Big news for After three years and 302 posts blogging about other people’s memoirs, I  have a book contract of my own.

The contract was completed August 5. It’s taken me three months to tell my readers about it.

I was tempted to go incognito and then spring the surprise when the book was published. But the more I meditated on whether and how to share my good news, the more I recognized a core dilemma. I’ve found that if I wrestle with these dilemmas, opportunities arise.

The dilemma: Mennonites frown on excessive individualism and can pick up signs of pride from a mile away. Some might even say that “a single life Mennonite memoir” is an oxymoron. Pride will be a major theme in my book. As an imaginative, inquisitive, and exuberant child, I confronted the church’s teachings against pride in my youth even while absorbing and appreciating the church’s greatest gifts — community, simplicity, and peace.

That liminal space between becoming smaller for the sake of others and celebrating too wildly at my own party has taken me a lifetime to find. Sometimes I fail utterly. Sadly, I’ve had to learn how to celebrate outside my faith community. But what I really long for is a celebration larger than self — a way to bring the self fully present and alive inside the community and at the same time enlarge the space of the community itself. Could this happen? Could it happen through memoir — not only my own, but others?

Let me tell you a little story:

The best-selling book by a Mennonite author for many years was the Mennonite Community Cookbook first published in 1950. The author was Mary Emma Showalter, my husband’s aunt. Here’s how she described the idea for her cookbook:


Among the cookbooks on the pantry shelf at home there has always been the little hand-written notebook of recipes. As a child I learned that this blue notebook, which contained a collection of my mother’s favorite recipes, was her favorite cookbook. Not only were all the pages of this notebook filled with recipes, but inserted between the pages were loose sheets of paper on which were written other favorites. These were copied by friends and relatives whom Mother had visited at some time and whose specialty she had admired. Since a cookbook of the favorite recipes of Mennonite families had never been published, I began to sense that the handwritten recipe books were responsible. I asked to see them wherever I went and was astonished to learn how many of them had been destroyed in recent years. The daughters of today were guilty of pushing them aside in favor of the new, just as I had done one day. This collection is a compilation of over 1,100 recipes, chosen from more than 5,000 recipes sent in. They come to you from most of the Mennonite communities in the United States and Canada.

Anna Mary Herr Hess' (my maternal grandmother) kitchen notebook

My mother still has such a notebook  from her mother. I estimate that Grandma Hess, who died in 1951, created this notebook soon after her marriage in 1918. Soon the notebook will be one hundred years old.

Aunt Mary Emma, as the Virginia-based cookbook author was called by my husband and his siblings and cousins, collected recipes by asking for them in church publications. I don’t think my Grandmother Hess responded from her farm in Pennsylvania, but at least she kept her own notebook instead of throwing it away. I still make a few of the recipes, my favorite being steamed cherry pudding. But the collection of other notebook entries in the Mennonite Community Cookbook was the most important book in almost every Mennonite kitchen (and many others as well) for generations.

And, what’s also true, is that most Mennonites have other treasures in their homes, like those recipe notebooks, that they have not valued highly enough. They come in the form of letters, diaries, photos, and heirlooms of close and distant ancestors. Many of them are already lost. But it’s not too late to claim a great heritage.

Today it is almost impossible to reach all Mennonites through a single outlet or publication. We live in too many places and speak too many languages for any one publication to reach us all. Churches borrow from many different sources. The Mennonite magazine and Mennonite Weekly Review reach many, but certainly not all, Mennonite homes in the United States. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs reach some others.

I would love for storytelling and story writing to become as Mennonite as shoofly pie. And I would love for the whole world to join in the great Mennonite story-telling enterprise as if it were a hymn sing. And for Mennonites to sing in the hymnals of others.

What if:

  • Stories were as important as recipes.
  • Mennonites would begin to share their stories. Not in a single master narrative but in truthful tales of real emotions and remembered events, practices, and people.
  • Some of those stories were sold as books and their authors toured the country, not only speaking about their own stories, but holding workshops on storytelling and story writing in churches, schools, libraries, and homes.
  • Sunday school classes and small groups would read Mennonite memoirs together and then write or tell their own stories to each other.
  • The stories that aren’t published are collected Story Corps fashion on a blog or made available as podcasts.
  • Historical Societies around the country sponsor annual storytelling and story writing events.

I don’t exactly know how all of this would look, but I do know that it greatly inspires me to tell my story if I know others are both helping in the process and thinking of their own stories and how to share them.

And so, dear reader, I am sharing my memoir writing timetable with you and giving you the keys to holding me accountable. I’d like to create in some fashion a Mennonite Community Memoir! And you don’t have to be Mennonite to come to the table.


  • Draft intro, chapter one and chapter two are finished. Very rough!
  • Chapter three deadline is Nov. 2. Yikes!
  • Chapter four: Dec. 1
  • Chapter five: Jan. 1
  • Chapter six: Feb. 1
  • Chapter seven: March 1.
  • Chapter eight: April 1.
  • Chapter nine: May 1.
  • Chapter ten: June 1.
  • Chapter eleven: August 1 (to allow time for moving from Brooklyn to VA and for two international trips)
  • Chapter twelve: Sept. 1
  • Chapter thirteen: Oct. 1
  • Chapter fourteen and epilogue: Nov. 1.
  • Revisions, photos, index, permissions, etc.: Nov. 15, 2012–Feb. 15, 2013
  • Estimated publication date: Fall 2013

Does this timetable give you heart palpitations? Probably not. But I can feel a few coming on.

That’s why I need you now more than ever.

I will keep you updated via this blog and a new website now in production. Soon I’ll have a FB page where I will be able to ask questions as I write. For example, if you are Mennonite, what do you remember about preparatory services for communion? Did you have to be able to say, in the company of witnesses, that you are at “peace with God and your fellow man” before you were ready to “partake of the cup”? What did/do you think of such a practice?

If you aren’t Mennonite, what would you like to know about Mennonite life?

Of course, as I write, I will continue taking care of grandson Owen until we leave Brooklyn at the end of May. I consider him an inspiration rather than a drain on my creativity, and his presence in my life is part of my memoir story that I will try to describe in the epilogue.

I would love to hear from many of you in the comments section and to build a larger community through the subscription list (right hand side) to this blog. Please respond to anything in this post that gives you pause, brings up a memory, or an idea. How can I be of service to you?

Now a final story:

When I became the 14th president of Goshen College, the chapel committee invited me to sing a call-and-response hymn, “Lead Me, Guide Me” by Doris Atkers. Somehow I managed to sing the solo part, buoyed up by the voices of the community, and there followed eight years in which God and that community gave me the strength I needed for the many tasks as president. Now I feel like I am standing alone at the mike again, but I know you will be there and that if you are, great things will happen. Lead me, guide me, again.

I am weak and I need thy strength and pow’r

to help me over my weakest hour.

Help me through the darkness thy face to see.

Lead me, O Lord, lead me.

Shirley Showalter


  1. diane on October 31, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    It’s not pride. It’s Pride and Joy. Congratulations!

  2. shirleyhs on October 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks,Diane, you put a smile on my face minutes after posting the blog.

  3. John on October 31, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Congratulations on the contract. Could be fun. Or work. Or both.

    • shirleyhs on October 31, 2011 at 3:26 pm

      Both! But compared to planting tobacco or baling hay, all other work is a piece of shoofly cake. Thanks for the comment, John.

  4. Renee Quistorf on October 31, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Your struggle with the church’s teachings against pride resonate with me. As someone whose God-given talents can be best used in the business world, I have wrestled with how to use my gifts as well as follow Scripture and the Mennonite church’s teachings regarding earthly wealth. I read your ideas for sharing with building enthusiasm and excitement about the possibilities: “Sunday school classes and small groups would read Mennonite memoirs together and then write or tell their own stories to each other. The stories that aren’t published are collected Story Corps fashion on a blog or made available as podcasts.” To those ideas I say a hearty “yes!” and look forward to enjoying the results. Congratulations!

    • shirleyhs on October 31, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      Renee, I just visited your website. What a great philosophy of style!! I can tell why you resonate. We are both trying to take, and live, the best and leave the rest. Right?

      I will be talking about style in the memoir. I do hope you will continue as part of the community. I can use your wisdom!

  5. Saloma Furlong on October 31, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Congratulations, Congratulations! This is such great news! Your schedule looks quite sensible and doable to me. And you left time for your major life transition/journey. Very nice.

    Growing up in an Anabaptist household seems to always have cautions against personal pride — one would think that it was the root of all evil. And yet I think we can take this too far… did you know any Mennonites who were proud of their humility? I knew quite a few Amish who were.

    Everyone takes joy in accomplishing what we feel we are meant to accomplish in life. You mentioned gratitude, which I think is so important in our daily lives. Whenever I pray for something, I try to remember to give thanks for what I already have. I feel it’s my way (however small) of giving back…

    When I first became aware of how important gratitude is, I discovered that those moments when I feel the most grateful for a breakthrough in my life is also when I feel pure joy. Thank you for sharing your joy with us here. It is a great pleasure.

    One of the things I like to do, because I love words, is look up common words in the dictionary. Today I felt like looking up “pride.” Here are a few of a long list of definitions of pride:

    1. a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.
    2. the state or feeling of being proud.
    3. a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.
    4. pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself: civic pride.

    Now to me, there is a huge difference between definition 1 and those of 3 and 4. I don’t think anyone would espouse to having themselves described as number 1, but who wouldn’t want to feel what 3 and 4 describe? Weren’t we all put on this earth for a reason? And once we feel we’ve discovered what that reason is, and we have a major breakthrough of feeling we are accomplishing that, don’t you think God smiles on us when we do a little dance of joy (or sing a song of praise)? I like to think that. (Those of us who have to leave the singing to others are left with dancing.)

    Some people claim anyone can sing, but they know not of what they speak. My boys used to put their hands over their ears when I tried singing them good-night songs before they could say, “Mommy, please don’t sing.” I once was telling a priest how I don’t have a singing voice. He said, “Well, maybe if God made it that bad, He deserves to hear it.” I had to laugh, but then I said, “That may be true, but my fellow humans don’t.”

    So I’m doing a little joyful gig for you today, Shirley. I’m so happy for you!

    • shirleyhs on October 31, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      Oh Saloma, you make me laugh, and when I do, I can hear your distinctive laugh too. I’ll never forget how much we laughed together over dinner one night.

      What a great idea to do a little word study on pride. Yes, some of us were told that all kinds of pride are destructive and that they not only are the root of all evil but they also go before a fall!

      Gratitude is an antidote to pride #1 and #2.

      Do you think it possible that too much forced humility actually deprives us of another virtue — generosity?

      I’m so glad we met. I’ll count on your help. You’ve learned a lot by publishing your own memoir. Here’s my review of your book for the sake of readers who may have missed it earlier:

      • Saloma Furlong on October 31, 2011 at 4:23 pm

        I, too, had such a great time that night!

        For someone who loves words, I sure do get them wrong sometimes. I meant “a joyful jig.”

        Interesting concept — “forced humility.” Even more interesting about the idea that it deprives us of generosity. That could be very much the case, when I think about it. The people who are happiest with their own lives can take joy in others’ accomplishments. And the reverse is also true — the people who hold back from lauding their accomplishments (perhaps in the name of humility), are often the ones who will feel envious of others. And nothing can put the kibosh on joy like envy can.

        Very thought-provoking dialog, as usual.

  6. Susan Neufeldt on October 31, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    How wonderful! You have worked long and hard to tell a meaningful tale of your life on a Mennonite farm within a community. And in response to your question, I find learning about the Mennonites inspiring. In many ways those people–including my mother–and father-in-law, grew up on farms and learned critical lessons in wisdom: hard work, simplicity, focus on the task at hand, learning from failures, a vision of offering whatever they had to others, a strong sense of justice and fairness, and spiritual grounding.

    • shirleyhs on October 31, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      Thanks so much, Susan. As an expert on wisdom, you have taught me much along the way.And your close inspection of Mennonites from the vantage point of a daughter-in-law gives you a very valuable perspective. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts. I value them very much.

  7. Sadie Showalter on October 31, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Congratulations Shirley on your contract. Will follow your progress with interest.

    Talking about pride- how I remember my Amish grandmother always admonishing me if I seemed to be too boastful, but I always felt that she was very proud of having a VERY clean house!!

    • shirleyhs on October 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm

      Ha! You said a lot with that anecdote, Sadie. Yes. I’ve seen this phenomenon often. I’ve also seen many genuinely humble people among the Mennonites and Amish. I admire humility. I aspire to humility. But I don’t think we should try to make people humble — especially about their greatest gifts. It comes back to haunt us many times.

      I remember our dear minister’s confession of pride in one of his sermons. All ears perked up when he said he had something to confess:

      “I confess that I have been proud of having the oldest car in the parking lot.”

  8. Saloma Furlong on October 31, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Sadie, your post made me smile. This could be said about many an Amish woman.

    Perhaps you took your grandmother’s admonishments to heart, or perhaps this has always been true… I find that you embody humility, serenity, and humility, while being very capable at the same time. I’ll always remember that evening in your home with fondness. I hope we get a chance to get together again!


    • Saloma Furlong on October 31, 2011 at 4:10 pm

      Oops, I meant humility, serenity, and goodness.

  9. Loretta Willems on October 31, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Congratulations! A book contract, how wonderful! I’m glad you announced it now. It encourages all of us hope-to-publish writers. It will also be interesting and instructive to follow you through the process.
    Your desire for Mennonites to tell their stories intrigued me because my Mennonite family is one that did tell stories. I fell in love with those stories as a child and longed to write them up, share them with the world. The issue for me, the problem for me, was not a lack of story-telling, it was writing. People I knew told lots of stories, but they did not write. People who wrote existed in another dimension far removed from the one I knew, one I could not even hope to aspire to. Fortunately I had teachers who felt I could write and urged me to think about the possibility of eventually publishing. It was their belief, not my own, that kindled a “perhaps I can” which allowed the deep desire to well up into conscious thought.
    I’ve been wanting to write an e-letter to you for some time now to let you know that I’ve decided to act on an idea put forth in one of the first posts I read on 100 Memoirs, the one about “giving away” one’s work. I am using Google’s “Blogger” program to publish in serial format a book about my Willems’ family, its stories and history. It went on-line the end of September, and I am putting up a new “chapter” each Saturday. This blog-book is the first shaping for a general audience of the almost-finished book I’ve been sending out to family and friends. I would love to get input from readers who do not know me in person. It can be found at the following address:

    Many thanks for the help you’ve already given me.
    Loretta Willems

    • shirleyhs on October 31, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      Loretta, you are so kind, and I’m amazed to see all that you’ve done. Your Mennonite story set on the west coast is so different from my dairy farm on the east coast. And I love that!

      I read your most recent chapter. I’d encourage you to allow comments unless you are planning to publish directly from the blog (I have heard there are services that do this, but I don’t know anything about them). You might find, as I have, that people you never knew and who never knew you, will develop a keen interest in your stories.

      The point you make about tellers of stories not necessarily being writers is a very good one. There are many ways to capture stories. Recordings and videos are easier than ever to produce.

      I’m so glad, however, that your teachers encouraged you to write. Your prose is clear and energetic–just like you, I imagine. 🙂

      • Loretta Willems on November 1, 2011 at 5:11 pm

        I really appreciate your taking time to look at and commment on my blog-book. It’s a nice feeling to know you have read some of my words. I’ve decided to take your advice and enable the Comments feature. I’ll work on it this Saturday, which is the time I’ve reserved for working on the blog. I thought the “contact me” function on “about me” would be suffiecient until I finished the final chapters of the for-the-family book, but your comment made me realize that it’s not. Now that I have explicitly invited reader feed back I need to make that process as easy as possible.
        Many thanks. Loretta W.

  10. jzrart on October 31, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Congratulations, Shirley! Such wonderful news. Though the timetable looks daunting, I believe it’ll be hard but a joy for you in the end. I am not Mennonite or anything else but have a rich spirtual life and love reading about richness of spirit in other’s lives. And it does take a village!! God speed!!

  11. shirleyhs on October 31, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Thanks so much for your comment and others you have left here in the past. It’s so good to know I have people like you in the village. Others will enjoy the stories you are starting to unfold on your blog also. I hope some of my readers find you.

  12. Karin Larson Krisetya on November 1, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Oh Shirley, I am absolutely thrilled to hear this! I knew that it would happen some day, but still one must revel in that moment of being able to share one’s story with the world in a new way. I can’t wait to read it, (and take notes for my own memoir down the road!)

    I am interested in your comment about celebrating outside your faith community. First of all, what kinds of things did you want to celebrate? How did you know that the Menno community in general was not willing to be part of the party? And then how & whom did you find as a community of joy & gratitude makers?

    • shirleyhs on November 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      Karin, this memoir would be easier to write if I had been taking notes — so brava. You’ll have an advantage starting now. Also you have an amazing story full of contrasting cultures, places, and people. I’m in line for you.

      And thanks for your enthusiasm. The timetable says that Chapter Three draft is due today. Oy. I need to hear the energy in your comment especially today.

      As for celebration, certainly we had them inside the church (and more and better ones as I grew older), but for learning to let loose I had to go to grad school, Africa, and dance class. 🙂 More about this subject later . . .

  13. Brenda Bartella Peterson on November 1, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Shirley, I am so pleased for you! Wonderful and well deserved. I am awed by your timetable! i hope to be one of the many supporters as you walk this journey.


    • shirleyhs on November 1, 2011 at 2:32 am

      Thank you, Brenda. I so appreciate the many times you have already supported me and this blog. You are such a faithful reader and commenter. I too am awed by the timetable. But I’ve taken the plunge and am writing imperfectly but keeping up with the deadlines. It helps so much to know others care.

  14. Shirley on November 1, 2011 at 1:00 am

    shirleyhs, I’m worried you won’t get around to that question “What do you remember about preparatory services for communion?” and I just must respond–

    From Sticking Points:

    “Anna took her place in the anteroom lineup, everybody’s carriages solemn and attentions directed at the leaders’ trouser knees. The swinging door’s thwumps ceased, the bishop surveyed the delegation meditatively, and he intoned, ‘Can you testify to peace with God and your fellow man, insofar as it lieth within you?’ Lieth, he said. Lieth within you.

    “She imagined herself getting struck down during Sunday night’s communion service for fibbing. Sunday night she would gnaw soberly on the bread, concentrating on the wracked, crucified body of the Lord, and then wallow the grape juice around in her mouth while fixating her thoughts on the Lord’s letted blood–and in due course, maybe during footwashing, lockjaw paroxysms would commence, or some such horror. Swiftly down the row in the anteroom came the women’s answers, ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ mostly little peeps, and borne along on the tide, she managed a ‘yes.’ But to insure she wasn’t lying within her she added in her head, I guess.

    “So she didn’t outright fudge.”

    Congratulations, shirleyhs! Your memoir will be stunning.

    • shirleyhs on November 1, 2011 at 2:36 am

      I love this, Shirley! Has your new novel (Sticking Points) been published yet? I hope you come back and share more segments with readers here or on the FB page I’ll be putting up in a few days. If you would like to do a guest blog post about how your experience of writing a memoir differs from that of writing a novel, I’d love to have it. Email me at shirley.showalter (at)

      Thanks for sharing that great excerpt.

      • Shirley on November 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm

        Oh Shirley, I would. Thank you.

  15. Hope Wester on November 1, 2011 at 1:48 am

    In my family there is only one condition on deciding to sing – one must only make a joyful noise! So get out there, be loud be proud and make your joyful noise! God knows when it’s a joyful cacophony. Your book is music to my ears already…

    • shirleyhs on November 1, 2011 at 2:39 am

      Dear Hope,

      You have always been such a great cheerleader for my work, and I appreciate it so much! Thank you for your encouragement. I will shout my barbaric yawp, Mennonite style. 🙂 There will be joy when I attend a meeting of the Stratford wives and the book club. Girls Night Out sounds wonderful about now. Blessings.

  16. Carolyn Yoder on November 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I resonate deeply with what you’ve expressed here, Shirley, on pride, stories and being Mennonite. “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world” has been both permission and push to me as I’ve realized how many times over the years (and now), I hold back, even hide. I realized recently that I hold back many times as I’m choosing what to wear. (Too stylish, too funky, too bright—it will make you stand out.) Neatness is imperative, though. Such deeply engrained habits! I enjoyed watching Pavarotti sing, and long to live my life throwing everything into it, just belting it out, and being out there, as he did.

    I came back from doing a trauma training in Haiti this weekend. It went splendidly, largely in part because my co-trainer and I were able to practice the best of our heritage —not needing to be front and center, patience, presence, respect, intuitively moving with the rhythms though they were not our own. During this decade of my life, my desire is to take the best intentions and learning from my heritage and the best of me and let it rise, swell and SING! Thanks for your writing, and congratulations on the contract! And I love the collecting stories idea.

    (Full disclosure: I sometimes hold back from posting comments publicly on blogs like this. I was going to just e-mail you! Until I caught myself and said, “There it is again:That “quiet in the land” tendency. Just DO IT!)

  17. shirleyhs on November 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Carolyn, we are so much on the same page. Thank you for taking the plunge and making this comment public. I’m deeply grateful.

    There is so much beauty in service and subordination, in letting others, especially others in pain, set the rhythm. And there is so much beauty in color, shape, style. Pavarotti and Paul Farmer — the contrast of role models appeals to me. There’s beauty in the play of opposites, in the search for completeness.

    Sing on, sister!

  18. friesengroup on November 1, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Celebrate! Thank you for choosing to share your wonderful news! A schedule is a fearful and wonderful thing, my hope is that you will find support from us, your readers, through the times when you are running on time and when uncertainty and change emerge.

    Your question on communion brings back a vivid memory for me: I’m sitting next to my Mother in the benches on the south side of the church, winter sun warming the pews. The Bishop stands in the pulpit preaching about preparing for communion. I wait. He reads the verse, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body (I Cor. 11:29, KJV).” Even at 9 or 10, I feel cold in the warm pew. Damnation. Death. You choose. Then the invitation: “Will every member who is right with God and the community, who is prepared in their heart to take communion next Sunday, please stand?” I would peer down the row at the other children sitting in the pew as adults got to their feet. I would wonder if any adults were worried about the possibility of eating and drinking damnation and death. (Once I saw an adult remain seated and wondered what terrible sin they had committed.) One week later, I would sit in the same bench and think of the verse as I watched adults receive communion.

    Many years later, I would be watching the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” In the closing scene, the verse in the KJV is repeated. And those who do not “choose wisely” are instantly, horribly destroyed. The Bishop standing in the pulpit appeared, vivid in my mind.

    Memories … 🙂

    • shirleyhs on November 1, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      Wow, Kathleen! First, thank you so much for being part of my writer’s community. Ever since I first found you online, I knew I would learn a lot from you, and I have. Thanks for your generous comments, always with a great insight or story to tell. And this story tells a lot. I have my own version of it. In which might appear here some day. I had completely forgotten the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Of course, I may not have seen that movie.

  19. Richard Gilbert on November 1, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    What wonderful news about your contract! Congratulations, Shirley. I love your theme, and this line: “That liminal space between becoming smaller for the sake of others and celebrating too wildly at my own party has taken me a lifetime to find.” This is such an important issue and one that religion, the ancient answer, may help people with more than can newer answers, like therapy, and it certainly beats no answer or no effort. In any case, putting this all into personal, narrative form will make it compelling reading and a force to heal our world’s pervasive spiritual ignorance.

    • shirleyhs on November 1, 2011 at 11:22 pm

      Thank you so much for this encouragement. I take heart from it. Isn’t it fun when comments highlight a single sentence, and we get to see our words from the perspective of others? Thank you for recognizing the spiritual quest in this struggle.

      New question: How does the observed self keep from being self-absorbed? Perhaps by becoming conscious of an even larger respective?

      Sent from my iPhone

      • Richard Gilbert on November 2, 2011 at 12:32 am

        Well, by definition there’s a degree of self absorption in all art, isn’t there? The question is whether it is justified and done for a larger purpose. Obviously your story is aimed at a universal human question and dilemma. Your are our vessel of exploration, our avatar. You must believe in that and in your story, in its worth to others. Then, it’s a gift to the world.

  20. Gutsy Living on November 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    I am so happy for you since you’ve helped so many of us memoir writers through your wonderful blog. In a way the schedule will keep you focused and going. I was just going to ask if you’d like to participate in my new contest for writers called, “My Gutsy Story.” If you want to spread the news to your writer friends, Marla Miller is offering a free query critique to a winner, plus I have some other neat sponsors. Let me know, as I just started yesterday with the first story by memoir writer Rhonda Hayes.

    • shirleyhs on November 1, 2011 at 11:28 pm

      Thanks, Gutsy, I would jump at this chance under other circumstances, but I have both tendinitis and a deadline — today! I need to say no to this opportunity, but I definitely urge writers to click on your name above and submit their gutsy story to your contest. Hope it results in someone going all the way to publication — starting with publication on your blog!

  21. Joanne Hess Siegrist on November 1, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Since teen years the #1 prime books to received my deepest respect were/are personal memoirs… thus I say cheers to Shirley for her dreams taking form in the announcement of receiving a publisher’s contract.

    Side note – From 1996 – 2011 some of my most exciting days of the year are leading folks (all ages, male/female of many different ethnic and religious backgrounds) as I coach, teach, and coordinate Heritage Watchers, a nine session series meeting the 1st Thursday of each month. Similar to Weight Watchers, we are a support group since history/heritage is usually one of the last things most people hold as a personal priority. We are detectives as far too many heirlooms (early cookbooks, letters, diaries, photographs) are stashed in dirty attics, fallen down wood sheds, and even in old pig pens as their owners say “who cares about that old stuff”.

    Heritage Watchers honors family roots: Its a spiritual journey, a discovery of genograms and birthmarks, a healing time with seasons of hope and change. Last of all, of the 20-25 teaching papers per each session, this is my #1 prime favorite release I created back in 1996 and these lines clearly hold a similar rhythm I feel coming from Shirley. (May God bless her and someday, someway may her memoir writings deeply bless her back home circles.)

    Family Memories: Why Our Stories Are Unknown to Many of Us. Turn of the 2Oth century Mennonites of Lancaster County were not deliberate about storytelling. While these women and men worked hard at developing bigger, finer farms they seldom preserved personal thoughts, feelings, and family stories. A variety of factors exist.

    1. Belief that storytelling was a waste of time/frivolous. It didn’t make any money. It was better to work with one’s hands than reflect or think too much.

    2. Formation of close, closed ethnic circles. Stories were to be received by “in house osmosis” NOT from published family writings.

    3. Fear of gossip, inaccuracies, and judgment.

    4. Urge to be a pious humble people. To tell good feelings/accomplishments could promote pride. True humility did not promote museums or personal publications.

    5. Experience with painful times caused denial of past. “Talking about it makes it worse.”

    6. Desire to “look good” by preserving the family name.

  22. shirleyhs on November 1, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    Thanks, Joanne. I so admire the work you are doing to help locate and preserve the kinds of family treasures I talked about in this post. You have become a real expert in many aspects of memoir by helping others collect, tell, document, and write their stories. I’m so glad to have your voice here in case someone read the post and wonders what to do with some family treasure.Here’s my advice: ask Joanne, and/or take her classes! You won’t regret it.

  23. Joanne Hess Siegrist on November 1, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    I’d be sooooooooooooo glad for newcomers to visit Heritage Watchers. Our doors always remain open for others share our adventures here in eastern PA. Through the years folks have traveled from 5-6 regional counties and as many as 100 miles one way to attend our “one of a kind” sessions. This summer I was honored to have an executive director of a national networking group connect as they so wished for my materials to form additional groups across USA thus I am giving those ideas serious consideration. Suggestion: To connect with me by e-mail with additional thoughts or questions.

  24. Brenda Bartella Peterson on November 2, 2011 at 1:36 am

    Shirley, not sure this answers your question but as to how the observed self avoids becoming self obsessed? My answer is by becoming the antagonist of the story. I think Mary Karr may be the first to say that we must each become the antagonist of our own story.

    What do you think?

    • shirleyhs on November 2, 2011 at 11:36 am

      You and I have pounced on the same sentence from Karr. I think I first used it in my review of Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. It seems such a helpful way to untangle the ego/pride issues from the opposite temptation, the poor me/victim ones. Thanks for reminding me of this statement again today. I’m sure you know Campbell’s hero’s journey myth, which is the basis for many memoirs. Do you think the hero and the antagonists travel different kinds of journeys, or is the antagonist just another kind of hero? I wonder whether Karr has fleshed out what she means by being the antagonist.

  25. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on November 2, 2011 at 3:09 am

    Hello Shirley, I want to join this party to add my congratulations on the contract as well as the schedule. I’ve learned so much in the dialogue that follows your post.

    The idea of “enlarging” that you describe in your post really jumps out at me since that is the true meaning of salvation. Our preparations for communion and other views of salvation from our childhood Mennonite life were more about straightening things out or being straightened out–all fear based and requiring manipulating or being manipulated. The enlargement that you hint at is more of noticing how much room we are given, by Grace–how many mansions there are “in my Father’s house.” Storytelling leads communities toward enlargement.


    • shirleyhs on November 2, 2011 at 11:45 am

      Dolores! I was hoping to hear from you. Come on in, we’re celebrating together by thinking and remembering together. What fun! “Storytelling leads communities toward enlargement.” and enlargement as the true meaning of salvation. I will think about those two ideas as I return to my Chapter Three draft.

      Your voice is so wise and so warm. Thank you for joining in and please continue the journey. I’m deeply grateful for your help.

  26. Joanne Hess Siegrist on November 2, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Here is my new twist as per these line: “straightened out–all fear based and requiring manipulating or being manipulated.” As I study Mennonite ways of the 1920’s -50’s along side of our world history… it seems to me that along with Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler many within the Mennonite community (the people not the bishops) cried for authoritarian leadership in an era of fast change and two terrible world wars. Since 1525 as the Anabaptists (Amish/Mennonites) began in Zürich, Switzerland, the 1920’s – 50’s held the most plain attire days and contrary to popular belief it was usually a people’s movement rather than a bishop’s movement. Given more years… I’m dreaming of someday working on a book titled “The Kind Hearted Bishop and His Sweet Wife”. (Side note – I remember the pre-communion counsel room circles and I do agree that we needed to move to better modes. Cheers that within our Mennonite community circles many now use privately filled out counsel papers that are passed on to a ministry team. Thus improvements have surfaced!

    • shirleyhs on November 2, 2011 at 11:58 am

      I like that you have this perspective on the bishops, Joanne. And I love the title of your book. I know that there is much truth in your words. The bishops could not exercise their powers without the support of the people.

      I will have a chapter in my memoir in which my congregation almost comes apart in the 1960’s but unites together and the bishop leaves them rather than vice versa. Even as a 15-year-old who opposed the newly-strict rules the bishop tried to impose, I was touched by his prayer while facing away from him, kneeling in the pews. It was a big “aha” moment for me: he was the shepherd. He thought he would face damnation himself, and that he would be abandoning the call of God, if he didn’t rescue his flock. His agony reached me even though his rules and his methods left me cold.

  27. shirleyhs on November 2, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Dear readers and friends, you all have warmed the cockles of my blogger’s heart with your comments. Thanks everyone! I hope we can keep the conversation flowing. Richard Kauffman and Ann Hostetler, facebook friends, helped me see a connection between this piece (below) by William Zinsser in The American Scholar online and our conversation. I highly recommend it to you, and I place it here partly for my own convenience. I know I will come back to this post and this comment section often!

  28. Ann Hostetler on November 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Congratulations, Shirley, on this wonderful news!

  29. Paulette Alden on November 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Shirley, this news made me so happy! I’m delighted for you and definitely interested in your subject and process, and will follow it. Terrific idea to help followers hold you accountable. I know almost nothing about Mennonites, so tell me everything I need to know! Best, Paulette

    • shirleyhs on November 3, 2011 at 7:24 pm

      Hi Paulette,

      Thanks so much for climbing aboard the wagon. Being held accountable to such a great group, from around the country and the world, people who are or were Mennonites along with people who know next to nothing about them, this is a great honor and inspiration to me. Bring your questions. Hope you will join me on Facebook as soon as I get the page up.

      Sent from my iPhone

  30. doradueck on November 7, 2011 at 2:00 am

    Your post is so rich, as are the many comments. So just this in addition, huge congratulations on your contract! I think it is a great privilege that you can work on your memoir with this already in place. (Also, so glad to hear you’ll be at the March conference. I’ll be there too, DV, will get to meet you in person.

  31. shirleyhs on November 7, 2011 at 3:16 am

    Wonderful, Dora. I’m so happy that we have found each other as bloggers with much in common–literature, faith, and grandmothering. I will look for you in March.

  32. Erma Martin Yost on November 8, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Shirley, I’d recommend just “report the facts as you know them.” If others interpret your satisfaction in your accomplishments as being prideful, it may be their issue (jealousy, threatened, ignorance, etc). I’ll give you a personal example. Several decades ago another Mennonite artist asked me how a recent exhibit of my work had gone in New York City. I reported the number of sales (quite a few) and a review, an answer to a direct question I had not prompted. The artist responded with this one sentence, “Myself, I don’t try to climb to the top of the heap.” Perhaps I was too enthusiastic and sounded boastful but it was such a stunning smack down, I didn’t even reply but I wish I had.

    • Saloma Furlong on November 8, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      Yeah, reply as in, “Why did you ask me a question if you didn’t want to hear the answer?” There is such an inherent holier-than-thou attitude in that comment. What a great example of how when one exudes gratitude and joy, someone else will interpret it as pride. Your point is well-taken… we unself-consciously express ourselves and let others feel as they may.

      Shirley, so glad you shared your joy — it’s contagious you know!

      • shirleyhs on November 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm

        Thanks again, Saloma. Keep your thoughts coming! They’re so helpful.

  33. Janet Oberholtzer on November 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Congratulations! I look forward to your memoir … and maybe to engage with you as you write it.
    I love your thoughts about making stories as important as recipes.

    Due to travels and commitments, I missed this post until now, after sending you the answers about my memoir. Now the one question I skipped answering makes even more sense and I will answer it.

    Your timetable is a great idea and looks doable. I did something similar, though I only shared it with a few writing friends. As you know life sometimes happens differently than we plan… so be stubborn in your resolve to stick to it, while holding it loosely enough so it doesn’t cause issues for you or anything/anyone dear to you.

    • shirleyhs on November 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks for this great response from your own experience, Janet. I look forward to sharing your answers to my question about your own recent memoir, BECAUSE I CAN. I’m glad you jumped in here, and I think you will find the themes of my book very familiar, including the “counseling” the bishop gave my parents before their wedding in 1947.

      Readers can look forward to a blog post of Q and A on Thursday!

  34. shirleyhs on November 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks, Erma, for sharing this relevant story and Saloma for endorsing it. I’ve often said there is no better place to be than Mennonite (or other tight-knit) community when one is going through illness or grief. But when one is rejoicing, maybe not so much. The emphasis on “just the facts, Ma’am” might help. And communities can learn to be more festive without fear of undue pride.

    In the meantime, learning to let the smack downs roll off the back may still be necessary. Self-examination is a good thing, of course. There’s always something to learn about how to word things, what tone to take, etc. Untimately, we can learn to stand in our own God-given gifts fully expressed and do so in a way that invites others to grow along with us rather than to envy. I see both of you as examples of this grace.

    • Saloma Furlong on November 8, 2011 at 6:57 pm

      That is a VERY interesting perspective about tight-knit communities. You are absolutely right, there is no room for rejoicing in personal achievements — one’s own or someone else’s — in my original community.

      Perhaps there is something to be said about allowing the smack-downs to roll off one’s back, but it’s always hard for me to refrain from reflecting back the kind of self-righteousness that comes of a statement like that.

      About standing in our God-given gifts fully expressed in a way that invites others to grow along with us rather than to envy. Hmm. Maybe. But how does one do that? Perhaps we are thinking the same thing — that there is a balance between bragging about one’s accomplishments and withholding information because of how the other person might perceive it. IMO, that balance is to share openly the joy we are feeling and allow the other person her own reaction.

      I think there is something else here — knowing one’s audience. After the kind of experience Erma described, I would not be inclined to share the particulars with that person again. If she asked how a show went, I might state that it went well, and leave it at that. If a close and trusted friend asked, I would share the details.

      I’d like to share a moment that demonstrates a truly giving spirit from one of my Smith friends, Franceen. On Ivy Day, the day before our graduation, she and I were sitting next to one another during the award ceremony. Franceen had earned Latin honors, but sadly the death of her father in the last weeks of school had interfered with the award being announced on Ivy Day. She also had taken a leave of absence during her time at Smith while she was battling cancer. She is brilliant, and I was sad that she would not be publicly recognized. I had scanned the list to see if I’d made Latin honors, and I had not. Then all of a sudden, I heard my name called. I was being given the Anita Luria Ascher Memorial prize for my progress in German. After I stood up and accepted the acknowledgment, I was smiling. Under other circumstances, I may have felt that I should conceal my joy because of Franceen’s situation, but I am so glad I did not. I said, “That just made my day.” Franceen beamed and said, “It made mine too.”

      I am touched to this day by Franceen partaking in my joy, even in the moment of her own disappointment. I will always remember that and aspire to be like that.

      • shirleyhs on November 8, 2011 at 7:01 pm

        Such a great story, Saloma. I agree all the way. You and Erma should meet each other sometime. You’d have fun.

  35. Shawn Smucker on November 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    This is really exciting. Keep me informed – I’d love to help you spread the word as the book progresses. Best of luck. My parents were both born into Amish households (their parents eventually left the Amish), and I’m especially interested in the subject of pride within these communities.

    • shirleyhs on November 13, 2011 at 2:37 am

      Shawn, it’s been great meeting you. I’m honored that you are interested in my book, and I would love to have your help in spreading the word as the book gets closer to the end.

      Your own story interests me also. I’ll put it in my Anabaptist Memoir list.

  36. Marilyn LeFeber on November 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Your story about the hand-written cookbooks really resonated with me, Shirley. My husband’s mother and aunts, none of whom were Mennonites, had exactly such a cookbook. It must have been started some period before 1950. The recipes are handwritten, many are just a list of ingredients with no specific quantities and no instructions on creating the dish. The little loose leaf notebook, covered with oil cloth, now residents in our cookbook collection and does yet used periodically. Perhaps these type of cookbooks reflected the period, the more rural locations they were from, etc. I really like your ideas that you present regarding community and celebration–and how more people can be engaged. Not sure I can add anything to your ideas, which seem to have been in germination for a long time. Good luck and I can’t wait to see the final product! Marilyn

    • shirleyhs on November 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm

      Marilyn, what fun to find this comment! I think lots of people, certainly not only Mennonites, had these cookbooks in earlier times. They were replaced, in my case, with a little box filled with index cards, some of which were more detailed versions of what was in the notebook. Do you have one of these, too?

      Thanks for the good wishes. Hope you can stay tuned. Chapter four is drafted!

  37. richardmpotter on November 26, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    It’s funny what you find when you poke around someone’s blog. I’m ready to sign on as one of your accountability partners, Shirley. I’m not a Mennonite, but definitely a fellow sojourner on the spiritual journey. Also very happy that you liked my review of Chinaberry Sidewalks. Will reply soon with my bio…

  38. shirleyhs on November 26, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Richard, I love making friends with other bloggers. I have learned so much this way! I’m delighted to be able to share your work on my blog next week. You are a perceptive reader and talented writer. And I’m deeply honored that you want to be an accountability partner. Thank you!!

  39. Mary Ellen Harwood on January 19, 2012 at 11:15 am

    I recently took a class on social networking and I want to compliment you on your fine skills at using today’s venues for communication. I too have the little box with index card recipes of my mother, your Gramdma Hess’s sister. Our worlds have changed so dramatically since those days of Sunday afternoon family reunions which happened only once in the summer and again at Christmas time. In our world today we can communicate not only with cousins, aunts and uncles, but with anyone anywhere on a daily basis.
    Thanks for sending the link to your writing and memoirs and best of everything for your writings and your book.
    I may have some pictures for you of the family reunion we had just several years ago at your childhood home. We so enjoyed staying there and bathing in the family stories. history. . .

    • shirleyhs on January 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Mary Ellen, it’s so great to have your voice represented on this blog. You have a deep knowledge of the land and family that we share. Thanks, too, for your kind comments about social media. I love this stuff. Keeps me young. But I have to remember the need for silence, meditation, family, exercise, too. Ah yes. And writing!!!!!

  40. Mary Ellen Harwood on January 19, 2012 at 11:18 am

    By the way, my sister Linda wrote her memoirs in an unpublished book several years ago. It was intended as a story of her life for her grandchildren. I hope she will share it with you.

    • shirleyhs on January 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Thanks, Mary Ellen. I think it’s wonderful that Linda wrote a memoir. Would enjoy seeing it. Glad the two of you are keeping your mother’s interest in family history alive!

  41. Richard Gilbert on January 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    What most interests me about your memoir–I find it desperately compelling–is how you have crafted a faith outside of the faith you grew up in. I think many others will find this resonant.

    Where I am at is captured best in these lines from The Case for God by Karen Armstrong:

    “We lost the art of interpreting the old tales of gods walking the earth, dead men striding out of tombs, or seas parting miraculously. We began to understand concepts such as faith, revelation, myth, mystery, and dogma in a way that would be very surprising to our ancestors. In particular, the meaning of “belief” changed, so that a credulous acceptance of creedal doctrines became the prerequisite of faith, so much so today we often speak of religious people as “believers,” as though accepting orthodox dogma “on faith” were their most important activity.

    “This rationalized interpretation of religion has resulted in two distinctively modern phenomena: fundamentalism and atheism. The defensive piety popularly known as fundamentalism erupted in almost every major faith during the twentieth century. In their desire to produce a wholly rational, scientific faith that abolished mythos in favor of logos, Christian fundamentalists have interpreted scripture with a literalism unparalleled in the history of religion.

    • shirleyhs on January 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      It’s so interesting that you should offer this lovely quote. I have had the privilege of meeting Karen Armstrong, so I hear her feisty British accent as I read.The recovery of mythos would be a good name for what I’m striving for. What if we were fundamentalist when it came to believing and living the Sermon on the Mount, and we left the rest to mythos? Which was, in the beginning, Logos, the Word. In other words, they were the same.

      Psalm 19 in the NIV fills my soul.

  42. DMartin on January 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I found your blog while Googling Mary Emma Showalter. I’m co-writing a memoir with a retired Mennonite pastor/shrimper in south Louisiana, who may have hosted Mary Emma in his home around 1950 … possibly on a book tour? I have a few questions to verify this story. Can you email me directly so I can ask you a few questions? Thank you.

  43. Colleen Friesen on April 13, 2012 at 11:08 am

    First off, belated congratulations Shirley 🙂 I only discovered this page because of your tweet about it.
    And as I’ve jumped in to the last conversation between you and Richard, I would like to throw my bit into the discussion…first off, thank you Richard for that great Karen Armstrong quote.
    I have finally almost fully-realized (I hope!) that what I fought for so long growing up Mennonite, was the literalism of the teachings.
    Believe! I was told over and over. Just believe.
    Believe the world was made in six days.
    Believe that there was an actual ark with each animal paired happily in a stall.
    Believe that Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt.
    But taken out of the constraints of a literal construct and given wings as myth? Well, yes, then maybe I can finally find the truth embedded within those stories.
    Joseph Campbell,more than anyone, helped me realize that literalism kills us.
    We need the power and beauty of myth.
    Congratulations again on your memoir. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  44. shirleyhs on April 13, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for finding this post and adding your wonderful comment. It’s good for me to read through these comments now that I am writing about standing up to the bishop at the age of 17.

    Your comments about beliefs being held up as core values make me think about my own 1950’s Mennonite world of Swiss Mennonites who were already living in Lancaster County for ten generations. Clothing had become the key way to express faith (not so much belief statements). This culture had its own limitations, but it escaped the worst of fundamentalism and kept the idea that faith should be active, an action you can do in daily life.

    You helped me see this today. Thank you!

    BTW, I am reading Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now. He helps recovering believers find a deeper, more mystical version of their own faith.

  45. […] when I was living in Brooklyn, New York, and taking care of our grandson Owen by day, I made up a timetable for writing. Then I blogged about it, making myself more accountable to my […]

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