These words have hung in my office since I visited Walden Pond in 1996.

When I think of dying, I think of Henry David Thoreau who famously said that he went to the woods to avoid dying without living.

He had a pessimistic assessment of how many other people managed to avoid that fate:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

I’ve known my share of quiet desperation. I’ve been lonely, excluded, dejected, even depressed a few times. How about you?

I was even fired once, quietly but spectacularly.

Like Langston Hughes says in “Mother to Son,”

Well son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Ironically, unwelcome forced change became the ticket that ushered me into the world I was secretly longing for: the right time, place, and reason to tell the story of my childhood and to publish my first book. For the last three years I have explored all three, and I feel clarity emerging from the chaos of change.

I’ve now written that book. On September 19, 7 p.m. I will be standing in front of the Lititz Mennonite Church, the place where I started, book in hand, and tell that dear audience why I wrote Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

There’s a long answer to that question you’ll have to be in Lititz to find out. But here’s a short one: I wrote this book to find out what gifts I myself had been given in childhood so that I can pass them along to others.

Back to Thoreau:

Thoreau the optimist!

The book itself describes these gifts in every chapter.

I begin with the dreams of my parents and then, following Thoreau above, “advance confidently” in the direction of my own dreams.

The result? Joy!

Like the mother in Langston Hughes’ poem,

For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair, but it has been my stairway to heaven. I’ve tried to front the “essential facts of life” by writing a memoir. I would love if a few sentences in this book live after I’m gone. But what I really want is to inspire one other person to break out of quiet desperation and to “live the life” he or she “has imagined.”

My New Beginning today: approve pp. 156-158, the very last act of proofreading!

What’s your New Beginning? How are you advancing in the direction of your dreams?

56 Days Until Blush Launches. In honor of Thoreau. He would have loved the ants and the bees in the background.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Kathleen Pooler on July 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Shirley, this is profoundly beautiful. When we connect with our purpose, we connect with the world. Lovely. Thank you.

  2. shirleyhs on July 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Thank you, Kathy. I appreciate your words and your sharing. You are kind through and through.

  3. Joan on July 18, 2013 at 2:03 pm


    You’ve said everything there is to say about writing memoir: “Because life ain’t no crystal stair,” but “has been my stairway to heaven” and “to inspire one other person to break out of quiet desperation.”

    You will inspire many more than one. I can guarantee it.


    • shirleyhs on July 18, 2013 at 2:08 pm

      I thought I had been concise until I read this great summary, Joan. Thank you for finding the real nugget here. You can do it because you know it so well in your own life.

      Write on!

  4. Ray Evans on July 18, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    I was interested in your comments about getting fired. And also how it shakes one’s security! Oddly, it’s been my experience that those that seem to have the most security worry the most about it!

    I worked pretty steady in all my working years, though I never really ever had a steady job! Being an outside worker one gets used to being laid off when the job gets done. The rewards for getting the job done as fast as possible just leads to getting laid off to look for snother job as soon as possible!

    I too, was fired just once, and it does certainly shake one’s confidence, if nothing else!

    My working life is proof enough that the Lord truly does provide. We never lacked food and shelter in all my working years, Though we wondered sometimes, from whence it was going to come!

    • shirleyhs on July 18, 2013 at 6:14 pm

      Hi, Ray. We tend to put our security in the wrong things, don’t we? I’m so glad you made a good recovery from your setbacks. I can testify by your side, “The Lord provides.”

  5. Marian Beaman on July 18, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    This post, like your others, is a work of art. The juxtaposition of Langston Hughes and Thoreau is exquisite both in word and images. I’ll bet in your professor days you taught like that, the visual with the verbal. I know I did.

    Again, you have inspired your readers to reach for the stars just above that crystal stair. Thank you!

    P. S. I believe I was fired working as a temp in an office when my children were little. I just couldn’t get the hang of those phones. It was done so gently though, I didn’t realize it until much later.

  6. shirleyhs on July 18, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Thank you, Marian. We are still having fun with our students, aren’t we? And what better classroom than a seminar made up of others who had led the discussion of the same texts themselves.

    BTW, do you know Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s book Little Heathens? Another college professor turned memoirist. And a delightful book!

  7. Richard Gilbert on July 18, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Shirley, I love that you wrote your memoir to discover some things. Discovery by the writer makes a book real, makes it authentic.

    My new start this summer has been shifting to marketing mode behind the scenes, helping my press. And also I have done a fair bit of writing, new essays. Challenging! But rewarding to have made something once again out of nothing.

    • shirleyhs on July 19, 2013 at 8:23 am

      Yes, you are again Making things with words. Hurrah! Everything I’ve ever read of yours has been carefully and wondrously made. I feel like a slapdash writer in comparison.

      I have learned a lot about marketing from Dan Blank. You might check him out.

      Thanks for continuing to be here. Your presence always inspires me.

  8. Tina Fariss Barbour on July 18, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    Shirley, this is so beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. Without even reading your memoir (yet), I’ve been inspired by you and your way of looking at the world with curiosity and compassion. I have no doubt that your words will live on and that you will have a profoundly positive effect on many people.

    I visited Walden Pond many years ago with I was in grad school. One of the highlights of my education.

    • shirleyhs on July 19, 2013 at 8:26 am

      Thank you, Tina. As you know, there’s no higher compliment to a writer than to evoke deep emotion in the reader. I felt emotion while I wrote, and I’m glad you felt it also.

      Walden was a memoir! And visiting Walden today is so inspiring. I’m glad we share that experience. Did you put a stone on the cairn?

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