the qualities of mud


as a little girl, i loved dressing up in frilly socks and ruffled panties and petticoats that made my skirts stick out like a tabletop. i liked patent leather shoes and dancing in the grocery store and creating private nests for myself where i could get away from it all and create. one thing i did not like was getting dirty. dirt just did not interest me at all . . . which for some reason, disturbed my mother to the point that one day as i sat quietly working on a new book, she picked my 5-year-old self up, carried me outside, and sat me down – ruffles, lace, petticoat and all – in the middle of the biggest mud puddle she could find. she still loves to tell that story, and i declare she sounds embarrassed that i didn’t like to get dirty and smugly satisfied when she gets to the part about unceremoniously plopping me down in the mud. i can just see her wiping her hands and laughing as she walked back to the house to watch me from the window.

now i may not have liked mud then (and i still don’t like to get stuff under my fingernails, so i’ll not be making mudpies any time soon), but in some ways, mud is kinda’ growing on me. not that i want to spend time in a mud puddle, mind you, but i do like holding clay in my hands and shaping it into something or other. and i love not having a clue what i’m going to write but picking up the pen anyway and just watching the words spill out on the page.

my precious friend and writing partner julie daley (jewels, i call her with very, very good reason) recently asked me a most excellent question: what does writing from the feminine look like to me? that question captivated me for days, and the mud story kept tugging at my sleeve pointing out that writing from the feminine can sometimes be muddy. muddy in the sense that i don’t always know where i’m going when i start to write. it’s not always clear, and there’s not always an outcome – intended, expected, or otherwise. when i write from the feminine self, i write from (including myself, my vulnerabilities, my feelings) instead of about (reporting, answering the 5 questions of who, when, where, what, and why).

when i write from the feminine, it’s more about process than product, and quite often, i don’t even know what i have till i get to the end and can see patterns and threads and word crumbs. when writing from the feminine, i write from the body, and often there’s a lot of space in what i write – space enough to crawl into and get comfortable while things incubate. writing from the feminine, it’s more about following than questioning, intuition than the cognitive. writing from the feminine uses dreams, metaphors, and imagery, relying on intuition and an inner knowing that can’t always be explained (nor does it need to be, actually) more than giving ink to what others think and write and theorize.

. . . as i sit here writing this, my resident owl serenades me under the glorious full moon, and i swear she’s urging me on, telling me that writing from the feminine is natural and needed and even necessary . . .

you know how when cars get stuck, little flecks of mud go everywhere as the tires spin their way forward and out (“out” if all goes according to plan, anyway)? when writing from the feminine jeanne, little flecks (and sometimes big flecks, too) get slung out, often without segues or outlines or even capital letters. there’s seldom a nice, tidy, linear structure, and often as not, there’s not even an


  1. Elizabeth Marie

    Oh, hahahahaha!!!! I LOVE the “not” ending. This is wonderful. I adore that adorable picture. You may have triggered a bit of writing in ME here. Thank you!

  2. writemuch

    this is exactly how it is. wish i had written it!

  3. Anonymous

    I love this, Jeanne,especially this sentence: “writing from the feminine, it’s more about following than questioning, intuition than the cognitive.” And I can’t resist mentioning that other Southern girl,Caddy Compson, with her own muddy drawers :).

  4. emma

    that little girl is about the cutest thing ever. and i love that she gets to continue playing in the mud!

  5. Alana

    Jeanne – thank you for putting words to this. I have been sensing this difference in my body when I write and interestingly have much more judgment when I write from the masculine. I will be sitting with this for a long time. You and jewels are quite a pair.

  6. Sarah

    i find this delineation of writing from the feminine provocative too. i think of working in clay and though there is great flexibility and seemingly shapelessness, there is also deep form and intrinsic structure in the mud itself. Homes and ovens are made of mud… where we live and how we sustain ourselves… the earth itself that welcomes us back again and again… it is marvelous that in this exploration of the feminine you are allowing yourself to move intuitively, in openness, without forcing or disembodying your voice. lovely flecks.

  7. Noel

    Sometimes I think the idea of the feminine gets muddy, because there are so many expectations and stereotypes thrown at us every day. To find our own feminine selves, we have to get down in there in the mud for a bit, get in there and start washing it all away and see what’s left at the bottom…

    Loved this post.

  8. Tracy Brown

    Sometimes you gotta work with the dirt. 😉

    Great post – and your Mother really put you in a puddle? *grinning*

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