Walking Under the Blue Whale
I was nearly 50 years old when I first sat down with the intention of writing for the sake of writing. My childhood dream was to be a ballerina, but I had always been a voracious and indiscriminate reader and admired those who wrote. After reading Harriet the Spy in fourth grade, I spent about twenty minutes lurking around the house with a notebook, but my older sister (who I love dearly) found my notes and scrawled something rude and older-sister-ish on them, and so I gave up the idea of writing without much distress. I was just trying it on for size. I didn’t really have anything to say.
Early in his career, my father was the head of Natural History Press. His office was in the Museum of Natural History in New York City, and to get to it, we had to walk underneath the giant replica of a blue whale that was suspended from the ceiling in one of the great halls full of dioramas. I knew that the blue whale was a gentle creature, but I was terrified by the size of the one in the museum, afraid that the cables holding it would tear from the ceiling and we would be crushed underneath. Because of that whale, I always imagined that my father—and all writers—existed in a sort of otherworld, the entry into which involved tremendous risk.
In some ways, I still believe this is true. Writing—exposing ourselves—can be risky. But I have also learned how truly dangerous it is to not give voice to our stories.
I have not always honored my own voice, which is ironic since all of my work has centered on encouraging others, mothers mostly, to pay attention to their intuition and be confident in the value of what they have to bring to the world.
In all of my roles and jobs—as a wilderness trip leader, waitress and salesclerk, La Leche League leader, daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, teacher and mentor, and now, in the last few years, writer— this has been my one guiding principle: that everyone is magnificent and worthy. That everyone brings unique and needed gifts to the world. That it is our job as parents, as educators—as humans—to listen to and be curious about who people really are, and, as well, to discover our own gifts, our own voice, and in so doing, to speak, not always necessarily with words, but with our actions, with the way we choose to live our lives.
This is the central theme of my first book, Parenting in the Here and Now, and it is the thread that runs through my second book, a just-completed memoir called Something About You, and I am returning to it again in a third book that I am working on currently.
Apparently I did—do—have something to say. I didn’t choose to write these books. I had to write them.
I had little formal schooling in writing. On the other hand, I had what may be the best informal training: reading aloud. My parents read aloud to me, and I began reading aloud when my daughter was young and continued until both of my children were well into their high school years. Because we homeschooled, we read aloud across a broad spectrum: fairy tales and fables, classics like Great Expectations and Beowulf, historical fiction and biographies, travelogues, contemporary novels and mass market mysteries, poetry and natural history.
There is a difference between hearing and reading. When I read to myself, I get the story. When I read aloud, I get the language, the music of it, the rhythm. Not only do I have to read the words, but I have to discover how to breathe through them. Depending on the book, it can take a few sentences or a few pages before I “know” it, before I can put the book down and pick it up later and drop right into the pacing and the prose. When I read aloud, I am not lost in the story as I am when I read silently; I become the story. And so, unexpectedly, I have been given this treasure of two decades of reading aloud.
And as part of our Waldorf homeschooling, I composed stories for my children. Now, when I think of it, I realize how many stories I made up, despite my absolute conviction that I couldn’t write one to save my life. But those were private stories, just for my children. I didn’t consider that writing.
I also spent over a decade in online conversation with mothers, but I didn’t think of that as writing, either. I listened. I supported. I responded. Yes… in writing. People even said, “Lea, you have to write a book. You have to write this stuff down for other people.” And I thought, “Nah, I’m not a writer.”
But then a time came when I had to make sense of a deep loss, and I didn’t know how to do that. It was time, finally, to do what I had unknowingly been preparing for all my life: write. It was time to “walk under the blue whale.” And so I did. The parenting book came first—that is about what I know. The memoir came second—that is about what I didn’t know. The next one: who knows?
Lea Page is the author of Parenting in the Here and Now: Realizing the Strengths You Already Have (Floris Books, 2015). Her essays and articles have appeared in The On Being Blog, Tiferet Journal, Manifest-Station, Soundings Review, The Seven Hills Literary Review and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Turning Wheel, among others.
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