I have been taking a memoir writing class for the last four weeks. Each week we get an assignment and then share it at the next class. The assignments are prompts but a little more personal. I guess that is because we are telling our story. Two weeks ago we were to write about a turning point in our life. The first part of the assignment was to list ten turning points in our life. That in itself was a challenge. We were not to write about big things like getting married or landing the first job. We were to focus on things that were deeper; the day you got your first period, the day you found out your father was cheating on your mother or the day you decided to quit your job. The prompt was, “It was a time when….”
I’m a dutiful student so I made my list and thought hard about turning points. The one that glared at me was the turning point that led me to write. It was a time when seemingly little things would make me very sad. It was a time when I realized I needed counseling for my depression or whatever it was that triggered the tears. I kept a journal during that time to capture some insight into the problem. The therapy helped me and as a side benefit set my muse free to express feelings in poetry and other creative endeavors. If you are a writer and reading this you might have had that experience.
When doing the class assignment I found that there was still a charge on the long ago stuff that had made me sad. I knew I had to write more. The teacher must have known this because the class assignment for the next week was to write the same story from the third person. So instead of saying, “when I was a sad …” you would write as the observer, “when she was sad….” We were not allowed to just take the first assignment and change the pronoun. It was to be written from another point of view. I found this very challenging and it took several days. A strange thing happened when I wrote from the third person. I found that all my adult wisdom was available to me. The old emotion was transformed. What a blessing to have the two perspectives.
I’m sharing this because I can see how this would make characters in a story more dynamic or just enlighten you about your own story. My writing teacher suggests this as a way to open things up when you are stuck in writing a piece of your story. This week the assignment is to write the same story from the point of view of others in the scene. I can hardly wait to see what unfolds but maybe I already know because it is my story.
That’s what Sonja; my hip young hairdresser said I needed. All I could do was laugh and mutter something like, “I know”. We were talking about my hair, which is very soft and won’t behave properly. Sonja says, “It is just the way your hair is and you need a better product”. She was suggesting Guts by Redken, which is a mousse that acts like starch.
I was thinking on another level because I had just read a face book post on the “10 Things You Need to Stop Doing Today to be Happier”. The author, Robert Piper believes that we tend to be unconscious of behaviors that are causing pain and unnecessary suffering in our lives.
The “10 Things…” were originally posted on a Buddhist website called www.elephantjournal.com. Some of the “10 Things” were ones you would expect like 1. Stop Complaining and 2. Stop Judging. It was number 3. Stop avoiding your Fear — that resonated with me. And here it was only one day later and someone was telling me I need Guts.
So here is more about holding on to Fear as mentioned in the “10 Things…”
Fear is an obnoxious thing—it slows you down from finding a career you love, a romantic relationship, and pursuing your dreams. Do something that makes you uncomfortable every day, in small steps, and it will dramatically alter the course of your life.
And now the quote from– Rumi
“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”
I’ve got GUTS now. I hope it penetrates my hair, my head and my body.
With the Olympics playing in the background I continue to feel a push to work on my memoir. I have shared some of it and I have come out of the closet as a writer. But there is this reluctance to write daily, to actually practice the craft. I think some of this relates to living in a society where peak performance is valued. The self doubt created by thinking I can enter the big leagues and actually write is a big inhibitor.
I’ve decided that writing from that point of view is a real show stopper. The biggest reward I have gained from journaling, putting a poem on paper or just blogging here is the awakening of spirit. It isn’t the audience I’m here to please or the thrill of being in the game. The real payback is talking to myself — the scared self speaking to the more enlightened self.
Last weekend I went on a silent retreat. It allowed my muse to come forth without the noise I usually experience in every day life. The muse said, “Get on with it”. I said well I not quite ready. I haven’t bought a plant for my desk yet and that was on my list after creating writing space. Besides the scared self said, “If I buy a plant now it will die when I leave for a two week vacation in late Auguat”. More enlightened me said, ” So buy any old plant and put it outdoors while you are away. You shouldn’t buy a treasured orchid anyway. Just do something.” Yesterday I was picking up a few items at the Food Lion and that voice said, “Theres a plant. It has pretty red flowers. Buy it.” And so I did.
This was the last item on my list of things to do before I go to the starting line. My $2.99 little plant sits on my desk like a beacon. Reminding me to write. So here I am, just writing my thoughts and not playing games.
I’ve decided to write a memoir. This was a big decision. So I committed to the project by telling people. Being one of those people that takes responsibility very seriously means that it’s time to start.
How does one start a writing project? I decided to first prepare for my task by inviting a friend who specializes in organizing space to help. What a great day that was. After moving furniture and clutter I felt a new found freedom. My friend says that, “moving furniture changes the brain”. So now my writing space is in front of a window and not a wall. I awake the next day ready to write. The office feels clear, but I don’t.
I had decided on a writing approach, in other words a voice”, but as I turn that idea in my mind I create doubt. Anticipating this writing block I have signed up for a memoir writing workshop. It was a wonderful afternoon. I realize immediately that I love being in the company of writers. There are many helpful suggestions offered in the workshop. The best is to write something everyday and if you can’t write then be sure to visit your writing.
I learn that a key componant of a memoir and maybe all writing is the muse. That part of you that reflects and ponders. I love to explore life sustaining questions and thoughts about experiences. That process usually brings forth ideas and always simulates more questions. That is where I am with more questions.
Prehaps this is why I prepare so deeply to begin the journey and don’t get down to the assignment. I remember the first day I began the job of the Executive Director of a non-profit. I felt the same doubt. I went around asking members and friends to help me define the parameters of this work. Some ideas resonated like “make preservation of the place a priority”. One that I didn’t take to heart was walk the boundaries of the property. Here I am again soliciting ideas from others and not looking inward. I think I will call this looking outside myself, research and move on.
I enjoy “the doing”. Diligently each day I check things off things on my list of tasks and feel good. I’m sure you are all thinking I should put writing on the list. Well I did try that and I put it right at the top. Only then when I began my doings I skipped to the easy things.
I find that the queiting my mind and looking inward is more difficult. This time however the universe has not let me off the hook. Later today I will leave for a three day silent retreat. I have participated in this event in past years and love the quiet time. So maybe my muse will step forward this weekend. But before I go maybe I’ll go purchase a plant for my desk. My organizer says that really helps one get started.