About the “Crossing the Line” Conference at Eastern Mennonite University

I returned home this past Sunday evening from the conference I mentioned I would be attending. It was fabulous! What a weekend of inspiration and renewal… I hardly know where to begin.

I stayed with a kindred spirit, Violet Dutcher, who is a professor of rhetoric and composition at Eastern Mennonite University. It was like going back to my childhood and staying with my cousins out of state. Vi can “talk Dutch” sometimes better than I can. Her parents both grew up Amish, and she picked up Pennsylvania German from listening to her parents using their language when they didn’t want the children to understand what they were saying… and Vi’s mother used to talk with her Amish relatives on the phone. At some point Vi realized she understood what her mother was saying.

The first night I arrived at Vi’s, we stayed up until 1:30 AM, gabbing and laughing until we realized if we wanted to function the next day, we had to get some sleep. It was just the beginning.

I awoke the next morning and went out on Vi’s patio. She has created a little garden of Eden right outside her kitchen door. She is a tenant to the Showalters. Shirley is also a good friend of mine, and she writes the blog Magical Memoir Moments.

And oh, the view they have! I realized how much I am going to miss seeing mountains when we move to Ohio, so I just drank in that view!

Allegheny Mountain Range: Photo by Saloma Furlong

That evening, Vi and I attended a gathering that Julia Spicher Kasdorf organized. She was one of the organizers of the conference as well. That is when networking began. I made so many connections this past weekend that my head is still spinning.

Then for the next three days, I attended talks. It was often hard to choose between one wonderful session and four others happening at the same time. I presented a talk called, Stepping out “Into the World” and Developing a Voice. I may share that talk in parts on this blog at a later date. I was in the same session with Esther Stenson, who talked about how four generations of women in her family have negotiated the borders and boundaries they experienced. Also, Sabrina Voelz from northern Germany did a presentation on “Ex-Amish Memoirs,” which included mine. Later, she and I asked someone to take a photo of us, and we realized we were standing in front of a portrait of Menno Simons. We had to laugh at that, given she lives not far from from Menno Simons’ printing cottage in the north of Hamburg.

Sabrina Voelz and myself

Vi Dutcher did a talk called “Amish Women Writing Themselves” about their literacy practices. She is doing her research in the community I came from. Her talk was really well written and presented.

Dr. Violet Dutcher at Eastern Mennonite University

Vi delivered a comic moment when she described how someone who had an Amish background went to see the movie “Witness.” This person was carefully watching to see if the outside world had finally “got it right.” The next morning she reported her take on the film to a group of women who had not seen the movie. She said, “I’ve never seen so many skinny women around a quilt before!”

Vi’s talk prompted a lively discussion about Amish people’s writing practices, mainly the fact that most often they do not tend to revise their writing. Then I remembered what it was like for me when I had written a letter I wasn’t happy with, and I said, “In the Amish way of thinking, it would be almost dishonest to rewrite something… it’s as if they would be trying to be smarter than someone else.” That really surprised people. Later someone reported that they overheard an attendee say under her breath, “Must be Trump is Amish.”

Another comic moment came when Vi was making a remark about the fact that the Amish call those who write for their publications “scribes.” Shirley Showalter said, “… and Pharisees.” Needless to say, that brought laughter from the group.

I could go on for a long time about the various talks I attended, but I don’t want this post to become too long. Let me just give a little synopsis on the connections I made.

Hasia Diner: She did the plenary session on Thursday night. I kept trying to remember, all during her talk, how I knew her name. Then it hit me… I’d read her contribution to the book Strangers at Home, which is a book about the last conference of this kind called “The Quiet in the Land?” Diner wrote an article called, “Insights and Blind Spots: Writing History from Inside and Outside.” I found her questions and assertions to be provocative, especially as it pertains to the Amish culture. This made me realize that the Amish will never become scholars of their own culture, which leaves the interpretation of their culture and religion to others — those who may never be privy to Amish ways of thinking.

Anna Wall: During coffee hour the first night, a young woman came up to me and introduced herself. She said she grew up in an Old World Mennonite colony in Mexico. Over the course of the weekend, we became friends. She had a friend with her who was also from Mexico, but I’m not remembering her name. These two amazing young women have stories to tell. Anna is already well on her way. I’m reading her blog, and I’m just in awe. She was illiterate when she left Mexico when she was sixteen years old, and now she has quite a vocabulary. If you want to read her story, it starts here.

Rosalind Andreas: I also met a woman who used to live in Burlington, Vermont, at the same time I did. I said, “You must know Roddy Cleary.” She said, “Do I know Roddy…. I worked with her at UVM!” Roddy was married to Bill Cleary, and they were the family who offered me a home after I left the second time. Bill was a former Jesuit priest, and Roddy a former Maryknoll nun. Rosalind now lives in Newton, Kansas. We had a great time commiserating about Vermont.

I also met a woman named Evie, who was at my book talk in Madison, Wisconsin several years ago. This was the book talk where they allowed people to come in to the already packed room. The room usually seated 100 people, but I counted somewhere around 170 people. I wrote about that in this blog post.

The last night of the conference, I went on a Heritage Tour with a busload of conference attendees. We visited, among other sites, an Old Order Mennonite meetinghouse. Our guide at the meetinghouse was one of the ministers. Then near the end of the evening, we had the pleasure of eating in the home of an Old Order Mennonite family. The food was delicious. Here are several photos of the event.

Just before dinner… Photo by Saloma Furlong

Vi and me after dinner

Sabrina Voelz, myself, Vi Dutcher, and Anna Wall

On Sunday morning, before I set out on my long drive home, I attended a church service at Park View Mennonite Church. Oh, can that congregation sing! I didn’t want to mess it up with my own voice. I just wanted to close my eyes and hear. The message from the pulpit by Loren Swartzendruber, former president of  EMU, was a thought-provoking one about the search for truth, and how we need to be careful about thinking we have found the truth… because then the search is over.

I am still savoring memories of this past weekend, and I’m sure I will for a long time to come. Saying good-bye to Vi was tough… we just didn’t want to let go of one another. Oh, how we had fun together!

I want to extend my gratitude to Professors Mary Sprunger and Kimberly Schmidt for organizing this inspiring conference.

A while ago, I said I didn’t want this post to get too long, and now it is. I could edit it, but in deference to my Amish upbringing, I won’t. This is the way it came out, and so I shall keep it this way.

If you want to know more details about a particular aspect of the conference, feel free to ask.

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22 thoughts on “About the “Crossing the Line” Conference at Eastern Mennonite University”

  1. Learned something here! I didn’t know about the tendency not to rewrite or edit one’s own writing–or I guess the writing of others either. That makes the job of an editor hard! But thanks for this tip.

    Your presentation was wonderful, as usual: very engaging, warm and insightful. I learned from all 9 of the presentations I was able to go to. Glad you were able to go on the tour and take it all in, even the glorious music at Park View. Great to see you again and best wishes in your planned change of location and selling your home!

    1. Thanks, Melodie, for your kind thoughts and good wishes.

      I don’t know how Amish people feel about someone editing their work… it just wasn’t done back when I was growing up. However, some of them are becoming writers for the general market, and I would think they would welcome editing from others. For them, it might even fall under “Demut” (humility) to be corrected by others.

      Have a wonderful weekend.

  2. Delightful post, Saloma, brimming with your own irrepressible, exuberant spirit.

    I wish I had had time to meet Sabrina and Anna and hear their talks. Too many riches! And that tour looks like fun, too. I’m grateful for these pictures and brief summaries.

    I also wanted to note the preference for directness and suspicion of nuance and editing among the Amish. I thought that was one of the major “discoveries” in your session, and I want to remember it. I already experienced this style of verbal presentation but was not aware that it extended to written work also.

    So glad to spend even a little time with you and grateful to the planners who worked so hard to make this conference happen.

    1. Thank you, Shirley, for your compliments.

      I did not get to hear Anna’s talk, either. She was talking at the same time I was… like you said, too many riches. Sabrina was great, that I know.

      I made the discovery of the preference for non-edited materials in Vi’s session, actually, when we had that lively discussion about “scribes” for The Budget and Die Botschaft, and other Amish publications. Vi has a way of invoking the vantage point of looking out from inside the Amish culture, which is just the opposite of most researchers, who tend to give us a look in from the outside. By so doing, I was able to put myself back in that way of thinking. I had never articulated this feeling I used to have, which I think is pretty universal in the culture, evidenced by the way people would often end their letters with something like this, “I hope you can make out my scribbles and chicken scratch.”

      I enjoyed what little time we had with one another. Hopefully we’ll have more time in another visit…

      And yes, I am very grateful to the conference organizers. I will add that to my post.

  3. Totally interesting post. I can’t wait to read the next one. It sound like a good time was had by all. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall and heard all the goings on! Glad you had fun.

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  5. Violet Dutcher

    What a wonderful post! I re-lived last week’s experience through this vivacious rendering of it. I am still pondering the revelation of little to no writing process among these Old Order Amish women writers, and I will remain pondering it for a long while. I’m reading through my manuscript to figure out where to discuss it. I’ve attended many conferences and taken part in several interesting discussions after a panel, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been part of such a lively one as the one you mention. It was incredible! Thank you for this blog, Saloma, dear friend, and for the photos! Vi

    1. Vi, so good to see you here! You are most welcome for the post and photos. I”m still re-living the wonderful week I had at your place, nestled between two mountain ranges.

      Happy Travels to you my dear Sister!

  6. Hasia Diner’s Quote:
    “The Amish will never become scholars of their own culture, which leaves the interpretion of their culture and religion to others…” is a bit sobering. Who represents them as they really are in their culture and religion?

    1. Katie, I didn’t make this clear earlier, but what you quoted is what I realized after reading Diner’s article. I’ve re-written that to make it clear that this is not a quote by Diner.

      Though your point is well taken. It makes the perspective of those of us who have lived the culture all that much more important. However, Vi Dutcher’s study gives me hope that there will be more like it in the future. She portrays the Amish ways so accurately that I feel like she has a way of putting me back there, looking out from the inside. Perhaps it’s because she has Amish blood running through her veins. Without realizing it, her parents probably also passed down quite a bit of the Amish ways of thinking. So she’s “getting it right.”

      1. Thank you Saloma for the correction. I appreciate my Amish life while I was Amish. I was ultra Amish, died in the wool Amish and I questioned everything we were suppose to do and believe. Not that I was a rebel but I wanted to know why and it needed to make sense. Then I was with the Mennonites long enough to get the feel, well sort of the feel. Now I am here in Pinecraft, sitting right in the middle of Amish & Mennonites, feeling at home and this is where I belong even if I am neither Amish or Mennonite by appearance.

  7. pamela lakits

    I so enjoyed reading your blog. Sounds like it was a great blending of hearts, souls and minds. How wonderful!! Would have loved to have been there. Thank you for sharing. I had to laugh when I read about how the Amish don’t rewrite letters. I am the worst when it comes to writing a letter. I write and rewrite a million times before I send a letter on it’s way. I have an Amish friend that I write to and I’m sure she would be surprised if I confided such a thing. What I found most intriguing from this conference wass the realization that most of our information and education of the Amish life comes from those outside of the faith. I never thought about that. I hope that can change. I laughed out loud at the comment about all the skinny women around the quilt in the movie “Witness”, too funny!! I’m looking forward to your new book coming out, by the way!!! Oh and Happy 60th!! My turn is coming in three years. Hope it is as joyful of a day as you had.

    1. Pamela, as always, it is so good to hear from you. The Amish I know would not judge you for re-writing your letters, but they would not necessarily follow your example and do the same.

      I know… isn’t that a stark realization about most scholarship of the Amish coming from outside their culture and ways of thinking? As Katie said, it’s a sobering thought.

      I love that comment about the skinny women around a quilt. It’s such Amish humor.

      Thanks for your kind comments, Pamela. Yes, I am enjoying my 60s so far… all 11 days of it so far! I hope the same will be true for you.

  8. Hi Saloma, I so much appreciate you sharing these details from the conference. Sounds like you and Vi made a very special connection.

    I appreciate this from what you wrote: “This made me realize that the Amish will never become scholars of their own culture, which leaves the interpretation of their culture and religion to others — those who may never be privy to Amish ways of thinking.”

    That is the reason I appreciate you…you can at least interpret the Amish culture from the standpoint of what you lived at the time, letting us know the reality at that time. This is so very important for a culture like the Amish.

    1. Denise, thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. This is why I appreciate all of you out there who read my blog and comment. It’s what keeps me going with this blog.

      This has been a very rewarding conversation, thanks to all who contributed.

  9. Saloma, thank you for the in-depth coverage of this amazing conference. It’s okay to go on and on, I think. Those like me who could not attend the conference find the detail fascinating. It’s refreshing to see Vi’s exuberance coming back full force after losing her husband some time ago. Also, I think she shares living space below Shirley and Stuart’s home. I’ve never seen the house from this perspective before. All the photos are grand.

    I am pondering now the idea of the Amish resisting re-writing and revising. Perhaps it stems from a fear of pride and dishonesty. An example: Glancing at my jars of face creams and other cosmetics years ago, my mother said “I wouldn’t know what to do with all this stuff. If God wanted me to have a different face, he would have made me different.” Maybe there’s a connection in this illustration; maybe it’s too much of a stretch. Still, I wonder.

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