My Blog Motto

"Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgement"

~Rita Mae Brown

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Memoir Musings

I've been putzing around with the process of writing my memoirs for several years now, with varying degrees of dedication and intent. There is no doubt that I have plenty of stories inside me. I have lived a life that, as I have mentioned frequently, is a patchwork of often paradoxical scenes and chapters. I have allowed myself to be open to experiences that offer characters and situations that make for some pretty colorful storytelling. There are times I have struggled against barriers of my own making and other times in which the challenges have been the products of systems over which I had little control. If there is a school of hard knocks, I have at least a few credits under my belt. I have also, at times, been blessed with uncanny good luck, for lack of a better phrase. My Luck may have saved my life in some situations and in others merely landed me in the right time and place to be able to avail myself of opportunities that fulfilled my dreams.
As anyone who has toyed with the idea, or followed through with it, you know there are many considerations to writing a memoir. Initially there is the question of intent, what is the purpose of the memoir? For some a memoir can be a personal process of developing a record to be added to an ongoing family history, a way of leaving a legacy to one's family.
Another personal motivation may arise from the need to make sense of one's experiences and patterns of interaction. Much like journaling telling one's story can be incredibly therapeutic. In my experiences both as  counselor and counseled, I have seen memoir or life writing used with great success as a means to make make peace with one's personal history. By pouring through our lives and putting our experiences to words we create a concrete visual timeline of people, events and emotion that can shed a fresh perspective on our personal view of our place in the world. For many of us upon entering the therapeutic process our lives tend to look like a jigsaw puzzle spread before us. There are recognizable bits and pieces that capture the eye and spark recognition. As we engage in the process of fitting the pieces together patterns begin to develop. What was once a scattered pile of random shapes and colors slowly becomes a panoramic view of who we are as a Whole being within our surrounding environment.
Corners first, then edges, then we move onto matching up recognizable colors and patters. At some point we become frustrated and abandon the project where it sits, some of the pieces become displaced, but when we return, we remember where those pieces fit and as we reconstruct clearer patterns begin to emerge. Eventually we see the events of our live and the characters within it in a way that was previously hidden or inaccessible. The process is a personal healing journey and there may be no reason ever for anyone else to read the finished product.
For many writers, especially those who are of a humanitarian sort, a memoir can be used as a tool or guidebook for others on their own journey to healing and self discovery. I suspect that quite often these kinds of memoirs develop out of one's own personal therapeutic process especially if we are telling the story of a personal struggle with a life changing event.  How often have you heard a survivor of a terrible ordeal state that "perhaps something good can come from my experience?' Distributing and sharing our stories is a way to reach a large audience to offer support encouragement and information, allowing the audience to remain anonymous at times when it may be impossible for them to reach out and ask for help. I've spoken with several individuals whose first step to recovery was found within the pages of a memoir.  By reading another person's account of events and accompanying emotional responses, the reader may discover, sometimes for the first time, that they are not alone, weird or crazy. This validation became the key that would unlock the cell of shame and isolation.
So many wonderful reasons to share a memoir, right? It's no wonder that for a time it had gained popularity as one of the bestselling literary genres. There are, however, complications involved with writing one's memoir especially if it falls into the latter categories of personal struggle and life challenges. A memoir that is written as part of a family history may tend to be more of an autobiographical timeline of ones life events. A memoir, on the other hand is a more personal subjective portrayal of a specific stage or theme in one's life. For us non-conformist, rebellious, renegade souls a  memoir is likely to contain some gritty material. For Survivors "gritty" barely scratches the surface.
Thinking back to the worst of the worst times of my life resurrects a scramble of hazy snapshots, all of them distorted in some way by my own perception both in the present and as it was at the time. On a light note I recently described to a friend my own mental image of myself while drunk. Tall, powerful, slick, witty and invincible; picture a white Pam Greer. Hell, my self image was so distorted, forget the white part!
Now years later in retrospect and with the help of observing young drunk women acting much as I did, I realize my mental picture has been photo shopped. The same happens when I talk to any woman desperately attempting to defend an abusive boyfriend or husband, I wonder for a moment how she can believe the words that are coming out of her mouth, then I remember and I know that she probably doesn't but so desperately wants to.
Some say the memoir is passe, it's falling out of popularity. These are the people who are concerned with what sells, what gets attention. Obviously I have never been concerned with what 'sells', I'm more concerned with what touches the human heart, what makes a person feel less alone and with what gifts we as women can share to strengthen one another. Does this make me hero or a saint of some sort? Ha Ha, wait for the memoir. You be the judge.
Jenny Nanakoosa

© 2010-2012 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

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