Marching Forth on March 4th

Today is March 4th, a date that for 46 years I’ve called my “spiritual holiday.” In 1966, still encased in the rigid expectations of a girl who’d grown up in the fifties in a small town with a Victorian grandmother in the Bible Baptist belt—you can see the picture, right—I experienced a moment that lifted me from that world. I was almost twenty, and was supposed to get engaged, married, go to church, raise children and maybe teach music in the public schools. I was also someone who desperately wanted security, not growing up with either a mother or a  father. Luckily my grandmother rescued me and took me to live with her—all this is captured in my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother—but the years of awakening, the step by step movement into finding out who I was, is a much longer story, as it is for all of us.

On March 4th, 1966, I walked in the silent soft snow on the University of Illinois campus early in the morning. I was alone amidst a few bare trees etching the white sky. Each snowflake was individually wrapped like a present, fluttering toward me in a perfect picture of the peace of a snowy day, no wind, a black and white singular moment. It wasn’t as if a voice spoke to me exactly, but a sweet shiver moved up and down my body, giving me the sense that the life I was looking for was yet to come, but I would have to break out of the mold of expectations to find it. I would have to fly away from the world of expectations and illusions of security.

We all know that though steps of our development all add up eventually –as we become a whole person. Each step becomes lost in the blur of memories, except for a few that stand out. I call these “turning points” when I teach my memoir students. I ask them to collect a list of these moments to help them remember, to help them gather these points of light.

As I grew up, I had gotten used to fear guiding me, of having a sense of doom, of things going wrong—as they often had with my family—mother, father, and grandmother ending up in hate for each other, at times each of them refusing to speak to me, but my basic nature was optimistic. After all, when you have seen everyone melt down all the time, watching them as they tore each other apart, it just seems natural to find a new way to see things. As a cellist and pianist, I knew that music could lift us away from our sorrows, and I knew that books could navigate me away from an unpleasant reality.  I was one of those flashlight under the covers kids. The arts held a promise of hope, as did this perfect moment on a snowy day, on March 4th.

I have celebrated Marching Forth on this day all these years, sharing it with my friends and family. It’s a day to celebrate being alive—which we should do every day—but just in case we forget, we can create a special day for ourselves.

What is your special day of spiritual awakening? How do you celebrate it?

Write Your Memoir & Still Go Home for the Holidays

write your memoirWith Thanksgiving just around the corner, it seems like a good time to start talking about this sometimes very touchy subject of writing your memoir and being able to face your family.  Today I’m sharing part 1 of a 3 part series on the topic, so be sure to visit often or sign up for my feed so you won’t miss the whole series.

Everyone takes a collective breath at conferences and in my workshops when the words “memoir” and “family” appear in the same sentence. Hearts beat faster and pulses race as visions of upset family members point imaginary fingers. Sometimes this is all it takes to silence a beginning memoir writer; others go into overdrive trying to figure out how much to leave in or take out so the family won’t be displeased, or worse, uninvite them to family gatherings.

This kind of stress needs to be managed for memoir writers to unfold a very personal story, and explore their deepest truths. All of this must occur for a memoir to be a vibrant and important story. That is what memoir writing is all about—finding our own voice and telling our truths.

During my upcoming NAMW workshop, I’ll address the issues I’ve encountered both in my personal writing journey and the ones where I’ve mentored others.

Be sure to join me for the workshop to find out how to solve for some of the most problematic issues that memoir writers face:

* writing your truths
* defeating your critics
* how to focus on & develop your plot

When these issues are unresolved, the memoir writer screeches to a halt, hounded by guilt and those imagined pointing fingers. The inner critic wins, and the writer is silenced.

When you have the proper tools and perspective all for these challenges, they can be overcome. You are then free to write with a full, clear voice and complete your memoir. Remember, your memoir is about you and how you remember your life–and you don’t need to get approval to write. Be brave and write your story now.