“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.” ~Norbet Platt
It wasn’t until my mother passed away in 1996 that I thought of all the questions I wanted to ask her – questions about my childhood, her childhood, her relationship with her mother and father, what it was like being a teenager in her time. I also wanted to hear about the major turning points that changed the course of her life and what people or events led up to those changes. Of course by the time these questions arose, it was too late.
I decided I didn’t want my sons, Robb and Scott, to face that same dilemma. So a few years ago I started writing my memoirs – not so much for publication, but for them. With the lessons I learned in writing about my life and from listening to others’ life changing stories, I’ve become keenly aware of how writing about the past from the present allows us to witness past circumstances from a broader perspective with more compassion for ourselves and those closest to us.
It’s easier to harshly judge our own or another’s behavior when the emotional charge is high than when we’re less attached to the outcome. When we can look back and view our lives more objectively, we begin to see the perfection of every event and how each one has its place in shaping our lives. We begin to forgive the behavior of others and ourselves and embrace our human failings.
One of my biggest “ahas” along these lines took place when I started writing to my sons about their father’s and my choice to get a divorce. Their father had an affair when they were three and six and I decided to end the marriage. In writing about the events leading up to the separation, I wrote in detail about his betrayal with a woman he met through worked. At the time he was 30 and I was 26.
Writing from a neutral place of simply reporting the facts as I remembered them, I realized that had the table been turned — if he had stayed home taking care of the kids and I worked, involved with the men and women of the free love era, who knows what I would have done. My temptations were bridled as a stay-at-home mom.
Writing about the event, I saw how his actions had very little to do with me or against me. They had more to do with his giving way to opportunities presented. I let go of any hard feelings long ago. But somehow writing about the incident from a more objective perspective without the old charge of right and wrong gave me an “aha” moment and cleared any judgment I still harbored, even if unconsciously. I really understood at a gut level how before we betray or harm anyone else, we first do it to ourselves. The writing made this very clear.
Letting go of opinionated conclusions is very freeing. I’ve seen students and clients have similar epiphanies about abuse, anger, betrayal and loss. It’s harder to be a victim when the light shines equally on all parts of the equation. Time gives us the buffer – writing helps us change the moral of our life stories. Together they have an enormously positive affect on our lives.
If you want to start writing but don’t know where to start, consider this . . .
1. Write a list of the crucial events that have shaped your life – or the crucial events that shaped a particular time period of your life and leave space between each event.
2. Under each heading, list the important circumstances people, places, dates, etc. that are pertinent.
3. Pick one and start writing about the event. Write not for accuracy, but write with out stopping for at least 10 – 15 minutes before thinking about what you’ve written. This will help you override the voice that tells you you’ve got it all wrong or can’t write. You can always go back and edit it later on.
4. Most of all have fun. Once you get involved and want to go further, there are a trillion books on “How to write your Memoirs.”
I recently sent one of my memoir writing vignettes to my eldest son, Robb. It was a piece about a life changing experience I had in my 30s. He not only loved knowing who I was then – he had been 14 at the time and as he put it, “back then I didn’t even know you had a life other than working and being my mother.” Since he was now about the same age I had been in the story, he enjoyed learning what I’d been like at that stage of my life. He encouraged me to keep writing and not wait till I die to give him the rest.
Writing doesn’t come easy for everyone but everyone can write. For those who want to make sense of their past, who want to remember their life experiences while they still can or give their children or siblings an unforgettable gift, writing about your life can be extremely rewarding.
Published by the Maui Weekly Newspaper