Sometimes when you look at lists of memoirs, it can feel like you’re witnessing the “trauma Olympics.” It’s as if you have to have had a requisite amount of suffering—preferably followed by a happy ending—to write a book worth reading.
It’s true that into each life some rain must fall; and equally true that stories of overcoming adversities have perennial appeal.
However, we also have a lot to learn from stories that foreground the happy moments; stories that provide models for how to seek out and nourish the positive aspects of our lives. This is why my new series of memoir workshops is focused around qualities and emotional states that we all want more of: joy, acceptance, strength, clarity, peace, etc.
Focusing on the positive doesn’t mean we ignore the negative. That’s where the alchemy comes in. In this series, we salute the positive where it appears in our lives, and we work to transmute the negative, through the potent process of purposeful memoir.
Here’s how it works. Say our focus is “seeking joy”—the theme of my upcoming Solstice workshop. In this session, I invite you to look back over your life specifically seeking those moments when you’ve been happiest. With that list in front of you, you can begin to deepen your memories of those happy times, reliving them again through writing.
One of the paradoxes of purposeful memoir is that we look backwards in order to understand the present more fully, and to be able to step into the future with more intention and awareness. And we do this on several levels: through aligning the personal, political and planetary in our experience, we arrive at a richer, deeper understanding of the full complexity of our life stories.
Let’s face it, we are living through some pretty heavy times right now. We are constantly surrounded by a lot of pain and suffering, in the human and the more-than-human communities.
But allowing ourselves to sink into this collective sorrow does not help anyone. Like the Bodhisattvas of the Buddhist tradition, we have to master the art of staying open to the pain of the world, while also keeping a clear channel to the possibility of joy.
I think of joy like a lighthouse light that we have to tend, especially in the darkest, stormiest weather, to serve as a beacon for others. The work of the purposeful memoirist is to share our stories to help light the way for others coming alongside or behind us on the journey of life.
Each session will be available in a short online version as well, so that these little beacons will be available to anyone—anywhere, anytime—who seeks to understand their life more deeply, saluting the positive and transmuting the negative through the alchemy of purposeful memoir.