Read time: 3 minutes
So how many aging-boldly women does it take to assemble a rickety 10’X10’ scaffold meant to display the proud banner of NextTribe? Well, at least five, including a poet, a songwriter, and an advocate for women in prison, who all set out to master a pile of poles and a heap of nuts and bolts with instructions that might as well have been written in Chinese. Droplets of sweat began to appear on our foreheads as the minutes were counting down for the start of The NextTribe Out Loud event at Jeannie Ralston’s glorious property in Dripping Springs, Texas.
Droplets of sweat began to appear on our foreheads as the minutes were counting down for the start of The NextTribe Out Loud event.
Tables with checkered cloths were set out expectantly under the live oaks, and bottles of Tito’s Vodka were landing next to the makings for bloody Marys and screwdrivers. Inside the former riding arena that Jeannie and her photographer husband Robb Kendrick had transformed into an event space, with Robb’s classic photographs lining one wall, we could hear the clink of ice cubes and imagine the taste of the warm tacos and pastries that were being served outside. But instead of freaking out, we each figured out a piece of the puzzle, laughing and exchanging ideas until the final twist of the last bolt. The banner was unfurled triumphantly, ready to take its place on the small stage where seven women would talk about their work. Yes, we persisted.
It Makes Us Want to Shout
And persistence seemed to be a leading theme for the women who had come to tell their stories to a receptive crowd of 150 women and a couple of brave men. And who better to lead off than novelist Sarah Bird, who happens to be one of the funniest storytellers on the planet. But after regaling us with tales about Texas women, she told us about how long it had taken for the idea for her new novel, about a former slave who dressed as a man to join the black army unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers, to come into being: Thirty years. Now that’s persistence. Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen comes out this fall.
I dreaded having to follow Sarah with the story of my great and humbling adventure riding horseback across the steppes of Mongolia, though I did get a couple of laughs. But as it happens, Sarah was not the only hysterically funny speaker of the afternoon. Those of us who have been known to cuss up a storm were heartened by songwriter Helen Darling’s reading of her NextTribe piece about the joys of using the “F” word. But what a change of pace, as she sang for us her beautiful Grammy-nominated song “Bring On the Rain,” which became an anthem of strength and comfort around the time of the 9/11 attack in New York.
What a change of pace, as she sang for us her beautiful Grammy-nominated song “Bring On the Rain.”
Persistence was also the theme for Annette Price, who endured 20 years in prison for killing her assailant, and who set out to use education to change the course of her life, earning several degrees while still incarcerated, then continuing with master’s programs in counseling after she was released. Annette had us standing up and applauding her persistence in overcoming far bigger obstacles than most of us have ever even imagined.
Hoots and Tears
And, oh, Marion Winik, whom many of us knew when she was living in Austin, prior to a move to Maryland, where she is a professor at the University of Baltimore. Marion, who read from her forthcoming book, The Baltimore Book of the Dead, gave us whiplash as she shifted from laugh-out-loud lines to sharp, poignant, and poetic gems from her obituaries of people she has known, some more famous and flamboyant than others. The obituary she admitted she never wanted to write, for her mother, had us all in tears
Marion gave us whiplash as she shifted from laugh-out-loud lines to sharp, poignant, and poetic gems.
When it was time for the photographers to present their work, the overhead skylights were covered so we could marvel at Nine Francois’s dramatic close-ups of animals, including some of the fiercer sort, and Denise Prince’s gorgeous portraits of women and girls in strange, elegant clothes amid disorienting settings ranging from fields to parlors. Nine may appear delicate and petite, but she was fearless in her pursuit of capturing the unique personalities—souls, if you will—of her subjects, while Denise has mingled truth and fantasy in a way that causes us to rethink beauty and glamor.
And so how many aging-boldly women does it take to create a sense of purpose, community, and togetherness on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the Hill Country? All you had to do was count all the women who had come to celebrate NextTribe and the limitless potential for those of us willing to persist.