Memoir Is a Moving Target

Memoir Is a Moving Target

I thought I knew what my memoir was about. I was there after all. I thought it was a matter of working out where to start and where to end so I could settle my story down somewhere in between. How difficult could it be?

So I started writing, in earnest, in the place I thought was the beginning. I wrote some more, and the beginning fell in love and became the middle. Then the end went off to boarding school and became the beginning of the end. The bloody middle lost weight and became invisible, and I killed the darling. The end got cancer and became the beginning.

It was like trying to teach overwrought grasshoppers to line dance.

I found myself walking up a hill every afternoon with “how do I solve a problem like my memoir” echoing in my head to the refrains of Rodgers and Hammerstein. I just wanted my story to stand still a moment so I could pin it down. But it wouldn’t. It kept on with its manic bouncing until one morning, I stopped trying to control it and allowed myself to rest in the confusion and chaos. This wasn’t a science experiment; I didn’t need to have a hypothesis on how it was going to end when I threw sodium into the swimming pool.

I learnt to focus less on line dancing classes and control, and to think more deeply on what was emerging and presenting itself in the writing. Writing memoir is a moving target. Maybe it is supposed to be a moving target; maybe it’s supposed to shake things up.

Maybe that’s the point: so as the target moves, you see the stuff behind, underneath, beyond.

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About Barbara

 

Very little in Barbara Matthews’ life has turned out the way she thought it would. She certainly never thought the right side of her brain would amount to much – it seemed superfluous in a world of numbers and the periodic table. A midlife career change into the practice of Palliative Medicine in rural South Africa forced Barbara to find language for experiences resolutely resisting the boundaries of science. Her writing has become a practice of self-care and meaning-making as she makes friends with the angel of death.

It wasn’t only the story that was moving and growing and changing. I was moving too. I stopped standing in one place and began shifting my view. Something happens when we extract feelings, emotions, and memories from our neurology and metabolise them and set them down on the page. It’s a curious alchemy. Writing about your life is not about noting what you did on Friday the 14th of March 1986. Who cares? Unless it was the day you swallowed a shard of glass and your gut exploded and you had a near-death experience on an operating table in Cairo. Unless it was the day you turned down a marriage proposal from the boy next door who became a murderous stalker and opened a cake shop. Even then, the details only matter if you can pull meaning from them. Things start to settle when you begin to make meaning, and sometimes they may jiggle some more, until you look again. It’s okay, the moving and jiggling; it’s how you know you’re finding the good stuff.

I am no longer alarmed when the ground begins to lurch. I get out the trekking poles, put on the hiking books, and keep on climbing. It is the only way to get to a high vantage point, away from the emotion and participation of the moment remembered, to a place where I can glimpse the landscape. 

The writing is changing me. The changing me is changing the writing.

When I started, I thought I knew what it was all about. I didn’t know. The knowing can only come with the work, the reflection, the practice. Be brave, be bold, be curious. It’s the only way to hit that moving target.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

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My Triumvirate: Meditation, Mantra and Memoir

I’m in the early stages of writing my memoir. At this point, I’m hunting, gathering, pulling things out and looking to see if and how they fit. I’m reliving scenes, moments, memories. Some are painful. Some are lighthearted. I smile as I write about the lighthearted ones. It’s like watching a favorite movie and knowing it ends well.

The difficult and painful memories are harder to work through. Writing them feels a lot like being right back in it. I know that I have survived those moments, but the trauma and emotions they bring up are very real when I consider them. It is similar to running a finger over a deep scar that isn’t quite healed. It can make you wince. It can make you cry. It can make you angry. It can paralyze you in fear and anxiety. But, I think it can also help you heal. If you come to it with a sense of compassion.

Since embarking on my writing journey in earnest, I’ve noticed a shift in how I see the world, myself, and my life. I see the ups and the downs, and I have a deeper appreciation for them. I look back and marvel at how far I’ve come, at how much I’ve grown.

Writing about the difficult moments in my life has allowed me to be gentler to myself. It has given me a chance to be more compassionate to the people who have contributed to the hurts. I can look back and offer forgiveness. I am not minimizing the impact that these difficult moments have had on my life. I’m not saying that the damage never happened, but I can see them as life lessons. And I can look for the ways in which these lessons have helped me become who I am today.

Meditation has helped me in the last five or six years in my own healing journey. It’s helped bring me back to my writing. It gives me a chance to dig deep within myself and see where the issues are. It allows me to look at certain areas of my life with more compassion. Compassion for my Self and compassion for others.

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About Sonia

 

Sonia Bryant is a Reiki master, healer, mother, daughter, wife and friend in no particular order. She enjoys reading, writing, cooking, gardening, spinning, pilates and finding interesting ways to stay connected to her son, friends and family. She is a Canadian currently residing in Switzerland with her husband, daughter and two dogs. Sonia chooses to accept the challenges that come her way as beautiful blessings and life lessons.

Meditation has helped me to remove my victimhood and see where and how I sometimes contributed to the painful moments. It has allowed me to choose to not let those moments define who I am as a person. It has helped me to see that what others think of me is not an accurate depiction of who I am. Instead, it is a projection of who they are and I don’t have to accept it.

Meditation allows me to see me.

Since I’ve started my memoir, I’ve incorporated specific intentions that relate directly to my writing. In my meditations, I send intention and attention to the flow of words. I open myself up as a channel for the words to come through me and to me. I’ve developed mantras that I write on index cards and place throughout my writing space. When I feel stuck, I read these mantras out loud. I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths and repeat the mantras until the words start flowing again.

Taking a moment to refocus is often all that is necessary to move forward.

Above my computer screen, an index card reads, ‘I look for, and find beauty in the depth and complexity of all of my characters. Including myself.’ A powerful reminder that all of the people in my life and memoir are multi-dimensional. No one is all villain or all hero. Myself included.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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Creating a Vision for Writing

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Close your eyes to see.

When my heart beckons me to write I find a quiet place to meditate and I ask my heart, “What do you want me to say?” This simple act of sitting in silence with my eyes closed allows me to hear the stories living inside my body. I tune into the darkness, stripped bare of the visual extravaganza I heavily rely upon to live in this world. I aim to create a vision for my writing during such meditation, but what I am actually asking to see is a feeling. My heart responds in a way I can only hear when I shun the light and give myself permission to listen. It’s not what I want the reader to read, but what I want the reader to feel that I am trying to visualise. From this place, I can hear the whispers of my heart. From this place, I can see in a way I never knew possible, until I met my daughter.

My daughter engages the world with unique prowess through sightless eyes. She carries a heart full of carefully crafted skills that encourage a sensory immersion in the world beyond what my eyes can see. I watch her navigate around our home with an air of confidence. Her delicate hands sweep the walls whispering directions only she can understand. Her fingers speak a secret language she trusts will lead her to a destination. I wish I could feel like that. She reaches for my hand with profound precision. Her body speaks a secret language she trusts will guide her when in need of support. I wish I could see like that. She is a brilliant storyteller and creates thoughtful dialogue, interwoven with delightful intonation when reciting narratives she’s heard throughout the day. Her ears speak a secret language she trusts will provide the information required when her eyes cannot read. I wish I could hear like that.

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About Tanya

Tanya started her writing journey as a travel blogger when she caravanned around Australia with her daughter, who is blind. She wrote her first children’s book about their journey – The Adventures of Kenzie-Moo. She is writing a memoir about being a single mother to a child with special needs and the choices she’s made to live an abundant and fulfilling life, despite adversity. Tanya is an Empowerment Coach and Yoga Instructor, running retreats for mothers who have children with additional needs. She is passionate about empowering mothers to create inner freedom by reconnecting to the essence of their true Self.

www.tanyasavva.com

I gaze into her sightless eyes and I am reminded that in fact, I can. When I want my reader to feel something, I close my eyes and allow the emotion to dive into my heart and disperse through every cell. My body vibrates to the sensation of the words that will find the page. When I want to hear my writing voice, I close my eyes and listen to it whisper words only audible in the darkness. When I’m suffocating in doubt, questioning ‘who would want to read my story’, I close my eyes and smother my fears in a blanket of darkness that eventually allows the light to filter through.

My daughter’s blindness infused my path with a light so bright I was almost blinded by the shimmering hues of gold that radiate from her energy field. It’s alive with secret languages that help her find her way. She helped me foster a relationship with my inner self so I could trust the secret languages buried in my own heart. “What do you want me to say?” I ask. I listen for the messages dormant in my body, waiting patiently in the silence of darkness. I hear the old bray of my heart and feel the story before it has any words. My daughter taught me to see in a way I never knew possible. She taught me to create a vision for my writing through closed eyes.

What do you see when you close your eyes?


The Adventures of Kenzie-Moo is now available.

If you order your copy now, you will receive a limited edition of The Adventures of Kenzie-Moo in this gorgeous packaging, signed by the author. As a special bonus, you will also receive a link to the audio version of the book spoken by Mackenzie. 

How can you resist?

(What better Christmas or Channukah gift can you think of for a child in your life?)

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As a writer, I must see the long view of each letter I type. I need to comprehend the immortality of character, the timelessness of setting. I acknowledge that whatever I put to paper might inspire relief from suffering, or instigate it. I may just as easily alienate readers as unite them, depending upon how I incorporate theme or voice into a work. I have to understand the permanency of every paragraph or stanza, and the way each story potentially endures long after I have set down my pen.

Our words are a legacy.

Several years ago, a home in my neighbourhood sold, and the new owners dug up the entire front yard, justifiably intent on changing the area to suit their tastes. As the landscaping progressed, however, I was flabbergasted as their preferences become apparent to the neighbourhood.

Enormous, stark white slabs of stone were installed vertically like obtrusive, glittering sentries at a number of points across the corner property. The large gaps between each conspicuously erected monolith were then dotted with a few tiny plants, leaving the ground largely unadorned and the great stretches of mulch desolate. The visual effect of these seemingly pretentious columns left me wondering if the outlandish garden was a cry for attention or simply an unsightly display of status.

I had failed to see the role that time would play. But the new owners had not.

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About Jennifer

Jennifer wrote her first poem at the age of six, and she has been involved in the world of words as an editor, a blogger, and an article writer. She is published in and shortlisted for a growing number of local, national, and international electronic and print publications.Most recently she had an essay, titled Bairnlorn, appear in the Globe & Mail, placed first in the My City, My Words poetry contest, and wrote and handcrafted a board book for her son.

She also tells terrible jokes.

They knew what weather would do; how a year of exposure to dust, sunlight, sea air, and rain would stain the impermeable rock. They recognized the simple truth that plants grow and that they need space to do so. They understood the topography of the land and how to place elements that worked with the gentle slope bowing into the street from their front door.

I realized it slowly, over the course of the next twelve to eighteen months. The genius of it.

They had gifted our neighbourhood with a version of the stone circles of Europe.

The bright granite was now darkened with patches of slate, moss, and charcoal, the gleam replaced with the satin finish of aged stone. The heathers had spread into the empty pockets of soil, and the mix of species bloomed at different times, seasonally offering a carpet of tiny purple or white clustered buds. Bees crawled over the foliage, greedily collecting pollen from the bell-shaped flowers. Crows rested on the natural pillars, cocking their heads in response to the gaze of passersby. Sparrows hopped over the ground, darting amid the crevices between the evergreen groundcover in search of shelter or food.

It was a tiny piece of the magic one feels while standing within Stonehenge.

It is into this model of patience, and the twin branches of deliberate unfolding and organic growth, that I write. My creativity is best expressed when I keep these lessons in mind. When I lean into the possibilities that may ripple from casting a story into the waters of the world, I should consider how those vibrations will colour, grow, and bring life to the perspectives of others. Without reflection, I risk creating a literary landscape out of touch with my intention and my readers. But with it, I can hold on to the long view and create something lasting and beautiful.

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It also strikes me that, like magic, you need to have ‘belief’ to really get your creativity flowing. I know this from first-hand experience. I have always wanted to write since I worshipped at the feet of the children’s book goddess, Enid Blyton. But, at an early age, I lost my belief and, instead, fell into a rabbit warren of shame and doubt.

In the mid-70’s I was a very shy nine-year-old and a daydreamer. On one occasion I forgot to do my homework, which was to write an essay on “My Horse”. All the diligent, non-dreamers handed in their papers. I was given a day’s grace.

I sat down at home that afternoon and wrote an epic tale about my horse. At least I thought it was epic. He was a beautiful horse and was abducted by communists and locked away in a barn. He rubbed his hooves together on the hay, started a fire and kicked the barn door down to escape. He bolted down the road and left his captors in the dust. He hid on a boat and found his way back from Russia, just to be with me.

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About Tanya

Tanya Southey is a people collector, tea drinker, dog lover, poetry junkie and recently published author. Her children’s adventure story Ollie and the Starchaser subtly explores grief and loss. In 2018 Tanya is working on a poetry challenge – #52words52weeks – where she is collaborating with London Street Photographer, Denise Smith, to create a poem a week.  Currently Tanya is pretending to have retired from her corporate career, but work keeps finding her.  Her mission, whether in writing or life, remains to help people reach their full potential.  

You can find out more on www.tanyasouthey.com 

My teacher wrote “What Rubbish” in big, bold, but incredibly neat, red handwriting.

She then read it out to the class as an example of what not to write. She said horses didn’t have communist adventures and I should have written about riding my horse in a paddock. Well, I didn’t have a horse. We lived in a small house in the suburbs of a tiny mining town in South Africa where no one had horses.

But I did have ears and eyes. I was an avid listener and observer, and my dad loved communists. He talked about them all the time. It made total sense to me that a beautiful horse would be abducted and sent to Russia. So there was something in her reading it out that not only shamed me, but also cast its shadow on my Italian dad. I saw how people looked at him when he went on about communism in his broken English.

After that, my writing went underground.

Forty-odd years later, I know the science of shame. It drives us into hiding. For years, if I wrote anything that was remotely creative, I winced when someone read it. I felt sick that it might not make the mark.

Last year I went to Boston to be trained in Immunity to Change, with Harvard alumni Professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. The course teaches why we develop an ‘immunity’ or protection to certain situations. It explores why we have certain ambitions in our lives that become like New Year’s resolutions. We set the goals, and put all the behaviours in place to achieve them, and then we don’t succeed. I had to complete my own immunity map, and I chose getting a book published as my objective. I had all the right things in place – a compelling goal, time set aside and writing courses completed – but I had an unknown, hidden protection in place that I uncovered while completing the map. I had protected myself from putting anything out there because of a deep-seated belief that I was not good enough to publish a book.

Fortunately, the map required a ‘safe test’. I set mine to completing my children’s story. Well, my book is out there now and, surprise, surprise, I am still alive. More than that, I am grateful I took a chance on investing in myself and in my writing.

So now when I want to be creative, I gather up that shy nine-year-old; I give her a hug, I give her the pen and I let her go. Even when the clumsiest pieces turn up, I look her in the eye and say, “We’ve got this.”

And she looks back and asks, “Did I ever tell you about my horse?”

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I’m a novice writer. But I’m an experienced reader, as most writers (novice or not) tend to be. As I sink my teeth into yet another book, I find myself frustrated with the writing, but intrigued by the content. The author had a clear vision of what the story meant to her, but a somewhat murky view of how a reader might perceive her penned words. I’m starting to believe a well written book with nothing to say is far more gripping than an interesting story told in a self-important or confusing manner.

I have enough grey hair and laughter lines to remember the classic ‘80s comedy, Three Men & a Baby, with Tom Selleck cradling baby Mary while reading a bedtime story.

“The champ caught Smith with a savage left hook… that sent the challenger crashing into the ropes. Smith, his left eye swollen, and the cut above his right eye now much more bloody, countered with a barrage of vicious body blows.”

“What are you reading her?”

“It doesn’t matter what I read, it’s the tone you use. She doesn’t understand the words, anyway. Now, where were we? The champ began the fourth round like a man possessed, going straight for his opponent’s body.”

If four-month-old baby Mary can be mesmerised with big style and small content (and Tom Selleck’s beautiful blue eyes), I can too.

We have a vision of how our story will go (well – I do…) but, when it gets to the nitty gritty of putting fingers to keyboard, visions can get lost in a flurry of ego. Just because it’s written down, doesn’t mean an audience has to read it. For writing to extend beyond me, I have to envision the reader’s needs.

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About Simone

Crazy hair, solitude seeker, at peace in the natural world, Simone Yemm dedicated over three decades as a professional flautist and teacher. In 2008 she completed a Master’s in Journalism, specialising in editing, and continues to hone her skills as a writer. After a series of crises led to an emotional breakdown, Simone developed a passionate interest in mental health and shares her story to educate and support the wider community. With 25 years of marriage under her belt, she successfully raised three and a half young men and a chocolate-brown Burmese cat. A mean feat never to be underestimated.

www.simonelisa.com

As a novice writer I’m not in a position to state what to do for successful writing. But just as politicians learned over millennia, and drum into us with negative campaigning, it’s easy to know what not to do. As I lurch my way through another memoir, here are a few things I’m learning not to write:

  • Exclamation marks! They’re so annoying!!
  • Presumed fact. Belief isn’t fact. Back it up or acknowledge it’s a personal belief. This is a fact.
  • Half-truths. It’s difficult to develop empathy for a character claiming everyone is wrong and they are right. With only one side of the story, I instinctively distrust the assumption of innocence. What aren’t you telling me? Be vulnerable – tell me the whole story.
  • 1+1=3 Whatever the scenario (fact or fiction), give me the numbers and I’ll finish the sum. Our lives are unique – to us. Our stories are relatable – to everyone. Grief. Love. Fear. We all experience them in one way or another. I haven’t grieved the loss of a marriage, but I have grieved the loss of a career. Show me grief in the guise of divorce, and I’ll see the sum of your despair.
  • Tyipng erorrs. It’s hard to proofread you’re own work, and even with countless professional eyes on the the manuscript, typos slip through. But if there’s more then one per page, ewe need better professionals. Excesive speling, gramattical, & structurall, erors disturb the most forgiving of reeders.

For 36 years I taught eager (and disinterested) young people to play the flute. As years went by, I discovered how much more we learn from mistakes than we ever do from successes. I want to raise my standards as a writer and continue to hone my craft, and paying attention to both what works and what doesn’t is helping me do that.

I want to see the villain’s face crumble. Hear the soldier singing. I need to touch the warm flesh of young lovers, taste the salty tears, and smell the charred remains. Whatever vision you have for the story burning inside you, make it one we can all see. Remember your reader. Because then, much like baby Mary staring adoringly into Tom Selleck’s eyes, your story will find an audience.

Can I Show You How to Begin?

Can I show you how to begin? Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go...

Warning Signs

For a supposedly smart girl, I accepted behaviour from men that I shouldn’t have. There has never been a single horrific incident, but rather countless events I’ve dismissed as ‘nothing much.’ They go back as far as my earliest memories. Even as a toddler, I used to...

What Writers Can Learn from a Cake Mix

In the 1950s, General Mills launched cake mix under the Betty Crocker brand. Everything was in powdered form. It was aimed at the busy housewife – all she had to do was add water and bake. But surprisingly, the cake mix didn’t sell. A team of psychologists was brought...

Writing Is Also About Erasing (On Editors)

Before I became a published author, I didn’t like editors. I couldn’t bear the thought of them, with their red pens and their pursed lips, their eyes like crabs across the page, just looking to pinch at my text with their editorial pincers. I used to be terrified of...

Allow Me to Disappoint You

You wouldn't believe what an excellent track record I have in not disappointing people.I like to think it’s because I try hard to be a half-decent person. But what if it’s the consequence of pathology? A damaged neurological wiring that causes me to default into doing...

Meeting Dylan

To begin at the beginning. No – let’s go back, back to before then. It is an apricot day in the big whirly world, spring-sprung and parchment-pink. Dylan fills the doorway of his china-tiny writing room, buffalo-tired, refusing to budge to the write or the left,...