I recently came across the blog of Dorcas Smucker, a Mennonite wife and mother of 6 from Oregon. Writing on Blogspot since 2015, the archives show, Dorcas is also the author of 7 books.
I connected with one of Dorcas's daughters, Emily, a while back through her blog. I can't recall exactly how I stumbled across it, but I was immediately captivated by the journal-esque entries and pictures of Emily's life and I reached out via email and told her. “I've just come across your blog and it's one of the most delightful blogs I've ever come across”, or words to that effect.
Emily has been blogging for a good while herself, and is the author of a couple of books including her latest memoir: “The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea”. I had meant to order a physical copy whilst I was in the US earlier in the year, but I didn't get round to it, so I did the next best thing recently and ordered a Kindle copy — promptly devouring it in just a few days. The memoir follows Emily as she spends a year travelling around the US, living in a different Mennonite community each month.
Dorcas and Emily together run MuddyCreekBooks, but it wasn't until I read Emily's aforementioned memoir that I realised Dorcas is also a long-time blogger at DorcasSmucker.Blogspot.com aka 'Life in the Shoe'.
Run on a simple platform (Blogspot) with a simple template, Dorcas's blog represents everything about blogs that I love. With Q&A's, reviews, journal entries and more, Dorcas Smucker's blog is gently doing its thing and, from reading through the blog comments, she clearly has a passionate, close-knit readership. Emily mentions in her memoir that her mother is quite well-known in Mennonite circles, and my understanding is that mother and daughter are largely read by fellow Mennonite girls and women around the US.
Again, you just have to read some of the comments they receive on their respective blogs to see the warmth they receive from their blog readers (Emily’s is called ‘The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots’).
Having read her blog entries, I wasn’t at all surprised that I enjoyed Emily’s book but I think I was struck by just how much it resonated with me. Being a writer, and one who has travelled in recent months, and who has done a bunch of things to try and find my place in the world... I think all of these themes spoke to me. In addition, I got to “know” some of Emily's real-life family members, friends and others through the course of the book. It was like I was a fly-on-the-wall inside the Mennonite world, and someone’s trying to find one's place within it — and with the “outside” world, too. I suppose it got me thinking about my own family and identity and place in the world.
When I decided to look at Dorcas's blog out of curiosity, I didn't necessarily expect that to resonate with me either, perhaps with her being middle-aged Mennonite woman and mother — a life quite different to my own.
And yet... I found myself nodding along to a couple of blog posts in which Dorcas shared advice — and her experiences — as a writer. One such piece was titled “From Typewriters to TikTok — The Changing World of Storytelling”, and though it was probably mostly other middle-aged women who read this piece, I found myself inwardly nodding along all the way through.
I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this piece. I'm not sure where I'm going to go with any of the pieces that I write. But somewhere in all of this is, I feel, a message for myself and my own writing. Perhaps for the deep friendships and readers that have joined me, even if “the number” isn't as many as I might've hoped, or I'm not making as much money as I would've liked.
There's something about reading someone else's life stories (stories from their life) and finding connection in them that is a delight. I suppose the same works the other way, too; to write our stories and “put them out there”, and then to hear that others find resonance and connection in them.
For whatever reason, though I'm not a Mennonite myself, I've thoroughly enjoyed Emily and Dorcas Smucker's writing. Perhaps because I'm also from a different culture from the mainstream, also a writer trying to find my place — and belonging — in the world, or that I'm just curious about a life that's different from mine. As a seeker and explorer of faith, including Christianity, I was also intrigued by the glimpse I got into Mennonite and Amish culture.
I suppose all of this has got me thinking about who my reader is. Since I started writing I've covered themes from psychology to introversion to writing and more. The writing I've enjoyed most is that in which I share my thoughts and experiences and anecdotes, not on any topic in particular but just on... life. No fanfare, no big promises, or “here’s how to do this”, just “here’s me, this is my life, this is what I think and this is what I’ve experienced”. My favourite writing is that which does the same, whether it’s in blog-entry or book form.
Whilst I think of Dorcas Smucker's readership of Mennonite women and mothers navigating life, I wonder if I haven't found my “reader” yet, or perhaps I don't necessarily need to know that. After all, whilst you might think you're right for a particular type of person, you might be surprised as to who it is that connects with your writing.
I'll finish with something from one of Dorcas Smucker's posts, titled: “Letter from Harrisburg: Goodbye”. After submitting an article to a newspaper, she was offered the opportunity to write a monthly column:
“At the beginning, my joy at this opportunity was interspersed with panic: What could I possibly say to the readers in Eugene? They seemed different from me in every possible way — lifestyle, religion, worldview, education, entertainment, everything.
I wrote what I knew, since I had no other options, and was astonished at the responses. “This reminds me of my life,” people said. Or “My grandma, my dog, my teenager.” “My fears, my kids, my love for the Oregon Coast.”
This has been the best and greatest gift and lesson for me: We are all human beings, and stories have the power to connect us. Our differences are actually tiny, our shared experiences endless, and our similarities significant and enormous.”