Last week, I was scouring the library for resource books on Memoir. I didn't come up with much beyond the handful I'd already dug through, but later the same night, while re-shelving my own books in our new office, I tripped over Tristine Rainer's “Your Life as Story; Discovering the New Autobiography and Writing Memoir as Literature”.
It's one of the books I bought while researching my thesis on Therapeutic Writing a decade ago and the spine is familiar as any other on my shelf, but I haven't cracked it since September of 2002. I picked up the book, flipped through it and laughed. If I'd found it in the library, I'd have declared it “Exactly what I was looking for!” and clutched it to my chest while running for the check-out line. Instead, it was waiting casually to be remembered and rescued from deep shelves five feet from where I sleep.
Whole sections of the book, focused on structure and craft, were of little interest to me at the time but are now incredibly helpful. Chapters on Essential Elements, Voice and the Anatomy of a Scene give clear and solid direction. Chapter Seven, titled “Tricks Memory Plays on You and Tricks You Can Play on It” is especially brilliant.
“If you tend towards the bright memory clichés of a Pollyanna, it means going deeper and being more honest about negative feelings. If you tend toward melancholia, it means looking for pleasant memories to mix with the dark.”
I have come to realize over the last few months that my story is one which cannot be told without lightness and laughter. Writing On The Loose confirmed that for me. I rework passages endlessly to find the humor and humanity in them. I dig through memories and photos and conversations to find the happy … the silly … and the sweet.”
Thumbing through Your Life As Story, I come across highlighted sections which I poached for my thesis:
“It is by making meaning out of memory that one is healed, whether through therapy, life, journal writing or autobiographic writing. That meaning need not be religious, spiritual or psychological; it can be philosophic or aesthetic. Sometimes the only meaning one can find in certain events is aesthetic, the ability to make something beautifully crafted out of what in life was arbitrary, ugly or painful.”
Re-reading those passages brings a little of that fire back to my belly as I wholly agree with and consider myself living proof of the therapeutic value of writing. An obvious example of that is a piece titled Parting, which I wrote about the process of donating my daughter's organs as she lay dying in the room across the hall. Clearly a horrible experience and dreadful subject matter, but immeasurably healing to write out. Even better though is being able to craft those raw emotions into a story whose message is one of hope.
I still swear by Therapeutic Writing, but I am cognizant of the fact that there is chasm between pure Writing Therapy and writing Life as Story. What's difficult, is finding resources and guidance that honors both traditions, offers useful information and provides the necessary direction. In this book, Tristine Rainer book does all of that. I am ashamed to have ignored it for so long.
[You can find out more about Tristine Rainer, Founder and The Center for Autobiographic Studies HERE and check out "Your Life As Story; Discovering the New Autobiography and Writing Memoir as Literature” on GoodReads or at Amazon.]