Listen to Your Friends

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My friends told me that it was an amazing experience. They said it was life-changing. They said it was powerful.

And yet, none of that really captures it, any more than the prenatal class I took for those expecting multiples conveyed what it would really be like to care for two babies. I want to write words that will somehow help anyone reading to know how amazing, life-changing, powerful, and down-right magical it is to appear in a Listen to Your Mother show, but I’m pretty sure it’s not possible.

I think you had to be there.

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I’m going to try anyway.

All of those things my friends told me–they are true. What it really all comes down to, I think, is the power of shared story. Sharing:  That’s where the magic is.

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For much of my adult life, I questioned and struggled with the purpose of writing. It was so hard. It took me away from other things. And for what? What would be gained? Who would really care? What purpose would it serve, really? Was it worth what I would sacrifice, taking the precious minutes of my life to write my stories?

Several years ago, I decided that the answers to those questions were pretty much nothing, no one, none, and no.

I think, perhaps, it’s because the crucial piece that was missing from my practice as a “serious” writer was the sharing. I mean, yes, publishing is sharing, but it’s such a one-way thing. I think I’ve kept at blogging because it’s more about reciprocal sharing. It’s about community, and that’s what makes writing matter.

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There are women in this group whose life experience is different from mine in important ways, but in our first rehearsal I found connection to every single person’s story. Some walloped me close to home–Sue’s story about a difficult pregnancy, Becky’s story about step-mothering, Susan’s story about how it is to be a family with a visibly disabled child, Amy’s story about her family of strong women who rarely speak openly about the tragedies in their lives.

But truly, there was something in everyone’s story that spoke to me: from Kate’s mother who loved the Handi-wipes I remember from my grandmother’s house to Mandy whose voice is so much like her mother’s that no one could tell them apart on the phone. (My dad never knew if it was my mother or me when one of us called home.) When Kylene told of her valiant struggle to carry her large baby on her body, I remembered my own challenges to give my babies what I thought they needed. Carisa talked about not shielding her children from life’s truths, something I’ve been doing with mine for years, and Sandra told stories about her mother who, like my grandmother, was the center of her family’s universe. The absurdity in Leslie’s story about burying a pet hamster reminded me of so many moments I found myself doing things I never imagined I might do as a mother.

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Through our stories–and making ourselves vulnerable by telling them honestly–we became a community. I have probably spent fewer than 15 hours with these women, but I tell you this:  I feel I know them better than others I’ve known for 15 years. And I would drop everything for any of them if they needed me to, because I’ve looked into the most tender places in their hearts, as they have looked into mine. (I also feel this way about so many of you I’ve only “met” in our online spaces.)

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Imagine how our world might be if we could all do this. What if we could lower our defenses and share our most important experiences? What if we could learn to really listen to each other? How much kinder and stronger and more able to love might we all be?

Putting our writing out into the world is hard because so often we are opening up the softest parts of ourselves (if we are doing it right) to others who may not accept our gift with respect or care. We put ourselves at risk when do that, just as much as if we were offering our bodies to a lover who can’t love us back.

But damn, the world needs it.

It needs brave souls who will say:  “This is my story. This is my truth.” We need it so that we can see ourselves in each other. We need it to know we aren’t alone. We need it so we can be strong in the face of all that life throws at us. We need it so that we can turn to each other in the face of our fears, rather than on each other.

We need it.

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My friends told me that being in Listen to Your Mother is life-changing. I believed it was true for them, but I wondered how it could be that way for me. How could getting up on a stage for a night and telling a story do that? I signed up to audition because I was full of my new year’s resolution to find and use my voice, but I didn’t expect it to change my life.

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I don’t know that I can really parse out how the whole thing works, much as I’ve been trying to here. I likely can’t tell you that any more than I can tell you how it really is to raise two babies at the same time.

But, thanks to this experience, I might just take a stab at trying to tell that story–and a whole bunch of others. These women have helped me see that I have stories worth telling and others I want to tell them to. I went looking for my voice, and I found it in a community of women who honored and amplified it. More importantly, I think I’ve also found the courage and heart to use it.

And that, my friends, just might be life-changing.

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All of these wonderful photos were taken by one of our sponsors, Elizabeth Sattelberger of Please do not share without her permission.

19 thoughts on “Listen to Your Friends

  1. Hillary Hyde says:

    Rita! I am so happy to hear what you have to say about this. I sooo wish I could be there to listen and support you. I am hoping some video of that evening will be put online. It is fitting that you find a community of writers and mothers as your kiddos are starting to launch. I am watching you closely to see how to do that. I hope you do much more writing about your mothering and your life, because it give you power and satisfaction. And, selfishly, because it is so helpful to me in finding me way, too. Happy Mothers day!

    • Rita says:

      Hi Hillary! I was wondering if you’d made it. I wish you’d been there, too. I know you would’ve liked it. There will be video sometime this summer. I will let you know when it goes up. As for launching kiddos, well, I am figuring that one out as I go! And not doing it too gracefully some of the time. It’s hard. But I know all parents do it, so I can, too. Happy Mother’s Day to you, too!

  2. Josh says:

    Once upon a time there was a team that constructed the smartest and most powerful computer ever made. When it was finished, they began to test it. The computer easily solved the most difficult mathematical questions they could find to throw at it, some of which had never been solved. They searched all of the world’s archives for obscure facts, and the machine knew them all. Chess, agriculture, history, engineering, music, languages, the computer excelled at everything. They could not find anything that would stump it. Then one of the team asked the computer , “Is it possible for a machine such as yourself to be human?” After the slightest of pauses the computer replied : “Once upon a time there was a team that constructed…”

      • Josh says:

        Thanks, it is one of my all time favs also.

        Also wanted to reply to this part:
        ‘Imagine how our world might be if we could all do this. What if we could lower our defenses and share our most important experiences? What if we could learn to really listen to each other? How much kinder and stronger and more able to love might we all be?”

        In have had several experiences in my life that brought home to me the truth that everyone has a story, a real and important story. And that applies to people I think could not possibly be interesting or worth listening to, and to people I dislike, and to people who seem very different from me (pro tip: they aren’t). Having learned this, do I live up to it? Hell no. But every once in a while, I remember to listen.

        And then all of this, I think is summed up so succinctly by the following:

        Questioner: “How are we to treat others?”

        Ramana Maharshi: “There are no others.”

        • Rita says:

          I’ve had some recent experience with this. I’ve come to be quite fond of someone I went to high school with, who I began talking with about Trump. Now, I can’t stand Trump. I still don’t really understand how anyone could support him. But I understand why this one person supports him–or at least, I understand what’s behind his support (even though I don’t understand how that can outweigh the things that I think make Trump repugnant). And what I learned through listening and talking is that he and I are more alike than we are different in our values. Which seems impossible, but it’s really not. I suspect that’s probably true of most people. I think we all want the same things, really. We just seek it in different ways.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you! You know, there’s a Seattle show. I think you’d really like attending one of these. Next year grab your sisters and go!

  3. Annie says:

    Wow, Rita! It makes me so happy to know that you had this experience and can feel how important your stories are. They are!!! I feel privileged to hear them. Thank you for being an example of being brave and putting your truth out into the world.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Annie! When are you coming to Portland again? We are long overdue for a long coffeeshop date. I would love to hear your stories and truth again.

      Or, hey…I’m probably going to be making it out to the east coast before too long…hmmm. There might be advantages to this whole college in DC thing that I hadn’t even considered…

  4. Marian says:

    I’m so happy for you, Rita — I wish I had been there; I love stories 🙂 .

    This — “Imagine how our world might be if we could all do this. What if we could lower our defenses and share our most important experiences? What if we could learn to really listen to each other? How much kinder and stronger and more able to love might we all be?” — really speaks to me. It’s been what I’ve tried my best to do with my online writing — I’ve always wanted to be entirely authentic, but I have to admit it’s sometimes been a nail-biting “should I, or should I not” leap of faith when it comes to actually hitting publish (either in a comment or in a post of my own). Once or twice I have sorely regretted being authentic and have wished for days that I had just remained silent. I’ve often wondered at the very unfortunate fact that so very many women (and some men too) seem to be all too willing to pounce on weakness, to snipe, to ostracize. Perhaps we are indeed making progress, addressing the root of all of this negative stuff early, in the playgrounds and in the schoolyards; perhaps the messages about bullying and inclusivity and kindness are finally sinking in … but I dunno … from recent conversations I’ve had, it still seems to be happening, at all ages, from young girls to teenagers to university-age to fully-grown women who should know better! I do wish we could all just stop it and support each other …
    Marian recently posted…On Clothing and SewingMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Oh, dang. I wrote a proper reply (almost) and left it and came back to finish it and now WordPress has eaten it.

      I think what I wanted to say was: I’m really glad you put your truth out there. I get that people can be really mean just for the fun of being mean. But your online house is your online house, and you don’t have to let them in. I monitor my own online activity pretty closely and there’s lots of places I just don’t go because it will make me too depressed about the state of humanity. (The comments section of most news articles, for starters.)

      And this: I think that even as I’m advocating for us to show our soft parts, we have to develop a bit of a tough skin to put our writing out in the world. A question I ask my daughter all the time (and myself sometimes) is: “Why do you care what ______ thinks?” And: “Why does ______’s opinion matter more than yours?” I also think there’s a lot of merit to the idea that if we’re not offending someone, we’re probably doing something wrong. Because we’re probably not doing anything that matters. And finally, words of wisdom from a mentor that I turn to again and again. It takes the idea that if we’re not bothering someone we’re not having impact a step further. She told me that if I wanted everyone to like me, I was never going to accomplish anything. The trick is to have the right people on my side and the right people against me. Asking myself who those people are have helped me get through some uncomfortable situations. Because I’m a pleaser from way back. That’s how so many of us were raised.
      *stepping off soapbox*

  5. Kari says:

    First, I am so proud of you.
    And so happy that you had this experience. It is like no other, which you now know well.
    Second, those pictures are absolutely beautiful. They don’t take away from the day or all of you and your stories, it is like I was there without actually being there. They paint the perfect setting, which is what a good photographer does.
    My favorite pictures aren’t posed ones, the best one is with everyone sitting talking in the back room. I love that one and it just stuck with me because it could have been taken 100 years before now or 100 years in the future. Us women are pretty remarkable people. We open up, we talk, we confide, we get up on stages and talk about personal experiences. We are pretty fucking amazing.
    You will never forget this day. It was the day you walked on a stage and became a rock star for your words.
    And you ARE fucking amazing, my friend.
    Kari recently posted…Titles Don’t Come Easy You KnowMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kari. You are one of those friends who inspired me, you know. I love those pictures. Today I got to see even more, some taken by one of the cast members, and I love them even more than these. Hers are all candids in the back room, and yes–they are timeless. She caught us real. We women are pretty fucking amazing.

  6. Kate says:

    I love it, I love it, I love it. I really wanted to get to the Milwaukee show this year, but it just wasn’t in the cards. This post makes me think I really need to make being in the audience a priority for next year!

    And you are so right about how the world needs us to share our stories. I appreciate yours so very much and wish I had the kind of bravery you’ve shown this year with your voice.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kate. I highly recommend getting there if you can. And maybe you should try out! I will confess that in the days before the first rehearsal I was feeling so anxious. Although I enjoyed the rehearsal, the thought of standing on that stage made my stomach go all jittery. Like, I couldn’t see how I was possibly going to do it. (Sort of how I felt about giving birth through my entire pregnancy.) But then, by the time we got to the show, it really wasn’t hard at all. I felt so supported by everyone else. And we were having so much fun together. I know it might feel impossible when you think about it right now, but believe me: It really isn’t. I know you have stories. Hope you’ll think about telling them in this way. I think you’d love it.

  7. Susan Fleming says:

    I love this Rita, it was amazing to work with you and thank you for sharing your beautiful, powerful story. I too wish we could all go around sharing our stories. Being part of a storytelling show makes me wish I could know everyone’s story. Maybe we should lead with “Hi, my name’s Susan, what makes you cry?” Wouldn’t that be better than “How about those Ducks?” Thank you for all your beautiful words that bring us closer together.

    • Rita says:

      So much better. I am so glad I met you, and I’m so thankful for the team that was you and Carisa. You did such a good job of making a place safe enough for us to tell about the things that make us cry. Or laugh until we cry. Or both.

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