Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

How Does Counseling Relate to Memoir Writing? | Guest Post by Jerry Waxler with Book Giveaway — November 12, 2014

How Does Counseling Relate to Memoir Writing? | Guest Post by Jerry Waxler with Book Giveaway

Jerry WaxlerToday please welcome my guest, Jerry Waxler, author of Memoir Revolution and several other booksJerry 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.

Welcome, Jerry!

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
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Neuralcoach Press; 1 edition (April 9, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0977189538

Available at Amazon.



p style=”text-align: center;”>a Rafflecopter giveaway

On Being a Mom with Bipolar, a Mental Health Disorder | Guest Post by Tara Meissner with Book Giveaway — October 3, 2014

On Being a Mom with Bipolar, a Mental Health Disorder | Guest Post by Tara Meissner with Book Giveaway

CONGRATULATIONS to DOLORES NICE-SIEGENTHALER who is the winner of a copy of Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis by Tara Meissner.

Author of Stress Fracture, Tara Meissner
Author of Stress Fracture, Tara Meissner

Today please welcome my guest, Tara Meissner, author of Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. Tara shares with us a view of her life as a mom with bipolar disorder and three sons. Tara, thank you for being here today and sharing so openly. And thank you to WOW! Women on Writing for hosting Tara’s blog tour.

Welcome, Tara!

I have bipolar disorder and I have three sons. The boys are wonderful, academically successful, involved in sports and other activities, and generally happy. They are also kids who argue about brushing their teeth, leave dirty clothes on the floor, and get ear infections and sore throats. Basically, we are normal.

However, my pedestrian life was far more chaotic before I was properly treated for bipolar disorder. Throughout early adulthood, I would have bouts of depression. In early 2010, when the boys were 2, 4, and 11, I was hospitalized in the intensive care unit of a psychiatric hospital. I had suffered a psychotic break. This condition is commonly referred to as a nervous breakdown. However, that doesn’t begin to describe the horror.

The recovery took a year. I gradually regained the ability to be alone, to be alone with my children, to drive at low speeds, then to drive at high speeds, and finally to return to work. It was grim. I was an invalid. I was dependant on my husband who took a family medical leave to become my caregiver.

There are few memories of my children’s lives during that year. I know the oldest pitched for his baseball team in the summer and tried basketball in the winter. I know the middle one was in a children’s theater production, and I believe the youngest finally learned how to talk. I was in a fog for at least three months, and selfishly focused on my health for nearly an entire year.

Fast forward to today, and I have very infrequent break-through symptoms. I have good days and bad, but they are logical and related to what is happening. Prior to treatment, I could be sad or mad for no reason or happy or excited with no tangible connection to reality.

I decided to publish my memoir, “Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis,” to help people understand how psychosis affects a person and her family. It is a story about my journey to mental wellness by accepting bipolar disorder. Publishing was a decision I considered fully. I was tempted to remain among the silent. I remain worried about how my boys will react when they became old enough to understand what I revealed.

If you met me today at a PTA meeting or a soccer game, I would look just like any other mom. Some days frazzled with rushing, some days calm after a yoga class, or some thing in between. I won’t be wearing mismatched or dirty clothes. I won’t be jumping around or sulking. In short, I won’t look like any stereotypical image of “crazy” you can imagine. Largely because I am not crazy — I have a mental illness that is under good control.

We do the best we can to raise the boys well; we give love freely and spend time generously. The boys have always given me a reason to live and be well. After surviving psychosis, they inspire me to fight for health even more fiercely. They deserve a mom who is healthy, happy, and fully capable of putting their needs in front of my own. For their sake, I remain on the treatment program and hope to never again become temporarily disabled from bipolar disorder.

Meet Tara Meissner:

Tara Meissner is a former journalist and a lifelong creative writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and works part-time at her local library. Tara lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Mike, and their three sons. She writes longhand in composition notebooks. Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is her first book.

Connect with Tara here:

Blog: Goodreads: Facebook: Twitter:

About the Book:

Book cover for Stress Fracture by Tara Meissner
Book cover for Stress Fracture by Tara Meissner

Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosisis a moving and honest psychology memoir about the things that break us and how we heal. It offers a raw view a 33-year-old wife and mother swallowed by psychosis. The psychotic episode includes meeting Jesus Christ, dancing with Ellen DeGeneres, and narrowly escaping eternity in the underworld.

Casually called a nervous breakdown, psychosis is an entrapment outside of self where hallucinations and delusions anchor. Family, doctors, and fellow patients witnessed a nonverbal, confused, distraught shell of a woman. In the security of a psychiatric care center, the week-long psychosis broke and spit out a bipolar patient in the cushioned place of middle class medicine.

Outpatient recovery consumed the better part of a year with psychiatric treatment and spiritual contemplation. Left scarred and damaged, health returned allowing her to tentatively embrace a grace and peace earned through acceptance of bipolar disorder.

Paperback: 224 Pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Tara Meissner (June 23, 2014)
ASIN: B00L8G6C66



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Exploring Ancestral Patterns in Memoir with Guest Lorraine Ash — August 21, 2014

Exploring Ancestral Patterns in Memoir with Guest Lorraine Ash

Today I am pleased to have as my guest, Lorraine Ash, author of Self and Soul: Creating a Meaningful Life. Lorraine is sharing her thoughts on the ancestral patterns we inherit and how they impact our lives. Lorraine, thank you for being here today. And thank you to WOW! Women on Writing for hosting Lorraine’s blog tour.

Our lives start with all kinds of inheritances. From ancestors, we receive genetic qualities, proclivities, aptitudes, beliefs. Maturing means interacting with all our inheritances, whether that involves embracing, rejecting, or modifying them. Odds are, we decide to keep some and not others.

That thought affirms the value of looking back in time to trace how we got to be who we are. In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion evokes her ancestry even as she brings her readers deep into her.

As the grandchild of a geologist I learned early to anticipate the absolute mutability of hills and waterfalls and even islands. When a hill slumps into the ocean I see the order in it. …A hill is a transitional accommodation to stress, and ego may be a similar accommodation.

Following the trajectory of our experiences in regard to even one of our inheritances can provide a focus for a rich memoir in essay or book form. Such close scrutiny also can yield new insights about ourselves, which is no small gift.

A father/daughter story

Here’s an example of how I separated the strands of a thread of paternal family inheritance and wove them into my own life. I am like my late father in fundamental ways: I have a probing mind, an ability to sustain focus, the desire and discipline to explore a subject deeply, and an abiding concern for the well-being of the average person.

For my father, a career in the law was a calling—one he first heard when he was a poor kid on the streets of Jersey City, New Jersey, growing up without the benefit of parents. He had to fight for every piece of dignity, dingy boardinghouse room, and meal he got. When he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he even chose to be a boxer, like his father before him.

My father’s fiery temperament and fighting spirit served him well as he defended clients and argued cases in court. He pushed me toward the law, too, but it was not natural for me to use “our” traits in the same way. I have a more calm temperament and prefer analyzing and integrating information. As a journalist and author, I’m a natural.

I loved my father and intensely value and appreciate the traits I inherited from him. But I knew that love could morph into resentment and self-alienation if I allowed him to hijack my destiny.

Throwing a typewriter

So one day, as a teenager, as I was working in his law office, and he was pressuring me yet again to go to law school, I picked up the typewriter on which I’d been working, and threw it through the glass door of a bookcase.

“You will NOT tell me what I will do with my life!” I said.

That was the only act of physical violence I’ve ever committed. My anger detonated, uncharacteristically, to protect my very core.

“OK,” he said, quietly. “You don’t have to.”

Today, I think of that scene as a key turning point in my life, but it is much better understood in deep family context. My father wanted for me what worked for him. But his ancestors, largely by dint of not living up to their responsibilities, gave him two options: give up and drop out of high school, or fight like hell to rise above his circumstances. His anger toward his family also helped light his inner fire for social justice: he was all about helping others rise up.

By working in his law office as a young adult, I learned from him how to live archetypally—a gift of power. But his archetype was justice. Mine is truth.

When there is no family

Even when there is no family, or its members have scattered, the family still holds power. Indeed when there is no present dynamic, the actions of the ancestors may be all the self-inquiring writer has to work with. In Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed writes about the specter that her absentee father had become in her life.  Deep in the memoir, she breaks his spell over her:

… on that night as I gazed out over the darkening land fifty-some nights out on the PCT, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to be amazed by him anymore.

The family tree, with its intergenerational traumas, gifts, and secrets, holds many fruits for memoirists. Our ancestors, a line of people that inevitably includes heroes and ne’er-do-wells, took the family story as far as they could.

It’s a mistake to focus so intently at their successes and wrongs that we neglect to see how we are continuing the story now. Writing memoir helps us see the past with new eyes and frees us to live into a new day.

Questions: A memoir is driven by some master question that concerns the writer. In Three Weeks with My Brother, Nicholas Sparks asks, essentially, Why am I like this? As the story unfolds, he links his own anxiety and exhaustion to his family story. Ask yourself, Why am I like this?

Lorraine Ash, M.A., is a New Jersey author, award-winning journalist, essayist, book editor, and writing teacher.  Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life, her second book, is available in a variety of formats and online stores, all presented here, . Reach Lorraine at, , or @LorraineVAsh .

* * *

Please come back next Thursday, August 28, 2014 when I review Lorraine’s book, Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life.

To entice you to return, Women on Writing and the author have made a copy of Self and Soul available for a giveaway. Hope to see you then!

Don’t forget that you can find more articles similar to what you read here on the blog when you subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter. Simply click on the image to be directed to the sign-up form.

Mailing List Widget
Mailing List Widget
Verified by ExactMetrics