By Jerry Waxler
For my whole life, I’ve been intrigued by the variety of human experience. I also love to write. Over the years, these two passions have converged. I want to understand people, and express my thoughts in writing. When I was 52, I received a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, giving me a rich array of insights into ways that people learn. I collected my observations and posted them on my first website, mental-health-survival-guide.com.
To combine writing with psychology, I began conducting workshops to help writers develop habits, overcome self-doubts, and reach readers. I turned this into a self-help book called How to Become a Heroic Writer.
As I continued to explore, I realized memoir writing combines both my passions. Writing about life lets you turn attention inwards, where you can examine your journey. And it turns attention outward, where you shape a story that makes sense to others. This is what happens in a therapist’s office, too. During therapy people authentically share their lives and in the process increase their self-understanding. I wanted to extend this from individual therapy to include everyone who looks for deeper meaning within their lives.
To develop these ideas, I wolfed down memoir after memoir, devouring its meaning and structure. Each one teaches me two things: what it was like being that person, and what it was like turning that life journey into a story. The lessons poured in, and I began conducting workshops on memoir writing, and again turned my lessons into a book, Learn to Write Your Memoir in Four Weeks. (Not that you’ll write it in four weeks, but you can learn everything you need to know in these 28 steps.)
To share my observations about memoir reading and writing, I started the blog, Memory Writers Network. Like every other type of writing I’ve done, writing the blog has helped me grow. And through receiving comments and visiting other blogs, and finding people interested in memoir writing, I was discovering as well as creating a micro-community of like-minded individuals. This has been enormously empowering. Like the radicals who established a community by printing brochures during the American Revolution, I can spread ideas about the Memoir Revolution, and I don’t even have to stand on street corners.
What is the revolution in which we are all participating? For one thing, blogging itself is a revolution, and the tyranny it overthrows is silence. Turning your individual, unique knowledge, passion, and wisdom into story and publishing it to the world incites deeper understanding. By sharing ourselves in this way, I hope we can learn about each other and in the process, perhaps promote world peace. And while we are sharing ourselves with each other, we are also being challenged to understand ourselves on deeper, clearer levels. Memoir and blog writing collects the wisdom that has over the decades accumulated in our hearts, and writing these observations forces us to clarify what we already know. Through writing we learn who we are. The revolution that interests me most is to grow, individually and collectively towards greater wisdom.
One of the most surprising things about blogging is that it’s a form of public exposure. I have always been shy, preferring to avoid the public. Now, as I blog, I am learning to extend myself towards strangers. Some become friends, in the new internet sense of friendship, while others remain onlookers. This means I am a performer, which is a mind boggling expansion of my social skills that I never expected to achieve.
What’s next? As I learn more about life story telling, I realize that stories become powerful not just because of external events, but because the storyteller found the power inside the events. This has caused me to look more closely at situations I assumed were mundane. What first looked messy and ordinary, like a beautiful old painting covered in grime, begins to flow with elegant meaning. I share what I discover in my blog. Over time I expect my investigation will lead in new directions. I find that aging is a spiritual experience and someday I expect to shift from seeking the wisdom in the past to finding wisdom in the future. For now, what’s next is my next blog entry. I’m on deadline every week, under pressure to learn and grow, and find words that let me share myself with the world.