Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Writing as a spiritual and political act

For the last few years or so, I’ve been living from a stronger sense of mission. Or perhaps it’s easier to say that I’ve become conscious of my mission in life, or one of them anyway. Uncovering and developing my creative self, both as painter and writer, have been really critical pieces to my recovery from alcoholism. And they have contributed immeasurably to a different and healthier sense of self. But I’ve also come to see that writing and painting and collaging and knitting and gardening and cooking and everything we do that is an expression of our creative selves is part of a force for good, maybe even Good with a capital G.

There is a tremendous amount of destructive energy afoot in our world. There’s the obvious: wars, so many of them; domestic violence; torture of those imprisoned; brutal treatment of animals, wild and domestic; not to mention the rape of the land through logging and overfishing and pollution. I could go on and on.

But I’ve come to believe that one small and powerful way to mitigate the effects of so much destructive energy is to ramp up our positive creative energies: to paint more often, to write more poetry, to dance and sing around the house. To arrange flowers with an eye to their color and beauty, to savor and record in the mind’s eye a blossom, the shine on a hummingbird’s throat, the spectacular rosiness of a Northwest winter sunrise. To make amends to a friend we’ve hurt, to write a letter to a teacher who encouraged us in our youth.

So next time you feel the urge to write a story or work on that screenplay, do it. It has a higher purpose.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advice for writing a memoir

I was talking to my 20-year-old nephew Alex recently. He’d been to Disneyworld in Florida and had taken my memoir, Sober Truths: The Making of an Honest Woman, with him to read. We had an interesting conversation about it. He said that in the beginning, it was like reading about a stranger, someone’s childhood. But when I started talking about my young adult years, he could really relate. I asked him if I seemed the same person to him in the book as I am with him in person and he said yes. Somehow I was really pleased by that for I had not wanted to create a fictional persona for my memoir, but to be myself.

All of us have a story to tell. We don’t all need to publish them but our friends and families would love to read them. And writing down stories about our life experiences is a great gift to future generations, who will see what it was like to live when we did (differences) and that we all have the same things that make us happy and sad and angry (similarities).

Here are some ideas to get you started if you’re interested in writing some memoir pieces from your own life:
Find a supportive writing group and/or writing coach to help you with your process.
Make a list of 50-60 pivotal moments and experiences in your life.
Write these experiences as scenes with visual and sensory detail, dialog, and action.
Take those initial drafts and flesh them out into robust experiences for the reader. Remember readers don’t want to read about your experiences, they want to experience them with you.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Importance of Telling Our Stories

The Importance of Telling Our Stories

Several months ago, I finally got around to that photograph project. You know the one where you take the boxes of old family photos and put them in order neatly in albums. I had fancy plans but ended up just getting them in, kind of any which way. In the process, I came upon a photo of my mother as a teenager that was unfamiliar to me. It’s a photo of six women. I recognized my mother and her two sisters and of course my grandmother, who looked impossibly young. The other two young women I didn’t know. There was nothing on the photo itself to tell me and, at this point, my mother and my aunts and my grandmother are all deceased. I realized I will never know if these were cousins or neighbors or friends.

And I thought about how many photos most of us have of family and friends and how few written documents. In my family, there are no written documents from my father’s side. My mother left a couple of small, cryptic diaries from the early years of her marriage and I have a few letters she sent me over the years, but there’s no one left to tell any of those stories about their growing up or my grandparents’ lives in their youth and middle years or ancestors before that.

All human beings are storytellers, but in our culture, where we used to tell each other stories (around the fire or kitchen table), we’ve become consumers of other people’s stories, mostly fictional (soap operas, movies, novels) and we don’t weave our own much anymore. I think this is why there is such an interest in memoirs of all kinds.