Friday, August 3, 2012

Listen to the Voices

Today I have a tremendous honor and privilege.

I get to read a blog post I have written in front about 5,000 people, mostly women, at the Voices of the Year keynote address at the BlogHer convention, here in New York City.

And? This is the friendliest, most receptive, appreciative audience I am ever likely to encounter.

And? Fourteen other wonderful writers will be reading along with me, sharing their words of humor, heart, self and belief. Some of these fellow Voices of the Year are old friends, some new. I can not wait to hear them read.

We bonded yesterday in our nervousness as we rehearsed our movements: from green room to holding area to stage, up and down a variety of steps and staircases (thanking goodness I will not be wearing high heels, having no desire to find out if I can actually fly).

We each spent a moment, standing center stage in front of this vast empty ballroom, imagining the faces of our friends, eager to hear our stories, shining up at us from below and beyond.

I am looking forward to it. A little anxious, but mostly excited in anticipation. Yesterday I wore a tunic whose pretty pattern was full of tiny butterflies, if you looked closely. When people asked if I was nervous about my upcoming reading I replied "Not really," then pointed out that I was wearing my butterflies on the outside, so I didn't have to have them in my stomach.

Voices of the Year as the Friday afternoon keynote is a BlogHer tradition that goes back to 2008. There are too many amazing writers in the cohort who have read in past years to name them all here, but suffice it to say I am in amazing company.

Polly/Deborah/Wendi/Eden/Jenni/Alexandra/Cecily/Tanis/Jill/Liz/Jenny/Marinka etc. etc. etc... thank you for paving the way.

But, for me, I will always associate the Voices of the Year with one very special Voice I heard read two years ago, on this same stage in this same ballroom: Susan Niebur, aka Why Mommy.

Susan's BlogHer10 VOTY Keynote address (photo via TeachMama)

At the time she was in the middle of battling yet another recurrence of metastatic inflammatory breast cancer. Susan finally lost that fight this year, in February, when her brilliant light was extinguished, much to the sorrow of many, keenest of all to her loving husband and two young sons.

I know I will feel Susan's presence with me as I walk up those steps, place my hands upon that selfsame podium and speak my words. That stage ever belongs to her, to me. 

But this afternoon I will take to it, make it mine for five minutes, share my words with all who will hear.

And thank you for listening.

And, if you can not be there to hear me, here is what I will read, a slight variation of a post from Spring, 2011:

Holding Hands

Today my mother was tired when I stopped in to visit, planning to take her downstairs to lunch.

And while many a day I will coax and cajole, force her to rouse herself, to rise to the occasion, today I didn't. I let her be.

Why? Because I was tired, too.

So I didn't make her make an effort, make her rise and dress, put in her teeth. I did hand her her hearing aid, however, to make conversation less about shouting and gesturing, and guessing.

And then? I laid down beside her on the big, now half-empty bed and held her hand.

And we talked.

We talked about the little things; about everything and nothing.

I told her how we had just this morning measured Ethan, to find he had grown a full half-inch in a month.

She patted her head and mine, proclaimed us both lucky in our luxuriant curly hair.

I talked to her about Jacob.

"He's still autistic, isn't he?"

"Oh, yes, that's for certain, probably always will be."

Her eyes soften, wishing there were something she could do, finding nothing.

"But he's doing well? He's in a good school?"

"Yes, Mom, Jake’s doing very well, and in a great school, where they love and appreciate him. I'll bring him by soon. He wants to see you, asks for you."

“So everything is good then?”

“Yes, Mom, everything is just fine, terrific.”

(Terrific? Is not a word I currently use to describe my life. Once you add Special Needs into the mix of kids and family, life becomes many things: intense. challenging, stressful - always - stressful, also meaningful and rewarding in ways I had never imagined. But “just fine”? “Terrific”? Not so much.)

But also, this is news that cannot be shared with my mother, not anymore. She needs to know - to believe - that all is well with me, that caring for her is never a burden. She would feel so guilty if she thought she were one more weight heaped upon my life. She feels bad enough it’s me taking care of her now instead of the other way around; that I’M washing out HER underpants. So, to her, my life needs to be “just fine.”)

"Haven't found me a man yet, have you?"

"Nope, Mom. They're either too old, too young or too... dull."

She nods in agreement, knows my father would be a hard act to follow. Yet, still, she longs for companionship.

We lay side by side, a short arms reach apart as I know she had lain for 51 years with my father on many a morning and evening talking about everything and nothing, the easy rhythms of intimacy.

I know this well in my own life, with my husband (though in these frantic child-rearing years, our quietly together times are much fewer and farther between)  -- and also with my son Ethan who zealously hoards his bedtime talking time with me, needing so much to process his day before releasing it to slumber.

I held my mother’s hand.

We talked of this and that, and then we drifted off to sleep; took a little nap, side by side, our fingertips a bridge from daughter to mother.

"I'm going to be 89 soon," she had said, "Imagine that."

"I can. I do. I'm no spring chicken myself, you know."

"I plan to make it to 100." Then, shaking her head, "Not likely."

"Why not?" I’d asked "Why not?'

She just smiled.

We napped.

I woke first, slipped my hand from her now lax fingers, stepped into the kitchen to do a little cleaning up after my formerly fastidious mother who now sees no dirt.

I came back to wake her, to say goodbye. (There was so much to be done back across town, in my own life: groceries to purchase, children to retrieve, encroaching domestic chaos to beat back.)

But first I sat softly on the bed, gently clasped my mother’s hand once again, leaned over to gaze at her barely lined, still beautiful face; whispered quietly, beneath the threshold of her dimmed hearing:

"Why not, 100? Why not?"


  1. Have a wonderful time...both listening and reading.


  2. Awesome. I can't wait to read the post. Have fun.

  3. I so wish I could be there to hear and see you. You are incredibly deserving of the honor of speaking this year and I am so happy and proud for you!

  4. That's awesome! But um. . . what is this "BlogHer" of which you speak?

  5. I've been in the bed, holding my mom's hand, teeth out and not being a burden....

    You write and read beautifully.

  6. I'm so grateful to have heard you read just now. Thank you for sharing your powerful story with us, and congratulations on your VOTY award.

  7. I remember being so moved last during during the Voices of the Year keynote. It was such an amazing time. I'm sure everything went great for you and the other honorees. So sorry I couldn't be there this year!

  8. It was beautifully read, Varda.

  9. Loved being there to hear you read.

  10. I cried like a baby during Susan's reading. and then I fell in love with her.

    Actually, that was the blogher where I heard YOU get up and ask a question during a session, and I decided I wanted to follow your blog :-)


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!