Memoir Genre Tour

Memoir Genre Tour 

April 7,   8,  9

Podcast introducing Genre Tour Memoirists
listen in here

Laura McHale Holland's intriguing look at Memoir and its hundreds of forms here:

There are hundreds of ways to write a memoir

By Laura McHale Holland
When I sat down to write today, 13th century poet and mystic Rumi came to mind. I’ve been a Rumi fan since I thumbed through Coleman Barks’ The Essential Rumi for the first time in the 1990s. Here’s one of Rumi’s most popular poems—and a favorite of mine:
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
The poem’s message applies to myriad aspects of life and types of people—including creative artists, which is what memoirists are. I view it, in part, as an antidote to a world in which so many of us are married to clearly defined ideas of what is good/bad, right/wrong/, correct/incorrect. It helps free me from notions that were pounded into me as a youngster and, I think, offers guidance for memoirists.
“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” I wish my kindergarten teacher had embodied that wisdom when she passed out a mimeographed picture of a bird, along with a set of stubby crayons, to each of her students. She told us to color the bird’s body dark blue, eyes black, legs brown, beak yellow. The sky was to be light blue, the clouds white, the grass dark green, not the mint green that tempted me.
My classmates and I set to work, most of us engrossed in the project. She walked around our tables, offering words of encouragement, nodding her approval or telling some to stay within the lines, others to not press so hard. All was serene till she grabbed Marcie, a girl whose effervescent personality had always captivated me, hauled her in front of the room, picture in tow, and said, “Everyone, pay attention! Look at this picture!”
The teacher held it high for all to see. I looked up and saw the most beautiful bird set in a magical world. Marcie had colored her bird in shades of orange, turquoise and purple. The grass was pink, the sky lavender, the clouds mint green. My project was beyond dull by comparison. I was sure the teacher was going to praise Marcie for being so imaginative.
Alas, the teacher berated Marcie instead. She pointed to each part of the picture and called out, “Wrong color, wrong color, wrong, wrong. Don’t you know how to follow instructions?” Marcie, who had sniveled through this humiliation, burst into sobs, as our teacher ripped up the paper, handed her a new one and told her to start over. High-spirited Marcie ran, head down, to her seat.
Must we know how to follow instructions? Yes, of course. At times, our lives depend on it. We all need to follow the rules of the road, for example: stop at red lights, use turn signals when changing lanes, turn our lights on at night and all that. No one would get anywhere safely if we didn’t.
When it comes to writing, grammar and structure can be likened to rules of the road. Without them, we would have great difficulty conveying meaning to readers with any clarity. However, our lives do not depend on these rules. Indeed, surrealist poet and playwright Nanos Valaoritis, professor emeritus at San Francisco State University who was a beloved mentor of mine, used to encourage students to know what the rules are and then break them. Break them.
I bring this up now because the Internet abounds with articles about what a memoir should and shouldn’t be, what elements a piece of writing should contain to pass muster. Things like truth, theme, first person point of view, reflection, voice, meaning, memory. This is good on the whole. We need to know what people consider the parameters of a given form to be. But as artists, when we pick up pen and paper or type at the keyboard, we benefit greatly if we put all those rules aside and let the words take their own shape and then nurture what is emerging without trying to make sure it’s the right color or stays within the form’s defined lines.
Sometimes someone comes along who turns a form on its head. You could be the next Ntozake Shange, whose choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf masterfully combined dance and poetry and personal story to great acclaim; or Jennifer Lauck, whose stunning childhood memoir, Blackbird, contains zero adult reflection but is nevertheless imbued with meaning and insight.
If you celebrate the creative process as you write, there is the chance you will write something astounding and entirely new. You can get help with commas and structure and all that down the road. Just look for an editor who is more like Rumi and less like my kindergarten teacher, for there are hundreds of ways to write a memoir.

Kathy Pooler on Memoir Genre

How Reading is Helping Me Write a Better Memoir

Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” ~Stephen King, On Writing
 Most people I know who love to write also love to read—a lot.
Getting lost in a good book is right up there as one my favorite things to do. As soon as I finish one book, I am clamoring like an addict to get my hands on the next one. While I am partial to memoirs, I love to mix it up and dig into a good historical novel, a classic, a book by a writer I’ve never heard of, poetry. The list goes on and the pile of books at my bedside keeps getting taller. And I know you can relate.
Since I am in the revision stage of my work-in-progress memoir, On the Edge of Hope: My Journey Through My Son’s Addiction, I’ve had a laser focus on memoirs by mothers of addicted sons.

Addiction is a cunning beast which storms in like a tornado and leaves its victims shattered and confused. It goes hand in hand with codependency.

Memoirs I’m reading that have created sparks of recognition…

Every once a while, I read a book that sparks fireworks in my mind where scenes from my life pop out at me in rapid-fire fashion and have me grabbing for a pad and pen to jot them down. Pattie Welek Hall’s memoir, A Mother’s Dance: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Full Circle affected me in a deeply personal way as the mother of a son. It is about facing and conquering calamitous events with not one but two young adult sons, one who suffered a traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident and the other with addiction.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

What was it about Pattie’s memoir that sparked such a reaction in me?
The highlight of a good memoir is the universal connection the reader feels with the story. Even though this is Pattie’s unique story from her point of view, she brought me into her sacred journey in a way that helped me connect with the story of my heart–my journey through my son’s addiction. 
Reading her memoir inspired me to find other memoirs by mothers of addicted sons. There are other powerful memoirs about addicted children, namely, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore  by Maggie Romera,  Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Scheff  and Broken: A Story of Addiction and Redemption by William Cope Moyers but I wanted to focus on the mother-son relationship.

That’s not the first time that has happened…

When I read Sandra Swenson’s The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction, I heard the same bells and whistles go off as I relived my own efforts to help my son and felt the same level of frustration about not being able to control his addiction. Though Joey is still active in his addiction, Sandra has found serenity in her ministry to educate and inspire other parents to believe that letting go does not mean giving up. She chronicles her journey “through the place where love and addiction meet”.   Sandra shares her story in this ASK documentary:
Sandy from Kurt Neale on Vimeo.

More mothers speak up–more fireworks in my mind…

Saving JakeWhen Addiction Hits Home by D’Anne Burwell follows the long, tough road to family recovery, highlighting the shame and silence that often accompanies addiction. What’s unique about D’Anne’s book is that she incorporates the latest resources and research about addiction into her story, reinforcing the point that educating yourself about the disease of addiction will facilitate the recovery process. Through her own arduous journey to understand and cope with her son’s addiction, she has provided a wealth of resources for anyone dealing with an addicted child.

In Stay Close: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction, educator and author Libby Cataldi shares the story of her son, Jeff’s valiant struggle to recover from severe drug addiction from her point of view. I love the part where Jeff reflects on his side of the story in retrospect. Libby has continued her mission to educate and support those families suffering with addiction through her weekly blog, Stay Close with stories of hope and inspiration about addiction and recovery.
Each story similar–the same angst and heartache, the initial guilt and shame, the confusion, the silence and sense of betrayal and manipulation a mother feels when she discover her son is an addict. Yet so different in their presentations. All show the struggle and nurture the hope that recovery is possible.
 All these brave women have shared their story in hopes of helping others traveling the same terrifying path. They are advocates for families of addicts through their websites, radio programs, speaking engagements. Sandy helps cook at a home for unwed mothers. Sandy is involved with ASK, a program to educate families about addiction and codependency. D’Anne has  website ASK for Family Recovery. Pattie hosts her own internet radio talk show called Joy Radio. 

How has reading these memoirs helped me with my writing?

*They connected me to my own story in a deeply personal way.
*While reading outside my genre has helped me to learn about style, voice, narration, reading these memoirs has helped me to see how each author delivered their unique story–one I have a vested interest in– in a way that is believable and engaging. They each have their own voice and style, yet they all taught me the value of honest introspection, believable characters and showing their progress toward transformation. The transformation is the part that nurtures the hope.
*Reading a wide variety of authors with similar stories has given me a new perspective on my own voice.
While my story may be similar, it’s still unique to me and I get to tell it in my own authentic voice. There’s no right or wrong. Your story is just that–your story but if you don’t spark a connection with a universal story then the vision of helping others through your own life lessons is lost.
*Each story is an invitation into the sacred space of the mother-son relationship.
Pattie, Sandy, D’Anne and Libby are all warrior mothers who have faced the nightmare of awakening to the nightmare of their sons’ addictions. They have faced the truth and have forged ahead to find their own path to recovery. The lessons they share are making a positive difference in the world. They have inspired me to keep writing my own story in hopes of helping others who need it the most.
As I write about my son and the impact of his addiction on our family, I will keep Casey and Bo, Joey, Jake and Jeff and their warrior mothers who never, ever gave up hope, close at heart.

Connecting through Our Personal Stories
Jennifer B. Monahan

Since the beginning of time, stories have been used to share ideas, educate each other, and fire the imagination.  Stories can break our hearts, help us better relate to another person or culture, or teach us right from wrong.

Memoir writing allows someone to tell his or her story and through that telling, connect with others. We have all had life experiences that we can draw from to see ourselves reflected within the memoir.  We can put ourselves into the memoir.  We can imagine what we would do in the same situation as the memoirist.  We can even invent a different ending if we don’t like the one in the memoir.   

In my memoir, This Trip Will Change Your Life: A Shaman’s Story of Spirit Evolution, I tell my journey to becoming a shaman.  Now, not everyone wants to become a shaman, but the main purpose of the book was to help people connect with their higher selves and guides so that they themselves could evolve. There were three main messages that readers connected with:

  1.  Each one of us has moments that shape and define our lives…and ask that we take action based on that moment.  For me, it was meeting a Mayan shaman. For someone else, it might be a serious illness, or the birth of a child, or the loss of a parent.  Regardless, these moments serve as wake up calls in our life and demand some type of response.
  2.  If we choose to ignore a moment, we will get another chance in the future.  Sometimes the timing feels off, or we’re not ready to take that big leap, or we don’t have the support system that we feel we need.  In my life, when I was first called to become a shaman, I tried to do it on the side while still working my day job.  While I was making some progress, I wasn’t taking the big leap into my new life…until I was in a bad accident that made me re-evaluate every aspect of my life.  The beauty of life is that if we don’t make the changes that are being asked of us with the moment, for whatever reason, the universe always provides us with another chance.
  3. And finally, we are not walking this life alone.  There are physical and spirit guides with us every step of the way.  Even when we feel at our lowest, our guides are working behind the scenes to have things manifest in ways that we could never imagine.

What I’ve found is that through memoir, readers begin to tell their stories as well.  So, as I’ve shared my story, I’ve had many readers reach out to me and start sharing their stories.  They’ve shared their moments, the times that they didn’t act on a moment, and second chances.  Through that sharing, we began to connect, understand each other better, and bridge differences to see the similarities in our lives – and that is the true beauty of a memoir.

Creative Non-Fiction 

Aarti Patel ND on Creating Image and Health

The Price of Image to Health

In our society, which has become more dominated by screens, image is a big deal. It's not just the realm of celebrities, performers, and athletes these days. Image affects all of us in today's world. How we portray our lives and selves to others can become such an influential part of daily living that it can affect how we treat our bodies, health, and those close to us. Image can impact both physical and mental health in ways that can eventually lead to chronic health issues and take us farther away from what we want in life.
What is image? Image is typically what we want others to see despite what we're feeling underneath or what is truly going on in our lives. We all have an image, and that in and of itself is not a bad thing. Image, or persona, can help create healthy boundaries between ourselves and our environments, including other people. That bit of distance helps us have space and privacy where we need it. Everyone doesn't need to know everything. What becomes dangerous is when image evolves into more of a lie that we start believing even when we're alone.
We may want to believe that we're perfect, and try to show that to others instead of facing fears that are surfacing. These days, you may also notice social and media-induced peer pressure to show happiness to ourselves and to the world, even when we're feeling sad, angry, disappointed, or some other feeling instead. The idea of image can then start to encroach on personality and even become who we are to some extent, often to the detriment of our physical and mental health. The pull to be immune and safe in this world using an artificial image is something each person goes through at times.
Image is a tool that can be helpful in the roles we play at work and in life, when it is mostly in tune with who we are already. When it instead plays a more suppressive role in blocking out real emotions, thoughts, and expressions of who we are, it can also harm the natural rhythm of our health, hormones, neurotransmitters, and personalities. It can become a cage in which we live with our unacknowledged fears and emotions.
The price of image overtaking who we are can be costly. Yet, it's okay to admit this and honestly look at what image you're showing to others, and ultimately to yourself. We live in a culture where image too easily becomes everything, and many people are dissatisfied with this way of living. Even when image affects health and stifles life, it can still be an addictive thing to pursue. However, if you remind yourself of what you really want in life, it can become easier to see how the image you're portraying might be blocking that. And then you can ask, what benefit is image really bringing to your life?
What influence do you notice image is having on the world around you, and more importantly in your life? You know who you are inside, so what price are you willing to pay for image?


Introduction to The Art of Health–Excerpt
What is health? Toward one extreme, health can conjure up thoughts of a sterile doctor’s office or hospital, scary medical words and labels, diagnoses such as diabetes and cancer that sound so final, surgery and open-in-the-back gowns, and strange-sounding pharmaceutical drugs. Visiting the other extreme of alternative health, we picture all things natural, tofu sandwiches, endless vitamins and supplements, yoga and spandex, hugging trees and being one with the earth, visiting a shamanic energy healer, and pouring out our feelings for catharsis. Do either of these camps sound like they describe real health to you?
We often turn to outside sources, both through health care systems and in the mainstream media, to have the ultimate say about our health. We figure that these sources know a whole lot more than we do about how to live a long and healthy life. Yet despite the recommendations, health doesn’t always improve like we hope it will. At some point, it’s helpful to ask who is the ultimate authority on your health.
Does a doctor know what health is simply because they are a doctor? Does the answer lie inside a bottle of medication or supplements? Perhaps a vegan diet regimen, CrossFit workout, or yoga philosophy? A health website, blog, or magazine? “The Dr. Oz Show,” or “The Biggest Loser”? Wait, don’t forget that 20/20 piece on health that gave you nightmares. Then there are all those research papers and self-help books out there!
Talk about dizzying amounts of information overload. In reality, health is simpler than that. It can be tempting to search for the answers to health outside yourself. Sure, the sources mentioned above can be useful tools if they’re relevant to your health and who you are. But what is the number one and greatest source for living a long and healthy life?
It’s YOU. That’s right—you have the #1 authority on your health by being the only person who lives in your body, is going through your life, and is facing your own unique challenges. Along the way, you may encounter useful tools in the form of a treatment plan offered by a trusted health care provider, a new diet and exercise routine, or a cool blog post that inspires you to pay more attention to your health. But even these tools will only be useful for the long-term if you develop a real connection with your health, your lifestyle, and what you’re going through.
Health is an art. Think about all the functions the body performs for us on a daily basis without us being consciously aware of them. The body works in a naturally sophisticated and artful way and if we support what it’s already doing for us, we can spark health that best fits who we are as individuals. Each person’s life is a unique expression of art too. The best way to practice the art of health is by staying true to who you are throughout it.
I’ve been practicing naturopathic medicine for eight years. In practice, I treat chronic difficult-to-treat conditions in large part by teaching the keys to artful health I talk about here in this book. Though I treat a variety of chronic complaints from insomnia to digestive issues, my specialties are women’s health, natural hormone balancing, dermatology, homeopathy, and autoimmune conditions.
Throughout appointments and when coming up with treatment plans, I try and help patients pay more attention to what they’re going through and encourage them to take more charge of their health. I know I’ve done my job when someone feels more confident in how they’re approaching health and how they take care of themselves. When a patient can make connections between their health and lifestyle and see the artfulness inherent in their health care, they have real tools they can use for the long-term.


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