Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

Is Memoir Writing Always a Healing Agent? — April 11, 2014

Is Memoir Writing Always a Healing Agent?

Earlier this week after reading a post on Marion Roach’s blog by Jill Smolowe, author of Four Funerals and a Wedding , I felt I may have held my theory on the healing benefit of writing memoir a bit too tightly. So tightly in fact that I took a step back and re-read Smolowe’s post, Finding the Message in Memoir.

The result of that re-reading and analysis on my part is this post. Granted there are more than two views on the healing benefit of writing memoir, but here I share only two with you, mine and Jill Smolowe’s.

In her post, which I strongly encourage you to read, Smolowe points to a question that comes to many of us who write memoir, “Did you find writing the book cathartic?” There are multiple answers to this question depending upon whom is answering. For Smolowe, who obviously gave much thought to the inquiry, it was a matter of defining her message and it’s value for her readers:

But before I can make the commitment to breaching my own privacy and spending considerable time revisiting a painful chapter in my life, I need clarity on two points: What is the lens through which I will tell my story? What is my message, the bit of hard-earned wisdom that I aim to share? For me, finding the answers to those questions requires detachment and emotional distance from the events.

Smolowe continues in the next paragraph:

As a result, I do not find the writing of a memoir cathartic. Nor do I approach the task with a hope or expectation that the process will heal me. Instead, what propels me is my belief that there is a book missing from the shelves—one that would have been helpful to me in my time of turmoil, one that I hope may now be of use to others.

For Smolowe, detaching from the painful events is accomplished through journalling:

That’s not to say that writing can’t be therapeutic. When I want to alleviate tension, stress or upset, I regurgitate my experiences into a journal. Raw and unfiltered, these entries provide an outlet to vent. Sometimes that act of writing helps to calm my roiling emotions. Sometimes the writing even serves, yes, a cathartic function. 

For me, the work of memoir writing is selecting, culling, honing, shaping, rewriting. Rewriting. Ruthlessly chopping. Rewriting once more. The driver is my intellect, not my emotions. Catharsis? For that, my journal will have to suffice.

Before I continue, I want to underscore my respect for Smolowe’s choice in her handling of this particular theme. Her decision to write without baring her emotions will likely be more helpful to her readers. 

* * *

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

And this is where our paths diverge. Where Smolowe and I differ is in the relevant theme behind our writing.

Smolowe is dealing with unbelievable loss in her life and the emotions following them. Her writing is predicated on the hope of helping others cope under similar circumstances, but she is careful and, rightly so, not to characterize her writing with the emotional weight of her own losses. I applaud Smolowe for this consideration. And I understand and respect the detachment in her writing.

On the other hand, I am writing my memoir around a theme of a different type of loss–the loss of my inner child’s voice during childhood abuses. In order to voice the still raw pain and confusion from childhood abuses handed out by my mother until I moved across the country in 1983, I began to feel a tremendous sense of freedom as I worked at my writing.

While drafting my memoir, I am at last allowed to have a voice and say what my young heart and mind experienced some six decades ago. Had I spoken at the time of these abuses, punishments would have been harsher and the imprint would have left deeper scars. I remained quiet and still, never fighting back.

Now, as I write, including letters to my mother after her death in 2001, I experience unimaginable release from some of those scars and pains. It has been extremely cathartic for me to feel the unbinding of emotions as the words flow.


The most important takeaway from this post, I hope, is that you are the master of your memoir writing journey. In the event that I have left the impression that writing a memoir is always healing, I want to clear the air: The healing benefit that some find in writing memoir is not necessarily the same for all. As mentioned above, it is dependent on your chosen theme.

Bottom line: Each life story is different because each life is lived differently. Each life is lived in a different environment, a different place, a different time, with different experiences.

You know the reason behind your writing. Write your truth. Write the story that you know.

Living with Fear | Guest Post on An Untold Story with Sue Mitchell — November 9, 2013

Living with Fear | Guest Post on An Untold Story with Sue Mitchell

I am honored to be with Sue Mitchell at An Untold Story sharing a portion of my story. I do hope you’ll follow me over to Sue’s blog to read the rest.Note: As Sue and I discussed this guest post and using an excerpt from my work-in-progress, I expressed thoughts about a memoir I had just read. In that life story, the writer’s experiences somewhat paralleled my own. The author’s words opened up new avenues of thought and reflection I’d never expected to experience. I’m writing my story hoping to touch others so that they too may begin to think, reflect and heal.

Living with Fear

Young children scare easily—a tough tone, a sharp reprimand, an exasperated glance,
a peeved scowl will do it. Little signs of rejection— you don’t have to
hit young children to hurt them—cut very deeply.
~ James L. Hymes, Jr.

For a child, living in fear has to be one of the worst emotional states to find in one’s environment. Living isn’t living when it’s done in fear of something or someone. And that’s how life was in my childhood home.

Fear was an everyday occurrence. Not the fear of physical harm. Instead, the fear of words, another’s emotions gone wild, punishment, the unexpected. A child is supposed to be happy, carefree. This is impossible under a cloud of fear. Like waiting for the thunder to roll, the clouds to burst open, then drenching, chilling rain falling on you.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “fear” as:

a:  an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger

b (1):  an instance of this emotion (2):  a state marked by this emotion.

Imagine living with these feelings day in, day out. Never knowing what to expect. Always on guard for that moment when tensions rise, tempers flare and you become the focus of anger and temperament.

~~~~

July 3, 2012

Dear Mama,

Brad, almost age 3
Brad, almost age 3

I wonder if you remember anything special about cherry Jell-O.  Probably you remember making it quite often.  After all, it was Brad’s favorite!

BUT do you remember an afternoon when the worst thing that could have happened to a mother happened to you?

Lovingly, I’m sure, you had prepared another of those “humongous” pans of cherry Jell-O.  And you had carefully placed it in the refrigerator to do that gelling thing it was so clever at doing.

I don’t remember where you had gone after that, but little eyes were watching and big ears were listening.  As soon as they had perceived you were nowhere near the kitchen, Brad went to work.

Despite the fact that he was just passed three years old, he had somehow managed to learn how to reach up far enough to open the refrigerator door.  His eyes spied that pan of Jell-O, and Brad was going to have some.  And onto the floor it went!

As always, the minute you heard a crashing sound you were right there to see what one of us had done.  And there it was — red Jell-O all over your kitchen floor!

Read more here . . .

Mourning the Past — A Future Blossoms | A Guest Post by Susan Weidener — October 22, 2013

Mourning the Past — A Future Blossoms | A Guest Post by Susan Weidener

Today I welcome Susan Weidener, memoir writer and author of Again in a Heartbeat and Morning at Wellington Square. Susan has graciously agreed to share her thoughts on coping with grief and the healing benefits of writing.

Please join me in welcoming Susan to Healing by Writing.

Susan at Longwood

Mourning the Past – A Future Blossoms

By Susan G. Weidener

When Sherrey asked if I would write about my coping skills during the difficult days, months and years after my husband John Cavalieri died – and the benefits derived from writing my story, I admit it felt a bit personal to go down that road again.  But that’s what we memoir writers do – we bare our souls, opening a window into our most private thoughts, desires, and dreams, fears and frailties.

When a woman suddenly becomes head of household like I did, she faces an uphill climb.  I had two sons ages 7 and 11 to raise, a fulltime high-pressure job and a mortgage.  My father, Andrew Weidener, died seven months after my husband.  Dad, like John, had been a guiding light in my life, which up until the time John was diagnosed with terminal cancer, had been fairly smooth and uneventful.  My father’s death rippled out into the larger currents and I began feeling like the survivor of a ship wreck. My mother, who had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders in her mid-40s, could not cope on her own as a widow and needed round-the-clock care.   I became her caretaker, finding the best assisted living facility for her needs, being hands on with the nursing staff, making decisions with her doctors about her treatment for dementia and Parkinson’s, and managing her finances, albeit with the help of a wonderful investment advisor.

I truly believe it is the memory of those we loved – and who loved us – that keeps us moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.  As I wrote in Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again, memories of John and my father helped me realize that the confidence to manage life on my own was due in large part to their belief in me as a woman.

***

I don’t know what propelled me to write about John and our marriage and his illness. I just began one morning at a summer writing retreat in Kentucky.  It must have been a form of therapy, as much as creative expression, because I found it immensely satisfying to begin the task each morning of taking significant events and turning them into narrative form. The year before I had left behind my career at the newspaper and it had been 13 years since John’s death.  The timing was right, which is so important to any writer hoping to find a compelling story.  Your heart has to be invested in your story.

I was really working my way through grief, one painful step at a time . . .  John holding me in his arms, John cradling our new baby, our son crying at his father’s hospital bedside, my own desperate attempts to quickly patch up our broken family by finding someone to love me again.

Writing as a way to heal?  I hadn’t even heard of that or realized I was doing it until I got halfway through my memoir.  Then a friend suggested I read Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing and that was the first time I heard the expression. Her book opened me up to all the possibilities inherent in memoir.

The benefits derived from writing my story were many:

  • It was a way to come to terms with why I hadn’t been a better wife to John at the end of his life.  So a huge benefit of writing is self-discovery.
  • As a friend told me when she read my story – “you were not just mourning John, but mourning your lost dreams, your youth.”   That acknowledgment allowed me to forgive myself.
  • In the months after John’s death, I journaled my thoughts in a small reporter’s notebook.  The notes proved invaluable later when I went back to reconstructing that time for my memoir as they provided a raw look into a wounded heart.
  • Writing is living twice.  It takes us back to those times, to that person and in some ways – and I mean this seriously, it is a form of entertainment.  Writing allowed me an escape from the reality of the moment.  I could go back to a happier time, one filled with joy and expectation as I wrote of the days when I met and fell in love with my husband.
  • I was a journalist at the time of my husband’s death, so writing was something I did on a daily basis and loved to do.  I needed to continue writing after I left the newspaper. By writing a book, I could continue to develop and hone my skills and passion as a writer.
  • Through the testimony that is memoir, we are opened to sharing, making new connections and giving others the courage to write their stories. I certainly found this to be true.
  • By creating a writing group, which became the Women’s Writing Circle, I found the support and validation that writing my story mattered.  This encouraged others to write their own stories and led to new opportunities; editing, become a writing coach and offering writing workshops and retreats.  By mourning the past, a future had blossomed.

* * *

Thank you, Susan, for your willingness to step back once more to a time so painful and share with us what you found yourself capable of doing in order to heal and live again.

Author Bio:

An author, editor and former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan leads writing workshops and started the Women’s Writing Circle, www.susanweidener.com a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia. Susan is the author of two memoirs, Again in a Heartbeat, which is about being widowed at a young age, and its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square, a woman’s search for passion and renewal in middle age. Susan is interested in how women can find their voice through writing and storytelling.  Her most recent work appears in an anthology of stories about women’s changing and challenging roles in society called Slants of Light.  Susan lives in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

* * *

Join with us below to discuss how writing has benefitted
you personally, or ask a question 
about writing, or let
Susan know how her post has helped you
today.

An Adoptee’s Story | Interview with Linda Hoye, Author of Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude — Plus Book Giveaway — October 1, 2013

An Adoptee’s Story | Interview with Linda Hoye, Author of Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude — Plus Book Giveaway

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage—to knowwho we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge,
there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life,
there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.”
~ Alex Haley

Author Linda Hoye shares these words at the beginning of her memoir, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude. I met Linda through her blog, Slice of Life Writing, and social media. I am pleased today to welcome her here to share some insights with you about life as an adoptee and a writer.

Welcome, Linda!

SM: Linda, in your memoir, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude, you write often about experiencing a sense of secrecy surrounding the fact that you were adopted. You also speak to the unconditional love and support you felt from your adoptive parents. How do you explain these seemingly contradictory behaviors on the part of your adoptive parents?

LH: When one considers the times, and the advice given by the experts of the day, these don’t seem like contradictory behaviours at all. Never, for one second, did I doubt the love my adoptive parents had for me or believe that they wanted anything but the best for my sister and me.

In the 1950s when I was adopted, people believed that babies who were adopted were “blank slates”, that they could be integrated seamlessly into an adoptive family, and that it was possible, even preferable, to negate the infant’s family of origin completely.

My parents, as did many if not most, adoptive parents of the day believed they were doing the best for me when they unconsciously sent me the message that where I came from, who I was, held no significance to my new life as an adoptee.

SM: When did you first feel the stirrings of a desire, and perhaps a need, to find your birth mother?

LH: I don’t think there was a time when I first felt the need because I think it was always there. Even though I knew it wasn’t okay to talk about my longing for the woman who gave birth to me, I always wondered about who she was and why she gave me away. I even made up stories.

I remember telling school friends that I had a vague recollection of a woman with brownish hair like Marlo Thomas on That Girl and that my birth parents had been killed in a car accident. None of that was true of course, but even as a young child I needed something to hold on to that connected me to my family of origin even if it was just a fantasy.

SM: Did you always dream of being a writer, or was there a specific element of growing up as an adopted child that sparked the decision to write your memoir?

LH: Oh, I always wanted to be a writer! Life, kids, work, and all manner of things got in the way of that though! I’m delighted that, at this stage of my life, I’ve finally found my way back to my passion of writing.

SM: During the time you were writing Two Hearts, you were leading a very busy life as wife, mother, full-time professional, blogger, not to mention your fascination with your grandchildren. How did you manage to balance all these commitments and write a book at the sametime?

LH: With great difficulty at times! It took over four years for me to write Two Hearts and during that time I learned to carve out specific time to write. I was blessed to have a flexible work schedule that allowed me to use every second Friday as a dedicated writing day. With my husband’s blessing, I’d often work for a few hours on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon too.

The other thing that I realized early on was that it wasn’t possible for me to do everything that I wanted to do and that I needed to set some things aside for a season. I used to be a quilter and I made a deliberate choice to pack my fabric and sewing machine away so I could focus on writing.

In the past year or so since Two Hearts came out I’ve been delighted to have more time to devote to simple things like gardening and canning, my husband and I have taken up a shared hobby of photography, and I’ll be pulling out my sewing machine after I retire from corporate life in a few months!

SM: Once you finished your memoir, you chose to go the self-published route. What advice do you have for others who are considering self-publishing? What was the most difficult component you faced?

LH: I love that we, as writers, have so many options for getting our work into the hands of readers today. Publishing under my own imprint, Benson Books, was the right decision for me. I was able to retain complete control over all aspects of my book from cover and interior design, to distribution channels and schedule. I had a great team behind me but the final decision on everything was mine. I put so much of myself into writing my story and seeing it take shape as an actual book the way I envisioned it was extremely fulfilling.

The most challenging part of doing it myself was, and continues to be, marketing. This is not an area of strength for me—I’d rather be sitting at the keyboard in my “woman cave” writing. Anyone considering publishing their own book has to realize that writing and creating the book is just the beginning. You have to decide how much time, effort, and even money, you’re willing to invest in the marketing aspect post-publication.

SM: You are a strong proponent of open adoption. In fact, in one of your blog posts, I recall that you shared that it was only after you had your own children, a son and daughter, that you experienced the emotion of meeting people who were biologically related to you. Would you speak to how that felt and share with us what you would say to adoptive parents about the importance of biological relationships within an adoptive family?

LH: For a good part of my life I felt disconnected, without an anchor, stemming, I believe, from not having had what adoption expert Nancy Verrier refers to as “mirroring” by people biologically related to me. I describe it as feeling like I was an astronaut floating weightless in the blackness of space outside the safety of a spaceship.

Having children gave me an anchor to a human being other than myself. Having the experience of meeting family members—an aunt, sisters, brothers,—gave me an anchor to the past, roots if you will.

At the beginning of Two Hearts I quoted Alex Haley who said that “In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage—to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.”

I know of no adoptive parents who would wish for their children to experience this loneliness and emptiness Haley speaks about, and that I experienced. Adopted children will grieve the absence of their biological family in their life—there is no doubt. It is of vital importance to honour that lost connection and, in doing so, acknowledge the unique individual the child was born to be.

SM: You have written posts on “Adoptive Voices Magazine,” and in one, “No Angry Adoptee Here,” you talked about experiencing anger over being adopted and yet you have found your way to the other side. Can you expand on this anger you experienced? And perhaps share with us how you managed to move to the other side of that anger?

LH: This was a controversial post and in retrospect I think I could have expressed what I was trying to say in a way that would have been less offensive. That said, I strongly believe we all have the opportunity to make choices about how we respond to circumstances. I am a proponent of seeking to understand, speaking respectfully in terms of my adoption experience, and giving place for the perspective of those whose path has been different from my own.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned on this journey is that the only way out of pain is to go through it. One must allow oneself to deeply feel those uncomfortable emotions like anger and grief in order to heal from them. I spent too many years stuffing them down and trying to ignore them before I found myself at a place where I was no longer to continue to do so. It was only when I was broken, utterly bereft, that I ultimately found my way through the grief to a place of gratitude.

SM: You are drawing closer each day to retirement. Do your plans include writing another book? If so, will it be another memoir or something else?

LH: Yes, I have plans for another book—fiction this time—and I can’t wait to have more time to devote to this new project when I retire in a few months!

SM: Lastly, do you have any wisdom or advice to share with others who are writing memoir or considering writing down life stories?

LH: I encourage and everyone to write the stories of their life. We learn so much about ourselves, and others, when we re-examine our experiences and take the time to express them with the written word. Writing our truth is a powerful way to find one’s way to a place of healing or gratitude.

We don’t all have to write a full-length book. Snippets written about significant experiences in our lives, or even stories about an ordinary day are worth writing down and sharing—in fact that’s the premise behind Story Circle Network’s One Woman’s Day blog that my daughter and I co-coordinate. These stories are treasures for those who walk this road along with us and those who will follow behind us. We can all learn something from the experiences of another.

Finally, I want to thank you, Sherrey, for this opportunity to share with your readers and to wish you the best on our own writing journey.

Thank you, Linda, for sharing a most intimate look at the life of an adopted child and growing through that experience to the successful woman and writer you are today.

Author Bio | Contact Information:

Linda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and somewhat-fanatical grandma whose work has appeared in an assortment of publications in Canada and the US.

When she was in her early twenties she found herself parentless for the second time and a pattern of loss was put into motion that would continue for years as one-by-one those she called “family” were torn from her life.

The birth of her granddaughter was the catalyst to put her on a journey toward understanding and reconciling the complete truth about her life, her heritage, and her healing.

Many years ago someone advised her that she could allow circumstances to make her bitter or better. She has chosen a path of releasing bitterness and tries to live a life focused on gratitude for all she has gone through and is thankful for the experiences that helped shape her into the woman she is today.

She currently lives in the state of Washington with her husband and their two Yorkshire Terriers.

Linda’s blog, A Slice of Life Writing, can be found at http://lindahoye.com. You can also connect with Linda on Twitter @lindahoye and on Facebook at Linda Hoye.

Book Giveaway:

Linda will give away a copy of her book, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude, to one lucky commenter. If you would like to enter for a chance to win, simply leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

If you are reading this anywhere other than my blog, such as on Facebook, in an email, or on Goodreads, please hop on over to my blog, Healing by Writing. Only comments left on my blog will be entered into the giveaway.

The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, October 8, 2013, at noon. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and will be contacted privately via email as well as an announcement in a blog post here next week.

Join the discussion — are you adopted or adopting,
do you have questions for Linda,
or a story to share about adoption or
any aspect of your life story.

Hope and Fear: Inseparable Emotions — September 9, 2013

Hope and Fear: Inseparable Emotions

Today I am visiting with Susan Weidener at her blog, Women’s Writing Circle. I do hope you will join us for a discussion of hope and fear and what makes them inseparable as emotions. Come on over!

“Hope and fear are inseparable. There is no hope
without fear, nor any fear without hope.”
~ François de La Rochefoucauld
(French memoirist, 1613-1680)

Hope and fear are as inseparable as dormancy and life in the plant kingdom.
Hope and fear are as inseparable as dormancy and life in the plant kingdom.

What strange companions these two emotions are. Hope presents all we see as positive, and fear just the opposite showing all we believe negative. And yet, they are inseparable.

As a child growing up, I knew fear. My mother disciplined using fear in the form of verbal and emotional abuses. One of my greatest anxieties arose from the thought I might displease her. I knew too well the result of her displeasure. Because I hoped to please her, I never gave up trying despite fearing the reward for possibly failing.

An excerpt from my memoir in progress provides an example: (You can read more here . . . )

* * *

Wednesday, 9/11, I am guest posting at Madeline Sharples’ blog, Choices. I hope you’ll come and visit me there as I write on the topic, “Too Old to Write? Proof the Answer is No!”

The Invisible Storm by Juanima Hiatt — February 18, 2013

The Invisible Storm by Juanima Hiatt

invisible stormWith raw emotion, painful honesty, and a deep desire to help others, Juanima Hiatt has written her story of struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in The Invisible Storm.

Likely we have all heard the acronym PTSD, and most often it has been with the stories of returning members of the military service branches who have been deployed to Iraq, Pakistan orAfghanistan in recent years.

Juanima’s story is not so different from those returning from war with PTSD, except that Juanima has never served in the military.  Her symptoms may be the same, her battle for recovery similar, and her frustration with the health care available to her often equal.  But Juanima is the mother of two young daughters and is married to the love of her life at the time of her diagnosis.  Why would she have PTSD?

Consider the word “traumatic” in the full description of the disorder.  Juanima was the victim of excessive trauma as a child and adolescent and even into young adult life.  Successful at finally reaching that place where she could push down everything that hurt her into a dark vacuous hole, Juanima managed to make her way through life, becoming a happily married woman and mother, until one fateful day.

On reading the first chapter of The Invisible Storm, I was shaken to my core.  Here Juanima details the birth of her second daughter, an experience unlike any other I had ever heard described.  The level of her pain is immense, the empathy of her care providers is lacking, with one admitting to making a mistake in administering the epidural block she requested.  What happens next is unthinkable, almost an out-of-body experience for Juanima.  This quote best describes Juanima’s feelings during this horrific time:

“It was a mirror image of the past. Helplessness… hopelessness… pain… shame… unheard cries of desperation, and it awakened a dark, horrifying life of long ago that I could no longer deny.”

The birth of this second child and its intrinsic trauma triggers the onset of PTSD and Juanima’s long hidden and protected history of abuse and scars begins to boil up to taunt her.  That she survives this ordeal is testament to her faith, her incredible strength and her determination to regain her life as she once lived it.

Juanima’s courage and bravery in sharing this most difficult story is, in her own words, a part of her healing process.  Hers has not been an easy road to travel, but supported by her loving husband and faithful friends Juanima has made great progress toward living a life she can be proud to share with her daughters and others.

Juanima’s story is graphic in places and heartbreaking in too many places.  Yet it is a book to be read by anyone who lives with or knows someone struggling with PTSD.  Juanima takes you inside . . . inside the victim’s mind, inside the healthcare system, inside therapy sessions.  Her story can help you help someone else.