Today please welcome my guest, Jerry Waxler, author of Memoir Revolution and several other books. Jerry shares with us the relationship between counseling and memoir writing. Jerry, thank you for being here today and helping lift the fog on the question posed. And thank you to WOW! Women on Writing for hosting Jerry’s blog tour.
This is a terrific question, because it relates directly to the reason I wrote Memoir Revolution. I think that memoir writing is one of the most exciting developments in psychology in the last 100 years. And, unlike other systems, it wasn’t invented by a genius or by a team of researchers. Instead, the use of memoir writing as a form of healing was developed by a groundswell of individuals intent on finding the stories of their lives. Here’s how I came to this understanding.
When I had outgrown childhood and realized I was going to need to become an adult, in addition to all the usual challenges of picking a career and finding a relationship, I had many emotional problems. I was depressed, confused about how to relate to people, what I really wanted to do and so on.
After I settled into steady employment, I started on a long-term commitment to talk therapy. These weekly discussions helped me put in words the things that had been bothering me. Ten years into this process, I switched to a different therapist and I had to introduce myself all over again. Naturally, I attempted to reconstruct the bits and pieces I had been explaining for years. After the second or third session, my new therapist said, “Have you ever put all that on a timeline?” I couldn’t grasp what she was saying. Not only had I never put the events of my life on a timeline. This was the first time the notion even occurred to me.
“How would that work?” I asked.
She grabbed a piece of paper and drew a horizontal line. Underneath the line she listed a sequence of years, and said “write a few sentences about each major event and place your descriptions along this line.” The method was so simple. Why had I never thought of it?
So I went home and listed key bits of information, such as the year I went to college, the year I was in a riot, the year I moved to California to become a hippie. On paper, the sequence shifted from a collection of confusing memories to the skeleton of an interesting story. For the first time, I considered the possibility that with a little more work, I could turn that whole mess of memories into a sensible sequence.
Eventually, I went to graduate school and earned a Master’s degree in counseling psychology. By fifty-two, I was the one who sat and listened to clients, providing for them the same survival tool that my therapists had provided me. However, based on my experience, I wished I could find a way to help them collect the whole journey into a continuous narrative. With a chronological understanding, perhaps they would be able to feel more whole, just as I had done. But my education as a psychotherapist did not include such a method, and I had not yet come across the world of memoirs, so I forged ahead with hourly sessions.
Around that time, to increase my writing ability, I joined a writing group near my home in Bucks County Pennsylvania where aspiring writers could drop in anytime to talk with other writers, or to take classes. The reputation of the group grew, and people drove 50 and 100 miles to participate. This group experience introduced me to the fact that writing does not need to be isolated. When writers come together, magic happens. I realized that if I could teach writing workshops, I would be able to be around writers a lot more.
From this experience, I began to develop self-help workshops for writers. My notes for those workshops evolved over a period of years to the book I now call How to Become a Heroic Writer. To help writers become more courageous, I developed a technique I called “story of self” in which I explore ways to see yourself as a writer. I began to tap into this notion of “story of self” as a self-help tool, and realized the connection between the story we tell ourselves, and the way we see each other.
From the first time I took a memoir class, I was hooked on the potential for memoir writing as a way of healing. I recognized in memoirs that everything I had learned through my years of self-help, the wisdom I had gained through my own journey, even the experiences of spirituality and love, could be contained in a holistic story of myself.
By studying other people’s memoirs, teaching memoir writers, and continuing to develop my own story-of-self, I have come to appreciate the power of memoirs to provide a simple method for anyone to develop a keener, clearer understanding of their life experience, draw lessons, heal wounds, and eventually through effort, craft, and polish, share themselves with readers.
Meet Jerry Waxler:
JERRY WAXLER teaches memoir writing at Northampton Community College, Bethlehem, PA, online, and around the country. His Memory Writers Network blog offers hundreds of essays, reviews, and interviews about reading and writing memoirs. He is on the board of the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference and National Association of Memoir Writers and holds a BA in Physics and an MS in Counseling Psychology.
You can read more about Jerry Waxler here . . .
Connect with Jerry here:
About the Book:
Memoir Revolution is Jerry Waxler’s beautifully written story as he integrates it with his deep and abiding knowledge and passion for story. In the 1960s, Jerry Waxler, along with millions of his peers, attempted to find truth by rebelling against everything. After a lifetime of learning about himself and the world, he now finds himself in the middle of another social revolution. In the twenty-first century, increasing numbers of us are searching for truth by finding our stories. In Memoir Revolution, Waxler shows how memoirs link us to the ancient, pervasive system of thought called The Story. By translating our lives into this form, we reveal the meaning and purpose that eludes us when we view ourselves through the lens of memory. And when we share these stories, we create mutual understanding, as well. By exploring the cultural roots of this literary trend, based on an extensive list of memoirs and other book, Waxler makes the Memoir Revolution seem like an inevitable answer to questions about our psychological, social and spiritual well-being.
Paperback: 190 Pages
Publisher: Neuralcoach Press; 1 edition (April 9, 2013)
Available at Amazon.
AND NOW FOR THE BOOK GIVEAWAY:
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Oh, the power of words “Have you ever put all that on a timeline?” Jerry, it’s interesting to see how a prompt from a wise therapist from long ago helped chart the course of your entire life. Why have I never thought of that? Yes, indeed – I can relate to that question.
Thank you, Sherrey, for posting this, and Jerry, for the inspiration and encouragement.
Marian, when I think of these words of Jerry’s, I think of my own life and wish I had begun keeping my timeline long ago. And until I read Memoir Revolution, I’d never thought of it either! Good to have you join us!
As a journal keeper I knew writing was helpful, but it wasn’t until I sat down and started writing my memoir that I discovered its healing power. thanks Jerry for your wise words and Sherrey for hosting him.
Joan, thank you for dropping by and sharing your own experience. Your point about memoir writing’s healing power is my experience as well. In fact, I state something similar in my ebook.
Thanks Sherrey for hosting me on my tour. Thanks Marian for noting the power of simple, wise statements to provide fresh energy and direction. Thanks Joan for sharing your own healing experience. Best wishes, Jerry
Jerry, it is indeed my pleasure to have you here. I enjoyed not only reading your words but having the opportunity to share them with my followers.
I am currently publishing my own self-help/memoir and telling my story! I so enjoyed reading Jerry’s interview. Seemed like validation at its best!
Pamela, so glad you enjoyed Jerry’s post. Good luck with your memoir!
I’ve read about brain research and how writing helps connect the two sides of our brain and create narrative coherence to our lives/ our stories which can be healing especially around painful implicit childhood memories….so this is great what Jerry is teaching…Thank you, Sherrey, for introducing us to his book.
Dolly, thanks for the tidbit about the two sides of our brains. Glad you enjoyed Jerry’s post. It’s always good to see you here.
Jerry, you have earned the right to help other writers, both with your own therapy, your experience as a therapist yourself, and now with your amazing blog and book. You are a one-man memoir band! Congrats. Sherrey, thanks for sharing Jerry’s post. It will benefit many.
Hello, Shirley! Jerry is definitely a “one-main memoir band.” Thank you for your continuing encouragement of those involved in memoir writing. Glad you feel we have made a step in the direction of benefiting others.
Thanks Sherrey and Jerry for sharing your inspiration on memoir writing. I have listened to Jerry speak on a webinar with Linda Joy Meyers, very inspiring. Great interview! And nice to see you back Sherrey. 🙂
So glad you enjoyed Jerry’s post. He is indeed inspiring. Thanks for the welcome back.
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