How I Became Passionate about Memoir Writing
I was seven years old when I began to learn about the power of true stories. During the summers when I visited Iowa, I would lie in a featherbed beside my great-grandmother, Blanche. She was the mother of my grandmother, who was raising me instead of my mother, and I loved to listen to her craggy wisdom–she was eighty and I was eight. (She is in the photo with my grandmother as a baby.)
Blanche, her teeth in a jar beside the bed, whispered to me the stories of her life—crying with joy the first time she heard a voice on the telephone; friends in covered wagons stopping to say goodbye before setting off to the wilds of Kansas.
She told me about feeding fourteen farm hands and seven children, working in the garden to grow the food to can for the long, cold winters. Her young husband, Lewis, died two months after the wedding when she was twenty-one years old, and pregnant with my grandmother.
I learned how the past shapes the future. In my late thirties I began my career as a psychotherapist, tracing the threads of people’s hurt places, learning the power of their family stories. I helped them to weave together the missing pieces.
My secret dream had always been to write the stories that Blanche gave me, as well as to tell about three generations of mothers who had abandoned their daughters. Determined to learn about myself and to heal this pattern, I began to write what became my prize-winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother.
As I stumbled through writing a memoir in fiction classes—the memoir craze hadn’t begun yet—I learned about the power of words. I even wondered if all this writing could be healing, and soon found proof in medical journals that writing is healing—not only psychologically but physically.
To write my first book, Becoming Whole—Writing your Healing Story, I researched, then called Dr. James Pennebaker to ask him questions about how writing as healing worked, and what were the problems associated with all out writing about trauma, family wounds, and psychological complications of the past.
In his southern drawl he said, “If it hurts too much to write it, then don’t.” Therapists were concerned that re-injury would take place if people went back to the past to write about traumas. While it’s true that at first when we write about painful things, we feel pain and we might cry, but afterward, it feels as if a great burden has been lifted, as if we’ve cleaned out a wound. As I wrote Becoming Whole, I was my own guinea pig while writing my own memoir Don’t Call Me Mother. You can read more about Dr. Pennebaker’s research here. Teaching other memoir writers always inspired me to keep going. Since then, many people whom I’ve taught have published their work and enjoy the recognition of being an author. And in 2010, my next book The Power of Memoir was published by Jossey Bass.
Connecting with the Memoir Writing World at the National Association of Memoir Writers
Writing a memoir is an act of courage, healing, and transformation. Writing is the path, the journey, and the destination. Through writing, we discover ourselves anew, and face a brighter future.
For more about the tools, the process, and the joys (mostly) of memoir writing, check back here from time to time. And you can visit my organization site The National Association of Memoir Writers www.namw.org. where there are many tools and articles from people all over the world to support you in your journey writing your memoir.
Here at Memories and Memoirs, you will find articles, workshops, services—ways that I help writers develop their craft, and resources such as blogs, writing sites, inspiring books, , reflections on the writing life, and observations about memoir, writing, and the spiritual path. Sometimes I write my own stories about me and my family, and how the three generational pattern of mothers abandoning daughters, and daughters without fathers has been healed. You’ll see pictures of my kitties—my writing partners—and my grandchildren, who love to be happy and clown around in pictures with Nana.
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Remember: Be Brave. Write Your Story.