Down the Rabbit Hole

Have you ever felt like Alice in Wonderland when you approach sensitive topics for your journal or memoir? Or wonder if answering painful questions when interviewed is worth the effort? When I lose sleep over canstockphoto18533206painful issues in my life, I see Alice’s rabbit hole and fear falling down into the labyrinth of memories. Will I risk getting stuck in the quagmire of thoughts unspooling from the dark recesses of my soul? As memories stir I can feel the rough edges and instinctively rear back, startled, backpedaling to safer places in my psyche. The minute of revelation is poised on a pinprick of time, holding some strange power over me as I resist being submerged in a snarled tangle of unresolved issues.

So what good could possibly come from entertaining memories of pain, what good from assigning words to the mess?  You can’t change the past!

Studies have shown there are actually health benefits from writing or talking, such as lowered blood pressure, and increased immune and cardio-vascular function. Some people have even experienced relief of symptoms like asthma or arthritis pain. Emotional health benefits are touted too, like relief from depression or enhanced happiness as memories are put into words. Stress reduction, both emotional and physical is another benefit. 51HV+ckXYdL._AA160_A good book that reiterates these truths is Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise Desalvo if you’re interested in reading more about why and how you should write a journal or memoir!

Writing down your feelings can actually be your ladder out of that rabbit hole. The dangers of being stuck in the quagmire all but vanish as you find words for your story. Tangled cobwebs of thought are freed, thoughts that had been spiraling into themselves wreaking havoc on your soul clarify until they can enjoy the light of day. Seeing your thoughts and feelings on paper can make your experience more real and can lead to a final resolution of issues. May peace reign!

Take charge by writing about an emotional upheaval in your life. Your thoughts will become coherent and you’ll have a story that will enrich your memoir. Or tear those pages up, burn them, and you’ll reap the benefits of calm and peace.

Storytelling, From Journal to Memoir

If you still don’t believe you have a story worth telling, or that your life is too insignificant to merit writing about, or you have a tough inner critic that shoots down your every thought, I challenge you to start by journaling privately. Loosen up your mind and shrug off the feelings of self-consciousness that come from wondering what folks will think of what you write. Be a little wild and just write. Wild? Yes. Tell your stories! All those inhibitions, fears of not being good enough, wondering what so- and-so would think if they read what you write, all those thoughts that cramp your expression will evaporate until you’re left with the distillation of your true thoughts. That can be a little heady, that can make your thoughts free… and yes perhaps a bit wild.

Journal privately and let the words flow. Access your wild side!

If you start with a journal you can write about all the things that happen in your life; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Tease out the feelings that are keeping you up at night. Often reducing nebulous feelings to words helps release their power over you. To paraphrase the title of  a good book on writing by Natalie Goldberg; write down to the bones. Strip down to your raw emotions, express your anger, fear, sorrow, joy, and hope. Rant if you need to. My rants can rage and bounce all over the page and leave me wondering where that came from! Write letters and then destroy them. Sometimes the simple act of writing will help you find out what you really think and help you sift through your life to the story you want to tell, while the chaff of insignificance blows away with the breeze. Thoughts in a jumble? Raw hurt or joy or wonder can be sorted out on paper until you unearth that story that will resonate with your children and grandchildren.

This same principle works with the interviewing process too. Find someone you trust to ask the questions that will loosen your tongue. Or interview someone close to you to find out the untold stories. The private stuff can be sorted out later as an interview is refined to uncover the gem of a story.

Some folks like to start out journaling, then lift material from that secret private place to a memoir that can be read by all. Do you already have journals that you would hate for your kids to find and read? Do you sometimes have an urge to burn them? Sift through them first and salvage the heady stuff, the froth of your life that can add color and illuminate your unique personality. Most likely your life is more interesting than you first thought as the stories all come together, and yes, perhaps, just perhaps, a bit wild! Wild is good. You can always tame your beast later when you uncover stories you can share.

Here’s a hypothetical transformation of feelings from an event to a private journal, then to a memoir with a wider audience:

Experience: You are betrayed by someone you love and trust. Your chest feels tight, your hands are clammy, and your gut roils as you experience the bludgeon weight of a betrayal.

Journal: I feel anger, hurt, sadness, distrust, jealousy and confusion. But the feelings are condensed into one heavy weight, stifling, crushing. Thoughts swirl. Am I loved, can I still love? What is love anyway? Can love exist without trust? I never would have believed it could happen. Today the unthinkable knocked me off kilter, shocked me to my core. _________ said this, revealed betrayal. I responded with _________.  I feel numb, crushed. You get the gist… so many of us have been there for all sorts of reasons. The journal entry sorts through feelings and explains what happened.

Changed to memoir:  This part is tricky and in a later blog I’ll write about how to figure out how much to share when there is the possibility of hurting someone with new knowledge, or heaping insult on injury by exacting your own mini-betrayal by sacrificing someone’s privacy. The beauty and power of a memoir is measured by the illumination of universal truths in experiences that folks can relate to or empathize with, stories that affirm and release our feelings that resonate with people. We discover our lives are not ordinary, but significant in ways we had never thought of!  A well told story can protect the privacy of those concerned while interpreting an event to reveal the common thread of shared humanity. Oh.. you wanted an example from an actual (or hypothetical!) memoir based on the above experience? Tune in later!

Learning curve

Full confessions… I admit that I have been stumbling around FB and WordPress trying to figure out how to get them to jive together. Are they friends yet? I dunno. I wrote an “About” page so folks can know what this blog is all about. I am posting my “About” as a “Post” too. Just because I can.

I started a blog to convey my passion for storytelling. I will share stories I have heard from my clients and friends and hopefully jog the memories of readers. There will be opportunities for readers to post their own stories in the comments section. As stories are shared I hope to tease out the filigree of imagination both in my mind and the minds of readers. Often there is no intent to embellish a story, or stretch the truth, but a storyline can take a different direction as we strive to convey the unique way we experience life.

The telling of one shared event passing through the filters of two distinct people, filters of feelings, personality, maturity, or whether or not they had their morning coffee, can sound like two very different events. We’ve all had the experience of listening to someone else’s version and thinking,

“Were they really there with me? That’s not what I think happened!”

The story is truly in the eye of the beholder. If I share stories from my childhood I hope to engage my family to share their own versions which will often differ subtly or even dramatically from mine. As a story becomes part of a memoir it is important to validate that your memories, and my memories advance the storyline of our own unique lives. My life. Or your life. Human history is made up of stories, perspectives, visions of hope or cynicism, the deflation or exaltation of human egos. If you don’t tell your story, your version of your part in the human drama of history will be lost.