Napa Valley in the Fog
Napa Valley is nestled between mountains that invite the caress of sun and fog. The grapevines in the fall are glorious colors of red, orange, and gold, and the air is scented with the musty scent of grapes. It was a beautiful day in the valley as I arrived for my writing retreat in Calistoga. For three days, we gathered together, at first shy, then gradually revealing some of the deepest stories of our lives—amusing stories, stories about loss and grief, stories about legacies and loss, blessings and memories of family that had been buried deep. In the receptive silence we all witnessed powerful truth telling and about the soul’s progress through life, time, and turning points that changed everything.
I never cease to be amazed, moved, and deeply affected by the courage of the writers I work with as they reveal the events, people, and special moments that shaped their lives. So often we never guess the stories that are hidden within the people we meet.
We have a joke at the beginning of a new memoir writing workshop: “We begin as strangers and leave as friends.”
Much is revealed in the sacred space of the writing moment. The tales are spun from the inner life and memory are precious, not easily shared with the outside world, emerging in a liminal time frame, apart from “regular” life.
Create your own retreat by setting time aside when you don’t answer the phone, do housework, or answer emails. Close the door and tell the dog and cat to take a nap. Perhaps you need to write after everyone is in bed at night or get up early in the morning to do this. Pick up your pen and journal, or turn on the computer without any chimes or email to interrupt you.
Shame; Don’t tell
A memoir is a record of your path in this life through the society and history of your time on the planet. What would otherwise be unknown that you want to leave a record of?
In a journal entry you write whatever is on your mind, without censoring. Write for at least 15 minutes without stopping. Process writing clears away the debris of the mind and helps us to focus our attention inward, becoming a better listener to ourselves.
Some people think of it as a kind of meditation and centering exercise. In our journal we can vent our feelings, write about our memories, write a letter we will never send, and imagine with our pen on the page who we are becoming, where we are going, and what we want to create.
Our journal is a place for thoughts and feelings without structure, a way to find out what we think and feel. A journal is a private place that is secret, a place for the Self to rest and To Be. A journal is not usually written with the intention to share it with others.
What is a story?
A story has a clear structure that is constructed and created with intent with a beginning, middle, and end, and a construction chosen by the writer. A story includes the characters’ motivation and a problem the characters are trying to solve. A story is crafted and shaped into its final form.
In a story something “of significance” happens, which propels us along in the narrative to a resolution or epiphany that involves change or transformation in the main characters.
There are fictional stories and memoir stories, and all the gradations in between. Writers often harvest true life events and shape them into a fictional story. Memoirists present their stories as “true” but still must master the rules of writing and craft in order to present a story that others can understand and that works as a story.
Winter is a good time to reflect and write your memoir stories. My new series of classes is beginning in January, and there are openings in the Women’s Memoir Circle Thursday nights in the Berkeley, CA area.
The full schedule will appear on the website this week—I hope, and if you have questions please call me.
Also upcoming are CDs, online courses, and coaching to help you write and complete your memoir. Keep checking the website for more offerings, and see you in December in the next newsletter!
“Stories,” according to Dr. James Pennebaker, author of Opening Up and Writing to Heal “are a form of knowledge.” His research about how writing helps to heal inspired me to explore the world of story in my workshops and to write my first book Becoming Whole.
Every week that I work with students writing memoir, I discover all over again the power of the stories that emerge to surprise and enlighten us all. In a world that too often devalues truth, personal experience, and the individual’s path of healing, each story is like the clear tone of a bell calling us to pay attention, to learn from the moment of the story. Each story rings with truth and substance and the honest portrayal of a unique life.
Know that your story is unique and unlike any other. Don’t let the inner critic stop you from starting your own story today.
Write your Truth. Write your path to yourself.
The Story Circle Network presents
Stories from the Heart IV.
From the conference website: “Through writing, reading, listening, and sharing, we will discover how personal narrative is a healing art, how we can gather our memories, how we can tell our stories.”
This is a great conference! Women from all over the country gather to celebrate story telling and creativity. I attended several of these terrific conferences, and found wonderful connections, new friends, and a whole lot of inspiration. And the weather is pretty good there in February! Austin has a very developed community of artists and authentic Texas charm. And the women at Story Circle have such heart—the conference is well named. You will come back with a bunch of new stories and a lot of writing friends who care about the same things you do—stories, memoir writing, and the value of capturing memories for our own development or for a legacy for our family.
Denver June 18-22, 2008
Another mentor on my path of learning about the healing power of writing has been Kathleen Adams, founder of Journal Therapy (www.journaltherapy.com) and the author of several books focusing on the therapeutic power of writing. Kay teaches classes, retreats, and workshops for therapists and for writers nationally, and my interview with her about the healing power of writing is on my website for audio download..
In June, 2008, she is hosting the first ever conference on writing as healing—Journal Conference 2008—The Power of Writing. This conference brings together the important people in the therapeutic, memoir, spiritual autobiography world such as Dr. James Pennebaker, Christina Baldwin, Tristine Rainier, and Kathleen Adams—four of the leading thinkers and theorists in the field of therapeutic writing
Six mix-and-match tracks (Writing, Therapy, Healing/Wellness, Memoir/Life Story, Spirituality, and Writing in Community) allow a fully customizable conference experience. Special guest appearances by award-winning poet Michael Blumenthal and creative arts therapies troupe MUSE. Continuing education hours are available!
When you register AND reserve your hotel room at the Sheraton Denver West by December 10, you will be entered in a drawing for your choice of an iPod Nano or a year of Netflix — delivered in time for Christmas! Don’t miss out on the best pricing — register today!
I am pleased to be offering a workshop on writing the truth called How to Write Your Memoir and Still be Invited for the Holidays.
June is a glorious time to visit the Rocky Mountains. At the conference you will meet colleagues and fellow seekers who are passionate about therapeutic writing, creativity, and the spiritual path of writing.
Okay, lots of people ask me about my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother-Daughter Abandonment—they want to know what happened after the end of the book! I think we all imagine what happens after a book ends, fictional books and memoirs. A good story with lots of story questions whets our appetite to know more.
I am pleased that my daughter and I, and my sons too, have a close relationship and are able to share many joys of life—a very different world from the one I grew up in with my grandmother. My children and I talk regularly, enjoy the grandchildren, and as normal families do, disagree, forgive, hug, kiss, and welcome each other. For me, with my mother and grandmother, as you know if you read my book, this did not happen, which propelled me to understand those generational patterns and try to learn to break them. I have worked for many years to create new learning about how to heal the past. So when I get together with family, I feel a deep appreciation for a life full of connectedness and love.
Enclosed are a couple of fun pictures of my grand-daughter Zoe Joy and my daughter Amanda. Life does go on after the memoir ends!
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