Over the last few days I’ve read two memoirs back-to-back, Margaret Overton’s Good in a Crisis and Jonna Ivin’s Will Love For Crumbs. Both stories revolve around disastrous relationships with men. I was struck by the fact that although these two women had very different backgrounds and their stories are quite different, each had to piece together the puzzle of her mother’s life to break free and follow a different path. I was reminded of computer games where you must find all the hidden tools to advance to the next level.
As I thought about this similarity, I realized how universal this theme is. I did study Freud once, along with a tower of other psychology books, and dimly recall some psychobabble about “differentiation.” Obviously there is nothing new under the sun here, other than airing this process in public. That public sharing angle is the aspect that most fascinates me.
Thinking beyond the stories themselves, I realized that as I read each one, it stimulated me to think more deeply about my own life and relationships. I realized once again that although I’ve certainly faced my share of puzzling and tense times, for the most part I’ve led a charmed life, spared most of the traumas they disclose. In spite of the odds against it, I’ve remained happily married for nearly fifty years, and my mother’s shortcomings are hardly worth mentioning. Still, although comparing my life challenges to theirs may be like placing the Blue Ridge mountains next to the Himalayas, reading how these women “broke through to the next level” and became more peaceful and comfortable in their skin settled me more securely in my own.
As I pondered the powerful effect these books had on me, a light went on. Each woman explained at the end of her book that she initially began journaling or writing random notes in an attempt to make sense of her experience. Transforming those notes into a coherent narrative was a profoundly healing experience. That healing process rippled out to me as a reader, and presumably to a multitude. Perhaps, just maybe, those of us who are “called” to write and share our stories are gifted with the opportunity to help others find hidden clues and find their own next levels of peace and freedom. As we heal ourselves, the effect spreads through our words into the world at large.
I’m reminded of thoughts I’ve heard, perhaps from Christina Baldwin, and probably also from others, about “restorying” the world. I’ve written a pile of blog posts scattered around the web about my own experience with revis(ion)ing my memories and discovering far more light in them than I ever imagined. I know the process works, and some memory visualization tools I’ve found are magic cursors pointing to hidden tools and maps.
Not everyone wants or needs to write and fewer still want to share their work. For many or most, it’s enough to read or privately journal. To whatever extent you are called to write for peace and healing, whether it be a letter of reconciliation and forgiveness, a single short story, or several volumes of memoir, write with boldly honest passion and flood the world with light. I’m beginning to find tangible evidence that as we heal the past, we also heal the future. Let’s get on with that!
As an aside, there is still time to register for my 3-week NAMW short course, Soaring High and Digging Deep: Tools for Refining Your Memoir. It begins this week. Find more details and sign up for the class and this month’s related free Roundtable here.
Write now: start a collection of random notes about a person or situation that puzzles you. Add to this collection over time as further thoughts occur to you. When you run out of new thoughts, read through what you’ve written and transform that to narrative. As you work on that story, your understanding is almost guaranteed to shift.