Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Live the questions

Last night I started an 8 week class at The Loft with Elizabeth Andrew: Writing about Transformation / Transforming your Writing. Several years ago I took my first class at The Loft ... what an incredible resource we have here in the Twin Cities for writers. I have taken several classes with Elizabeth and her book On the Threshold is one of my favorites.

I have stepped away from writing for some time now and I am excited to return to it. Yes, I have been blogging but to really delve deeper into memories, ideas and to give time and space to not only what's in my heart but also the craft of writing ... well, that is something I took a little break. It's time to return.
"An intimate conversation between oneself and a great mystery. When authors raise ruthless questions, grapple with awe and suffering, joy and doubt, paradox and unity in the context of their life’s story, they write spiritual memoir." 
- Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

I've contemplated writing a spiritual memoir .. maybe it's time to take my first steps. Writing has always been healing for me. It's given me an outlet .... I don't believe my journey is unique. I believe we share pieces of our journeys with each other. Our lives are connected and intertwined .. I have found comfort in the words and writing of others: Elizabeth Andrew, Jane Goodall, Pema Chodron ... and as kid, I found comfort and escape in reading the Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew series. I remember my 4th grade teacher, Miss Jensen, where I went to school in Thailand - Bangkok Patana School ... I looked forward to her class especially when she would read from C.S. Lewis' book, The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe. It took me away to another world, another existence. When she would read to us, i felt like she took my hand and walked me right into the wardrobe ...

My mom's recent diagnosis of Alzheimer has taken down a new path, a new journey. It has opened up more doors from my past. Rather than running from it, maybe I can consider this as a new adventure ....

From Elizabeth's book Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir, she writes about the qualities of spiritual memoir:
  1. Reaching into the mystery: Every spiritual memoir reaches into the mystery, attempting to place a human life into a broader, sacred context.  Our task as writers is to not shy from the unknown, but to interact with it-to stretch our hand forward into the abyss. This is the second distinguishing attribute of spiritual memoir: The writing itself becomes a means for spiritual growth....Those who write spiritual memoir write to find out what we believe, or, more fundamentally, what we know to be sacred and true. 
  2. Surprise for the WriterWhen writers are open to learning and growing through the writing process, that sense of discovery infuses itself into our words. Personal growth isn't a selfish reason for writing; it's essential for making effective stories. Robert Frost puts it this way: "No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." The reader latches onto our experience of vulnerability and risk, following our growth like a lead-rope.
  3. Live the Questions:  What makes a good memoir is the search, not the resolution. It's no coincidence that Rainer Maria Rilke gave similar advice to a young poet who was erring "in words when they are meant to mean most delicate and almost inexpressible things":

    Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

    (Letters to a Young Poet 35)

    If we are able to reside within our questions; if we allow our memories to speak their mysteries, then the great Mystery breathes life into our story. 


  1. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was transformative for me when I was a kid too. It launched me into a secret, parallel universe full of mystery, adventure and animal souls.

  2. I would like to share a spiritual memoir with you, Marilou! Like you I journey into the great Mystery, and find, as I approach the end of my life that I want to sum up what it is that remains, what was worth living for, what it has all meant. Having sat at the bedside of many that were dying I have always been fascinated and curious about what last words those individuals would choose to speak of their life's experience. 'Graffiti On My Soul', just published under the pen name simply "Johanna', is my journey--and my last words. My husband would wisecrack, "122,000 last words??!" Well, what can I say--I am a woman! I hope you will find inspiration, laughter and tears in my book, and may it enrich and enlighten your own journey. See: http://www.eloquentbooks.com/GraffitiOnMySoul.html