When we learn to tell the whole truth about experience,
to discern our own soul’s odyssey,
we come to understand the mythic dimension
of our personal struggles, triumphs, confusions,
longings, digressions, and so-called mistakes.
- -Mark Matousek
It’s been eleven months since I decided to explore memoirland and begin writing a first draft of a memoir. I have finished two online classes and currently I am in the middle of another one. All good – there had been many lessons and discoveries. As I have written often in my blog posts, I have no formal education in writing. I became a feature writer for a magazine distributed all over Asia mainly through my penchant for wonder and my love for words. At this point in my life, I feel it’s time to experience being a student of writing.
Memoir was very threatening in the beginning, primarily because I am a very private person. I am an energy therapist and spend lots of time listening to other people’s woes and tribulations so that I could help my clients transform the dense energies within. Focusing the spotlight on me to write a memoir was daunting and I literally dragged myself to an online memoir class. Fortunately the teacher, Mark Matousek, knew exactly what to do when I told him I was very reluctant to write about myself, but that the call to write about my life had been so persistent, strong, and I knew it wouldn’t go away.
Mary Karr, who has written three memoirs, declares in several interviews and talks (on YouTube) that memoir “is brutal.” In many ways it is, but memoir writing is also fascinating. It literally feels like squeezing out the countless little stories that constitute your life and putting them down on paper. When the happy memories are the ones coming out, it feels great to be in lalaland. But when the heavier memories – in my case the decades spent dealing with various illnesses – demand to be written, that’s when Karr’s words feel so true and you feel the heaviness of the energies that those memories carry. But – and this is where the fascinating aspect of writing a memoir appears – once you write down these painful memories, you begin to see them differently. You literally see the past from a different, clearer and wiser perspective. It sometimes feels like you are connecting the dots and a picture that once was not there begins to appear.
Writing one’s memoir does not have to mean that one is writing a book. I see this genre as a very valuable tool in our growth and development. Even if I had spent energy, time and resources on online classes, I remind myself that this sojourn into memoirland is not about writing a book. Even if no book ever comes out of it, I would continue writing other memoirs simply because I am fascinated by this genre, and I see how it is changing the way I peceive my life, this world and my Self.
The path I took to memoirland is the straight and narrow path. There are other paths, those that meander and encourage a gentler and more pleasant unfolding of the memories. I have read blogs that have memoir as a category and I have come to consider these bloggers as memoirists as well.
I enjoy reading Susanne Fletcher’s memoir moments in Redosue. Pam Kirst’s blog, Catching My Drift is practically a memoir blog. Linda Stewart has a Monday Memoir category in her blog, QP and Eye. I am now diverting and have taken a few steps back to try the path that these blogger-memoirists have chosen to tread, as far as pacing is concerned. One of the biggest lessons I have learned these past months is that memoir writing could be brutal if one rushes through the process. There is though, a kinder and wiser path through memoir writing, and it usually takes memoirists up to three years or more to write a good memoir.
The work of writing a memoir is really the work of learning who you are. It’s archaeology—dusty, dirty, and sweaty, though never tedious. Mainly what it takes is courage, to allow your mind
to transport you where it wants to go once you’ve started to dig. –Nan Merrick Phifer
It’s only when we go back and allow ourselves to see exactly what was,
that we can come to a true sense of what it might mean. –Dr. Allan Hunter
By putting our feelings down on paper, and learning to shape life’s raw materials into art,
we discover that our challenges are also our greatest sources of wisdom, and that even our darkest (or most unexpected) interludes carry within them the seeds of redemption. -Mark Matousek
Featured image by svklimkin via Morguefile