Terry Tempest Williams: "I am 54 years old, the age my mother was when she died. This is what I remember. We were lying on her bed with a mohair blanket covering us. I was rubbing her back, feeling each vertebra with my fingers as a rung on a ladder. It was January, and the ruthless clamp of cold wore down on us outside. Yet inside, mother’s tenderness and clarity of mind carried its own warmth. She was dying in the same way she was living: consciously. ‘I am leaving you all my journals,’ she said, facing the shuttered window, as I continued rubbing her back. ‘But you must promise me that you will not look at them until after I am gone.’ I gave her my word and then she told me where they were. I didn’t know my mother kept journals. A week later, she died. A month later, I found myself alone in the family home. I kept expecting Mother to appear. Her absence became her presence. It was the right time to read her journals. They were exactly where she said they would be, three shelves of beautiful cloth-bound books, some floral, some paisley, others in solid colors. The spines of each one was perfectly aligned against the lip of the shelves. I opened the first journal; it was empty. I opened the second journal; it was empty. I opened the third journal; it too was empty as was the fourth the fifth, the sixth. Shelf after shelf after shelf, all my mother’s journals were blank.”
Jo Reed: Terry, describe those moments when you began to realize that what I assume you thought would be a treasure trove of insight into your mother, and you found blank pages.
Terry Tempest Williams: It was like a second death, Jo. I couldn’t believe it. I kept pulling them off the shelf, looking, thumbing through them, nothing; looking through them, nothing. Blank, blank, blank, every one of them empty. And I thought, “This can’t be.” It felt like a cruel joke; it felt like a betrayal. My mother’s journals became paper tombstones. And honestly, I couldn’t allow myself to think about it. You know that month between her death, any of us who have lost loved ones, you know what that time period is; you lose track of all sense of time. It’s that laziness of grief. But I had that one touchstone: my mother’s journals. I thought finally, “We’ll be able to know what she was thinking, feeling, believing.” Nothing. So I gathered them in my arms, I walked out of the house, I put them in my car, drove back up the canyon, put them on my shelves unceremoniously, and wrote in them one after another through the years. And it really wasn’t until I turned the age my mother was when she died, 54 years old, that I thought, “Okay, what was my mother saying or not saying?”
In this excerpt from the podcast, Williams reads from the beginning of the book, and talks about her initial response to her mother's journals. [3:03] - See more at: http://nea.cmstesting.co/art-works/2013/art-works-podcast-terry-tempest-...