In this difficult yet enriching read, Gail Straub returns to her mother’s house. Her part memoir, part self-help book lets us all see the Wisdom of the Feminine. Although my own mother did not die at a young age, and Straub’s mother did, the book resonated with me in considering my own mother’s struggle to maintain her feminine wisdom and spirituality. Never has it been truer than it is today, when many of us, whether driven by financial or inner demons, have gone into the workplace with the masculine ideals of workaholicism and achievement-driven angst.
As the forward by Christiane Northrup says, “There isn’t a woman alive who won’t be able to relate to this lyrical, poignant and beautifully written story.” The journey Straub takes us on is one of depth, passion and introspection - analyzing our own relationships with our mothers, defining our relationships as mothers, and reaching inwardly to find grounds for a happy, fulfilled adulthood. I strongly suggest you begin your read of this book by studying the contents pages, for they will give you the platform on which to begin your reading journey. Another suggestion is a pad of paper and a pencil to map out your own story as you read. Each step of the way there are revelations and opportunity for growth as the book compels us forward.
No matter how sound your maternal journey or what your relationship with your own mother, we all have issues with our mothers that need addressing in a compassionate and emotionally grounded way. Straub provides us the opportunity to do this soul-searching in a safe and protected forum. With the “house” possibly used in the Jungian sense as a representation of the self, the book explore the ways we as women (and probably as mothers) deny our feminine roots, our goddess roots, and our female wisdom. The four parts are separated thusly: Part One, The Imprint of the Feminine; Part Two, The Gradual Loss of the Feminine; Part Three, Taking Back my Wisdom; and Part Four, the vital Passing My Wisdom on to Others.
In Part One, Straub looks at her mother’s roots as a bohemian artist in Denver. Free-spirited, intelligent and independent in the 1930s when women weren’t accepted as masculine equals, the changes life brought to Jacquie Walsh are painful to read: “So much of my life has been shaped by what my mother betrayed, lost, or had stolen from her.” (p 7) Slowly as we read, we begin to hear about the changes, and the loss of Jacque’s feminine identity, fearlessness in the face of the world, and of her artistic talent subjugated to societal imperatives. As I read, I thought about the old movie Shirley Valentine and the song in the soundtrack “The Girl That Used to be Me.” It is supremely sad to see these losses in our mothers and in ourselves, and to have hope still that our strengths in reclaiming the goddesses in ourselves will enhance and enrich life for our daughters.
Part Two covers Straub’s personal journeys, her struggle for her own identity as a woman. In this far-reaching section, she discusses her choices, including the one not to have children. It is a devastatingly difficult choice and a personal horror that women make this choice because of the pain and loss they often see in their own mothers:
“...then there was my mother’s ineffable voice reminding me of the difference between mothering as a calling, and mothering as a should.” (p 112) The beautiful ceremony Gail and her husband, David, enact to celebrate their choice of childlessness should be a beacon and a guideline for other women, and couples, who choose to remain childless.
Straub continues her searches in Part Three, struggling to forge her own wisdom and her own connections to the feminine. Her worldwide travels, her marriage, and the founding with her husband of Empowerment Training Programs all serve as fodder in her search for answers. Trips to Bali, Russia, China and Ireland flesh out her quests and help her shift her focus and center her spirit in the feminine. We move with her through times of contemplation, exploration and broadening of horizons, even if we have never traveled ourselves, created a business, or founded a legacy for women struggling for meaning in an often-masculine world.
As the book wraps up, readers will find themselves intrigued by the poetry and richness of Straub’s prose and start to feel, hopefully, the beginnings of awakening. Whether you have made choices that mirror Straub’s or if your life has taken a different path, the crux of the matter is that we are not alone in the world. From the wombs of our own human and flawed mothers flows a depth of lessons and a wealth of experience we can use to grow, that enable us to be strong, feminine and nourishing, and help to create a life for ourselves that feeds the soul.