voice in the world. But it is never an accomplishment only for herself—the splendor is to be had in the sharing.
Such breakthroughs ought to be greatly celebrated, and often are: displaying a work of art, publishing a book, commemorating an anniversary or remembering the origin of a fruitful idea.
But sadly, often a mature woman’s “emerging” as a star, a center of expertise and wisdom in the world after years of hard work, is completely ignored.
If she’s not perceived as “hot,” who wants to listen to her, anyway?
Yet, by this sidelining and downgrading of women’s multifaceted gifts to the world, we all are the poorer. Never, it seems, has a polarized world needed women’s wisdom and balance (through participation) more desperately.
So I try in my books simply to give space and attention to some of women’s unique transforming experiences: small scenarios—but often with wider implications.
What I have crafted are little cameos of a mother and daughter—twisting and pulling on truth as they encounter it; some have called them “miniature parables” of life.
Spinning and weaving are excellent metaphors for this process that women naturally experience in their lives, which can sometimes produce different shades and forms of result than those commonly valued by men.
One of the tasks that women especially struggle with is the quest for time—more of it, and a better quality of experience.
The story of Penelope, wife of Odysseus in Homer’s epic The Odyssey, is an instance of this. It shows how weaving—of actual materials and of experiences, including those of the spirit—allows women time. They can, in solitary or shared labor, begin to evaluate, choose, and reflect, while creating in a slow but steady way the necessary conditions for their lives.
Spinning and weaving can also symbolize a process through which to proceed to another stage in life.
Penelope, in the absence of her husband on his travels, was besieged by many suitors. But she managed to put off choosing who would replace Odysseus in the event of his not coming back. She did this by asserting that she would not decide until she had finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law Laertes.
But for three years she would weave during the day and then unravel her work at night, so that no progress ensued. And thus she “gained” time, the most precious commodity to the wise woman in learning how to live her life. Her task: to arrange for good the pieces of reality to which she has access.
In my mother-daughter dialogues I envision a timeless feminine context in which not only carding, spinning, and weaving could occur, but in which two women (the daughter has grown and now works side-by-side with her mother) can actively participate in mining the wisdom that comes through their shared experience.
“How will I know what Work I am to do in the world when
I leave our Home?” the Daughter asked aloud.
“The strands of your adult life are being gathered
together day by day,” her Mother assured her. “Over time
you will be able to discern a distinct configuration that
reveals itself, more and more, to be a Pattern.”
“Father has built our house of many types of materials,”
the Daughter noted, “beam and brick, board-and-batten,
stone and shingle.”
“Just so,” her Mother noted, “a wise woman builds her
‘house’ from the substances of discipline and purpose, joy
and love, tears and hard work.”
“I want to live here with you and Father for as long as I
need to learn from you,” the Daughter said.
“And from these thoughts and intents ... the
house of your Soul grows also. Eventually it will ‘house’
you well, when you have gone into the world.”
“But that will not be for quite a long time!” the Daughter
said, hugging her Mother.