Should this Memoir be Called: Courage of Motherhood?

by Jerry Waxler

Write your memoir! Read Memoir Revolution to learn why now is the perfect time.

When Sonia Marsh needs to save her family from potential harm-from-within, she instigates a move from Los Angeles to Belize. Her memoir, Freeways to Flipflops describes the move. To adapt and survive in a foreign land, she must learn a new set of rules. Take a water-taxi into town to shop for food, enroll her kids in a school that will prepare them for college, and find a dentist. At home such decisions were part of the humdrum routine of life. In this place they are difficult and even scary.

As I look back across the family’s journey, powerful character arcs emerge. Adapting to the foreign environment forces each character to grow along important dimensions. They start their journey with one set of beliefs about themselves and each other, and then, step by step, replace these beliefs with more empowering, complex and sophisticated ones that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

As I continue to poke and prod, trying to learn why this memoir holds together so tightly, another theme jumps out at me, hidden in plain sight. Sonia Marsh saves her family from disaster with as much story-worthy heroism as James Bond demonstrates when saving the world.

Her heroism should have been obvious but I am so accustomed to mothers playing their role in real life, and so unaccustomed to seeing them do it in literature. Now, with more careful thought I realize the Memoir Revolution is giving mothers a voice in our culture. Sonia Marsh’s From Freeways to Flipflops is a powerful example.

By shaping her year in Belize into a memoir, Sonia Marsh guides us through what on the surface looks like a zany adventure and then, page by page turns into a rich, complex story arc about a family moving into and beyond a crisis. The story casts her as one of the least typecast heroes I would expect.

Based on this theme, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the book titled “Courage of Motherhood.” I can see other slants in the book that she could have highlighted in the title. It could have been titled “Escape from LA” or “How to Save a Son” or “How Choosing One Nightmare Resolved a Worse One” or “Resolving the Midlife Crisis of a Family.” (I’ll comment more about the lifecycle of Sonia Marsh’s family in a followup posting.) Instead, Sonia Marsh called her memoir, Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island. At least the word “family” is in the subtitle.

By reviewing her title, and the variety of other possibilities, you begin to see that it requires real imagination and lots of trial and error to come up with a good one that captures your imagination at the beginning and sustains it through to the end.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the many jobs of a title and more ideas about how to find one.

Sonia Marsh’s Home Page
Freeways to Flipflops (Kindle Version)


Another look through the eyes of a courageous mother is Madeline Sharples Leaving the Hall Light On, that allows us to see through a mother’s eyes as her son falls under the horrific weight of bipolar disorder to his suicide, and then her attempt to hang on to her sanity and dignity.

For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order Memoir Revolution about the powerful trend to create, connect, and learn, see the Amazon page for eBook or Paperback.

To order my how-to-get-started guide to write your memoir, click here.

If Not Conflict, What Fierce Determination Drives a Memoir?

by Jerry Waxler

Author of Memoir Revolution: Write Your Story, Change the World and How to Become a Heroic Writer

In the memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses, and Saints, Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner, travel to Turkey to help a friend manage a small inn. It seems like a pleasant getaway that combines travel, friendship, and an entrepreneurial spirit. As they visit museums and historical sites, try new cuisines, befriend locals, and in Angie’s case, have romances with them, the women become increasingly smitten with the place. By the end, they fulfill the book’s sub-title, clearly communicating their love for the country.

Turkey has played a crucial role in world religion and commerce for millennia, and yet I grew up learning hardly anything about its history. Through the eyes of these two American women, I gain a fascinating glimpse into this crossroads of Moslem and Christian traditions, and even delve into pre-Christian goddess power. I also gain another glimpse of the expat experience.

In my younger years I read about macho Americans like Henry Miller and Ernest Hemingway consuming their way across Europe, sucking in unlimited quantities of alcohol, food, and women. By contrast, Anatolian Days and Nights is almost a sendup of those excesses. Stocke and Brenner have modest appetites, spiced with a delicate mix of curiosity and compassion.

In fact, the women behave so nicely, it makes me ask a fundamental question: “Don’t all satisfying stories need conflict?” Ever since Ulysses traveled through the Greek and Turkish isles, threatened by monsters, imprisoned by sex goddesses, and fighting to the death with his wife’s suitors, readers have demonstrated their gluttony for conflict. Fiction writers satisfy this desire by inventing all sorts of exaggerated dangers and setbacks. Memoir writers, on the other hand, extract tension from the desire, fear, and courage enmeshed in a lifetime of memories.

So what tension in Anatolian Days and Nights keeps me reading? Were the two women at risk, traveling alone in a male-dominated world? Were they afraid? Actually, apparently not. If anything, the locals seem eager to protect them. If it wasn’t driven by the desperation to stay alive, or the gluttony to consume, what is the fierce determination that propels them to the end of their journey and me reading to the last page?

The Importance of Character Arc as a Driving Force in Memoirs

To engage me in a story, the author must convince me something in their character is missing or under-developed. The rest of the story leads me on a treasure hunt to work through the tension and choices of life. By the end, the character convinces me they have achieved this thing. This important payoff to a story is often thoroughly obvious in fiction. But in memoirs it can be more difficult to point out, and after I’ve read a satisfying story I go back to see what the character has learned.

For example, by the end of Accidental Lessons, David Berner is oriented to serving humanity rather than merely having a good job. At the end of Seven Wheelchairs, Gary Presley has wrapped his mind around the destiny of living on wheels instead of legs. At the end of Dope Fiend, Tim Elhajj has traveled beyond his minimum goal of abstaining from heroin. He has also figured out how to be a father to his son.

However, when I looked for a hard-fought character arc in Anatolian Days and Night , at first I couldn’t find it. Since both women were gentle, curious, and generous at the beginning, I did not feel any urgent pressure for them to grow along these lines. Their main goal seemed to be to understand Turkey, rather than themselves. And yet, I still closed the book feeling satisfied. What had the authors done for me and for themselves that made me turn pages?

Search for Identity as an Important Type of Character Arc

In memoirs, there is a special type of character arc — the search for identity. In this type of story, the missing ingredient that provides the impetus for forward momentum is the protagonist’s desire for a clearer sense of who they are. By the end, the character finds their true self and satisfies their quest.

This need to “know thyself” has been responsible for some of the blockbuster memoirs of our era. In fact, the modern memoir movement was started largely by the success of Coming of Age memoirs like This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff, Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, and Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. In each of these books, the young character must figure out “who am I?” The answer to this question is, of course, not simple.

Coming of Age stories are driven by a variety of questions that must be answered on the journey from child to adult, including issues of sexuality, career, family, spirituality. And one of the most fascinating struggles is one of the most abstract — the fierce determination of a young person to find identity. By the end of a satisfying memoir, the character must find enough of a sense of self to know how to steer themselves in the coming years, or at least suggest that they are heading toward such a clear identity.

This journey to find identity is not limited to Coming of Age. By lining up my collection of memoirs in the order of the life-period they describe, it becomes apparent that people of all ages try to figure out who they are. The first Coming of Age stage, finishes around say 18 years old. But there is a second stage of this transition to adulthood that is also crucial. Many memoirs are about the struggles during this second period, say from around 18 to 26 years old, when we have to make important adjustments to our identity so we can survive in the world.

For example, at the beginning of Japan Took The JAP Out of Me, Lisa Fineberg Cook is a newly-wed party-girl. By the end, she is less self indulgent and more oriented to work and service. At the beginning of Wild, Cheryl Strayed is a dysfunctional young adult, with no direction, quick to try a new guy or a new drug. She walks 100s of miles across wilderness trails to find a new vision of herself and ends with the moral strength to establish herself in the adult world. Similarly, at the beginning of Slow Motion, Dani Shapiro is almost ready to become a young woman when she falls into a trap of drugs and sex. By the end, she outgrows her fascination with the power of her own beauty, and enters the adult world of personal responsibility.

Adopted kids have a particular challenge, as evidenced in two memoirs about girls who are just about to launch into the world when they are contacted by their birth mothers. In Mei Ling Hopgood’s Lucky Girl a Chinese American adoptee travels to China to learn about her birth family. In Mistress’s Daughter, AM Homes conducts an intense investigation, trying to understand her birth family in order to understand herself.

Sometimes, a person much later in life begins to ask pressing questions about who they are. These later searches for identity can also make compelling stories. For example in the memoir Catfish and Mandala Andrew X. Pham realizes he can never be happy until he makes peace with his Vietnamese origins. He quits his engineering job in California and rides through Vietnam on a bicycle, trying to understand his roots. In My Ruby Slippers, Tracy Seeley, an English professor in San Francisco, ejected from her comfort zone by cancer, travels to Kansas to try to understand her roots. Both authors become seekers for their own identity, and they both use the notion of place in order to help them learn more.

Why is the Search for Identity So Important?

In thrillers, the compelling force is obvious. Stop the assassin. By comparison, finding your identity seems woefully abstract. Despite the apparent vagueness of this propelling force, in memoir after memoir, authors uproot their lives in order to understand their identity. Their fierce determination to answer the question “who am I?” drags readers along for the ride. Perhaps this need for identity is more visceral and fundamental than we think. For those of us interested in the psychological journey of human experience, the longing for identity appears to be every bit as life-affirming and page-turning as stopping an assassination.

Anatolian Days and Nights is good evidence of the importance of this quest. Like the hero in Somerset Maughm’s The Razor’s Edge, who left home in order to find his truth, Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner left their familiar lives and traveled east. They were seekers, looking for whatever wisdom Turkey could offer them about themselves.

By diving into Turkey, they fulfilled a sublime search not just for that country’s identity but for their own. It was a search that was important enough to drive them half-way around the world, and significant enough to keep me reading, and then to recommend their story to anyone looking for a satisfying experience.


Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses, and Saints by Joy Stocke and Angie BrennerClick here for Amazon Page
Click here for Anatolian Days and Nights Home Page

There’s a word for that! I thought I understood the meaning of the word “mandala” as a sort of symbolic geometric shape. But I couldn’t figure out why Andrew X. Pham used the word in his title. I looked it up the in the dictionary and find that it means: In Jungian psychology, a symbol representing the effort to reunify the self. Perfect!

For more about the desire that drives a memoir, see my essay:
What does Dani Shapiro, or any of us, really want?

Although this is the first memoir I’ve read about love for a culture, it adds to my collection of the subgenre about friendship. Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home, is a tribute to her friendship with Carolyn Knapp. And Father Joe by Tony Hendra, is a paean to his spiritual mentor.

More Expats: Recently I read the memoir San Miguel D’Allende, about Rick Skwiot’s attempts to find himself in Mexico. And in Native State, Tony Cohan describes his attempts to settle into the jazz and drug scene in northern Africa. Both follow the Anatolian Nights model of searching for self in a foreign land.

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

To order my self-help workbook for developing habits, overcoming self-doubts, and reaching readers, read my book How to Become a Heroic Writer.

In Memoirs, Literature Helps Explain Life

by Jerry Waxler

Azar Nafisi, like any memoir author, weaves her life into her story. And since she is an English literature professor, stories also work in the other direction. Many passages of her memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran show Nafisi standing in front of a classroom, explaining other peoples’ stories to her Iranian students. As she teaches them how to read novels such as “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov and “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald,  Azar Nafisi meticulously weaves the threads of her Persian life with the literature written by these great authors, creating a finely crafted product as fascinating, complex and beautiful as a Persian Carpet.

For example, she explains that Nabokov wrote during the Russian Revolution, and that while he was writing, he had to ignore the violence raging outside his window. While she is teaching these lessons about Nabakov, Nafisi and her students also must ignore the violence raging all around them, and try to forget the secret police raids and disappearances in the night.

Some of her hard-line Islamist students hate Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby,” claiming that it celebrates the satanic values of the west. To give an audience to their grievances, she stages a mock trial, during which the “prosecutor” claims that the “Great Gatsby” justifies Western decadence. Nafisi defends the book by saying, “Fitzgerald doesn’t justify decadence. He shows it, and allows it to condemn itself.”

Then Nafisi creates an astoundingly elegant effect. She lets us hear the moralistic claims of the Islamic Revolution by showing so-called “morality squads,” prowling the streets of Tehran looking for girls who are guilty of offenses like using cosmetics and showing hair. The brutality of these self-righteous thugs demonstrates their own moral depravity. Like Fitzgerald, Nafisi doesn’t need to condemn their actions. By simply portraying them, she lets them condemn themselves.

In her lectures about “Lolita,” the English professor shows her students how Humbert Humbert forced a little girl to become his sexual object, his “thing.” He squeezed her into the mold of his fantasy, and crushed her individual humanity. But Humbert Humbert never admitted he did anything wrong. He deceived himself and his audience, claiming it was all Lolita’s fault. Nafisi suggests that the Revolution has done the same thing to women. The religious rulers declare femininity to be a crime against the state, and so they have no choice but to force women to hide their sexuality. The Islamic Revolution has the same effect on the girls of Iran as Humbert Humbert had on Lolita, turning them into things.

When girls enter the university campus, they are frisked, sometimes searched inch by inch to detect smuggled cosmetics. One guard tries to rub the “filth” off of Nafisi’s face, but Nafisi is not wearing makeup. The blush on her cheeks is natural. The guard in frustration rubs harder and harder, bringing tears to Nafisi’s eyes, and indeed making her blush with shame. Nafisi says the guard’s examination was “like a reverse X-ray, which made me feel invisible, except for only the very outer layer of my skin.” From then on, the author decides to hide her arms inside her robes, pretending she doesn’t exist. She says, “I felt like fiction, written into existence, and then suddenly erased.”

Another memoir author and English literature professor, Robert Waxler, also injects his love for literature into the story of his life. In his two memoirs, “Losing Jonathan” and “Courage to Walk,” Waxler lets us accompany him when he turns to books as a source of strength. He gives us the double benefit of taking us on his journey and also inspiring us to conduct a similar search, ourselves.

In the memoir “Film Club” movie critic David Gilmour watches and discusses movies with his son. In the process, he reflects on how the stories in the films relate to his own and his son’s life.

English teachers and film critics are not the only memoir writers who have been influenced by stories. We may not all be experts, but we all experience our lives against the rich backdrop of the books we read and the movies we see. Now, as aspiring memoir writers, by writing about how stories affect us, we can show these literary dimensions of ourselves, and give readers insights that can help them on their own journeys.

Writing Prompt
Brainstorm ways you can show how books or movies have influenced you. If, like Nafisi, you taught, or like most of us, have informally discussed a story with a friend, show the discussion in a scene. Or find other ways to represent the way stories influenced you. For example, in your self-talk, muse on the importance of some book or movie.


Click here for Azar Nafisi’s Home Page

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

Spoiled brat? What does spoiled even mean?

by Jerry Waxler

Lisa Cook Fineberg grew up in Los Angeles, a town where, by the rules of contemporary culture, the world bows down in submission to hot young women. But her memoir “Japan Took the JAP Out of Me” is not about life as a princess. It’s about moving beyond her self-indulgent youth, and trying to find her way to the next step. When Lisa marries, she moves to Nagoya, Japan where the lack of chic hair salons or appreciation for her appearance hurtles her into a different world.

(This is the second of a three part review. To see the first part, click here.)

After the long flight, the newlyweds arrive at their supposedly-furnished apartment and discover there are no bed sheets. The prospect of sleeping on a bed without sheets throws Lisa into a panic. She wonders if she will be able to survive in Japan. Her husband coaxes her through it. “It’s an adventure,” he says. “You can handle it. If you can’t handle it we’ll go home.” She submits to his emotional support and reaffirms her original intention . “That’s okay. I’ll try to stick it out.”

During Lisa’s reaction, readers must make a choice. We could either say, “Dear Lord. It’s only a night with an inconvenient sleeping arrangement. Get over it.” Or we could cheer for her, the way her husband did. And that is the real charm of the book. Lisa lets us in on the debate she is having within herself. She generates dramatic tension when she feels discomfort, and then relieves the tension when she decides she can do it.

Subways show passage beyond “spoiled”

In another scene, she shows the tedium and crush of riding the subway to work. At first glance, her discomfort might seem “spoiled.” But when you think about it, why is she riding to work on a subway, anyway? Wouldn’t a princess take a cab? And she isn’t going shopping. She’s on her way to teaching an English language class, another non-princess-like activity. The subway scenes show excellent examples of her transition from youth to maturity. To go from princess to working woman, the only way she could do it was to push ahead, explore, experience it for herself, and keep trying.

Memoir Writer’s Courage

Some of her behavior to her husband and coworkers is clearly selfish. One scenes shows her unwillingness to be kind to a woman who reaches out to her. In another scene, she becomes furious because her husband doesn’t make a big enough fuss about her birthday. The scenes  provide emotional vulnerability that engages the reader. They also provide insight into the challenges faced by every aspiring memoir writer.

When we had to make the transition from the freedom of youth to the responsibility of adulthood, many of us tried to prolong our entitlements. Even as we were pushed into the new world, we clung to the notion that other people were supposed to serve us. In the process we made self-involved decisions. Like Lisa, we threw hissy-fits, angry at our fate and ready to ignore other people’s feelings on order to survive our own. After the snit was over, most of us forgave ourselves, forgot about it and moved on.

Memoir writers choose a different path. We look back on those memories squarely, and observe our behavior carefully.  When we consider scenes in which we ignored the rights and feelings of other people, we feel a pang of shame. I have read many memoir scenes that are clearly not included because the author was proud of their behavior, but because they are willing to fearlessly face them. In order to provide the full emotional experience to our readers, memoir writers remember the ups and downs and we share things about ourselves that most people hide.

Before the memoir wave, we tried to resolve unwanted memories by pretending they never happened. Memoirs offer us a different way of relating to our past, allowing us to face our memories, share them, and acknowledge those experiences as steps along our own long journey.

Writing prompt
Pick a moment when you felt the world was falling apart, but which in retrospect was just a temporary inconvenience. Looking back on it, you can see it was just your mind freezing up, demanding better circumstances. Write the scene with the outrage and hurt and victimization you felt at the time. Let the reader feel your pain.

Spoiled in creature comforts but generous in explanations

I love the way Lisa thinks about things and then clearly and thoughtfully communicates what she sees. For example, in her teen years she feels entitled to buy hair products, designer clothes, and look attractive. But she also realizes that some boys have a different form of entitlement. They treat her like an object and push her around. She decides to stay away from boys who have that attitude and she advises all young women to do the same. In a couple of simple sentences, she provides a primer on manipulative relationships and guidance on how to steer through that period of discovery in a young woman’s life.

Such simple clarity takes place on every page, where she offers observations in clear, sensible language. The writing reminds me of the famous advice to entertainers. “Work hard to make the audience think it’s easy.” So even though the younger Lisa Fineberg Cook is spoiled, years later she sits in front of a blank page and works hard to clearly show me her life. By revealing her vulnerable moments, Lisa paradoxically also demonstrates her courage as a writer, a revealer, and an explorer of self.

Lisa Fineberg Cook’s Home Page

Amazon Link to “Japan Took the JAP Out of Me”

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

Memoirs Show Two Sides of the Islamic Revolution

by Jerry Waxler

I have always loved escaping into a good book. In my younger years, I escaped into the invented world of fiction. Nowadays, I escape into the lives of real people, through whose eyes I see a different view of my own world. Two memoirs I read within the same month provide a perfect example of this educational benefit. Ed Husain’s “The Islamist” took me inside the Islamist movement in Britain, and Nazara Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita in Tehran” showed life in Iran under Islamist rule. The knowledge I learned in one book deepened my understanding of the other, amplifying the value of each.

Ed Husain, “The Islamist”

Ed Husain was a teenager in Great Britain in the early 1990s. His parents and most of his neighbors were immigrants from Bangladesh. In fact, he didn’t have any white friends. His family’s spiritual approach to the Muslim religion cultivated a prayerful, almost mystical atmosphere in his home life. Then, as a teenager, Husain fell in with a crowd of boys from the Indian sub-continent who felt prayer was obsolete. Their goal was to overthrow Westernized governments and create the kind of world God intended, one all-encompassing Islamic state. At first, Husain’s loyalty was torn between his parents and his new friends. Gradually he aligned with his activist peers, fighting against Western values such as freedom and democracy.

The Islamists didn’t want their anti-Western message to be the dominant one. They wanted it to be the only one. When other activities were scheduled on campus, Husain and his friends stayed up late into the night creating plans to disrupt the competing event. They agreed in advance on the lies they would tell to make themselves look innocent and divert attention from their predatory practices. Whenever pressed on their unethical or manipulative behavior, they quickly shifted the conversation to global politics, claiming all their actions were caused by colonialism. I was especially intrigued by their coaching to “speak sharply,” to create an aura of fury and righteousness around their words. Between their angry tone, their rehearsed lies, and their instant shift to global politics, they controlled, and won, debates among the young Muslims on campus who were struggling to find their own path.

Azar Nafisi, “Reading Lolita in Tehran”

After reading about Ed Husain’s firebrand belief that Islamic law should take over the world, I read a memoir by Azar Nafisi, an Iranian girl who grew up under the secular government of Shah Pahlavi. The Shah promoted Western culture and violently suppressed opposing Muslim groups, earning a reputation as a ruthless tyrant in some circles and a forward-looking leader in others.

Taking advantage of the respect afforded to women in Iranian society, Nafisi attended college in the United States to study English Literature. Like many other intellectuals in the 1970s, she took part in the anti-U.S. demonstrations that pervaded campuses in the wake of the Vietnam war. She rallied against Western culture and especially agitated for the removal of Shah Pahlavi who was denounced as a “pawn of the West.” In a classic case of “be careful what you wish for,” within a few years, her revolutionary dream came true. Shortly after she returned to Iran in 1979, the Shah was deposed and Ayatollah Khomeini took over, bringing into power an Islamist government similar to the one Ed Husain would be advocating 15 years later.

Iran’s fundamentalist rulers quickly squeezed out so-called “decadent elements.” Reminiscent of the excesses of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, bands of armed young men patrolled the streets looking for women who dared walk with an unrelated man, who had a wisp of hair showing from beneath her veil, or who possessed cosmetics in her handbag. Women were flogged, imprisoned, and executed for such crimes. Nafisi lost her teaching position for refusing to wear the veil.

Two sides of the same page

The two books cover the Islamist movement from two entirely different perspectives and in two vastly different styles. Husain’s journey from boy to man leads him to street corners where edgy, pressured boys hand out fliers and engage in aggressive rhetoric. Later, after Husain distances himself from the movement, he begins a historical investigation trying to tease apart these two threads of his religion. In ancient writings, he discovers the religion of his father, the one that encourages an introspective, worshipful relationship to God. Husain also tracks the political aspect of the religion, and shows how it emerged in the twentieth century through the inflammatory writings of a few men who have had an increasing influence, especially on young Muslims in recent decades. While these men claim ancient authority, Husain finds their thinking to be more closely aligned to Karl Marx than to the Koran.

Nafisi is driven by ideas, too, but of a very different variety. She seeks her wisdom in English Literature. On her tongue, passages from Vladimir Nabokov and F. Scott Fitzgerald come alive, providing a rich poetic subtext to her own narrative. Her compatriots are the young women who have been forced by the Islamist Revolution to hide their femininity and enter the university through a separate door so they can be searched for cosmetics. When her girls come to a private literature class held in her home, they remove their scarves and Nafisi sensually describes their locks of hair. She bites into pastry, pours coffee over ice cream, and, above all, revels in the delicious pleasures of her beloved literature. Whereas Husain’s investigation is done with the protection of the democratic freedoms of Great Britain, Nafisi’s drama plays out in a police state, where students are seized and held in secret and summarily executed in the night because they showed signs of “Western decadence.”

The Muslim religion doesn’t need to be this way

In college, when Husain saw a boy murdered, he realized his terrible mistake. He started to suspect Islamism wasn’t promoting religion after all, but was merely using religious ideas to promote a political agenda. Trying to clarify these conflicting ideas, he moved to the Middle East to learn Arabic so he could read the Koran in its original language. In the Prophet’s teachings, he found an introspective, mystical religion which teaches a personal relationship with God and respect for people, including women and non-Muslims. Based on his findings, Husain returned to the prayerful beliefs of his parents. Through his writings, public appearances, and participation in the British government, he promotes democratic ideals, and raises awareness of the dangers of this divisive movement.

Two books weave a fascinating story

Before I read these books, I only knew about Islamism and life inside Iran from news bites and articles. After accompanying each author through years of personal, in-depth experience, I understand so much more. On one end of this matched set, I saw the Islamist ideas Ed Husain found so invigorating and urgent. I felt his pulse quicken as he rose to the challenge of dominating the world. On the other end, I saw how these very ideas were forged by the men of Iran into bars that imprisoned Azar Nafisi and her students, and stole their freedom and dignity.

The End

Writing Prompt
If you have been part of a political or a religious movement, your memories might seem insignificant, as if you were swept up in something of which you were a tiny part. But these events may have affected millions of people. Your feelings and observations as a believer and participant could offer a valuable contribution to social discussion. List or journal a few notes about the forces that influenced your life and look for scenes that would portray these experiences in your memoir.

For another book that sheds light on the difference between the Muslim faith and the Islamist movement, read Greg Mortenson’s memoir, Three Cups of Tea. Click here for my essay on that powerful story.
Find meaning through service” or “Making peace with the peasants of Pakistan

Book Links
The Islamist, Why I became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left by Ed Husain

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

As Husain was growing up to become a young man, he was swept up in a political movement that preached not only the domination of the world, but also the domination of women. This reminds me of another memoir I read, a year ago. Frank Schaeffer, on his way through adolescence, also experienced an exploding interest in ideas that place women in a subservient position. Schaeffer, author of “Crazy for God” grew up in a spiritually oriented Christian commune in Switzerland in the 1960s. As he entered adulthood, his focus shifted from God to women’s reproductive systems. Using his father’s extensive political connections, Schaeffer brought his intense interest in abortion into the heart of U.S. politics, where they took root in the religious right. Maybe Freud was right. Maybe it is all about sex.

See my article about Frank Schaeffer’s memoir by clicking here: One man’s battle with sexuality changed the world

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

Memoir interview about privacy, activism, style

Interview with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg about her memoir “Sky Begins at Your Feet,” Part 2 by Jerry Waxler

This is Part 2 of the interview I conducted with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg about her memoir “The Sky Begins at your Feet.” In Part 1, (to read Part 1 click here) Caryn shares observations about the spiritual and religious journey. In this Part, she discusses community activism, privacy, style, and other issues that may help memoir writers learn more about their craft.

(Note: Caryn will be checking in during the blog tour to read and respond to your comments.)

Jerry Waxler: During the period covered in the memoir, you are also very much engaged in organizing an environmental conference, weaving your activism about earth into consciousness raising about breast cancer. This is a fabulous double-value of your story. Do you see the book as a tool of advocacy for ecology work, as well as health?

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: I see the health issues as relating directly to the environment, and I knew this book very much had to be a bioregional book. By bioregionalism, I mean the tradition of learning from your community and eco-community how to live, how to steward your home place and be a good citizen, and how to find greater meaning and purpose in your life through connection to the land and sky. The conference was actually a bioregional congress, focused on bringing people together from throughout the continent to network, share resources, and inspire each other in living more fully in our home communities. I hope the book does inspire people to, most of all, learn more about their environment, and from that learning, develop a greater connection with their local land, which will naturally lead to the kind of advocacy and stewardship that creates enduring ecological change. I also hope the book helps people see not just more of the connections between cancer and ecological degradation and destruction, but between healing and finding kinship with the trees, fields, birds, skies and other aspects of our homes around us.

Note: For more about the bioregionalism movement, click here.

Jerry Waxler: How has this memoir been received in your ecology activist community?

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: It’s been received very well so far, and next week, I’ll be reading it at another bioregional congress, this one at The Farm in Tennessee, so I’ll see more how it speaks to people in that community.

Jerry Waxler: I love the characters in your community. So many people reach out with compassion, to help you with food, with caring for your family, and of course the all-important emotional support. In the process of telling about these people, aren’t you to some extent impinging on their privacy? Many memoir writers are confused about how much to say, how much detail to include, whether to change names, and so on. How did you balance your friends’ privacy with your desire to tell the story of friendship and community.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: This was an issue I thought long and hard about, and basically, anyone who showed up more than once, I contacted when the book was in its final draft, and sent them a copy of the book to read, letting them know that if there was anything they couldn’t live with, they should tell me. Few people asked me to change anything, but I thought asking was the ethical thing to do. I also shared the final draft with all my doctors, my children, my mother and siblings. I worked hard in editing to remove any references to people (there were just a few) I had larger conflicts with because I didn’t want to use my writing in any way to play out those conflicts. Occasionally, when I did present something unflattering about anyone, I changed the name of that person and that person’s identifying characteristics.

Jerry Waxler: You went through a terrifying period, facing the loss of part of your body, and a profound alteration of body image. In the memoir, you have explained and explored this loss of part of yourself, in far greater detail than most of us imagine. What I’m interested in knowing more about is what it felt like to write about this profound relationship between flesh and life. What sort of processing did you do while you were writing about this impending loss? Was it traumatic to write about it? Did writing the memoir help you understand more or cope more or come to terms more with this loss?

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: I write through whatever life gives me, so I wrote through cancer, not always coherently, but writing helped me sort out my feelings and also helped me make what was happening more real. The writing itself wasn’t traumatic although I’m aware that we can re-ignite trauma in our lives sometimes if we write obsessively about such events (as researched in the work of James Pennebaker and others). Before I lost various body parts, I wrote to those parts of my body (and I wrote some about this in the memoir), using writing itself as part of the ceremony of letting go of my breasts or uterus or ovaries. For me, it’s very important to create ceremonies that involve writing and sometimes spoken words as a way to name the rite of passage, so yes, all the writing helped me come to terms with losses. At the same time, time itself is wildly effective at helping people, including me, make peace in such situations.

Jerry Waxler: In a couple of places in the book you use Flash Forwards. For example, you say “I had no idea she would be killed in an accident in 5 years.” The character had no way of knowing this from within her own Point of View. Stylistically, this raises an important puzzle for memoir writers. The Author, the person sitting at the computer typing the book, is older and knows so much more than the Protagonist, the younger one undergoing the experience. How did you steer between these two sets of knowledge? What can you tell us about the relationship between the Author’s POV and the Protagonist’s? How does the unfolding of the Protagonist’s Point of View in the story help reveal what the Author is going to know in the future?

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: I purposely wrote this book very much from the perspective of being in the future, looking back. Particularly with the big stories of our lives, I think the added perspective of the author in the present can help readers better understand the various ramifications and unfoldings of the story. Two pieces of advice that influenced me were from a poet, who once told me how much we need to let our experiences ripen over time until we can find the real essence of the story or poem that wants to be told, and my oncologist, who said however I felt about my cancer experience would continually unfold and change over time. Also, when telling stories in which mortality is a kind of character, I think having the perspective of time passing allows an author to go much deeper into the hard stuff — the terror and sadness, grief and confusion — without making the reader feel too overwhelmed.

Jerry Waxler: The book contains quite a bit of concrete information about the medical diagnosis and treatment. How do you see your role in that regard? While writing it, were you thinking about how it could help cancer patients and their loved ones demystify the technicalities of this journey? How has that turned out so far?

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: I knew that I had to share at least some technical information because going through serious illness is often a technical journey as well as an emotional and spiritual one. I also wanted to demystify the genetic mutation discussion surrounding breast cancer. Because of fears many have about losing insurance if they reveal that they have the BRCA1 or other genetic mutation, it’s a difficult thing to talk about, and yet we’re only going to change the crazy biases of insurance companies by talking about things like this in print and out loud. I also was lucky enough to know I wouldn’t be dropped from my insurance although several of my doctors told me how careful they were in medical records never to write “BRCA1” but use a symbol instead so that the patient would be protected. I also find that people going through cancer, at some point or another, want and need to know about the technical aspects of their cancer; for example, is the cancer particularly aggressive or slow-growing? We get that information often from numbers on a page, and it’s difficult at times but important to understand these aspects or we won’t have the information we need to make the most informed decisions possible about treatment options.

Jerry Waxler: Are you reaching out to offer the book to that audience?

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: Given that one out of three of us will have a cancer diagnosis in our lifetimes, that audience is actually very large. Just about all of us have had cancer or been close to someone who had cancer, so yes, I did want to reach out to that audience, but this is also a book about losing a parent, finding strength in the land and sky, connecting with community, and making greater peace with living in a flawed, aging and still miraculous body.


Click here for Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s website

Click here for more information about Caryn’s Transformative Language Arts Program at Goddard College

Click here for the Transformative Language Arts Network

Click here to visit the Amazon page for The Sky Begins at Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community, and Coming Home to the Body by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

This interview is part of the blog tour hosted by Women on Writing. To see Caryn’s Blogtour page, click here.

Memoir author speaks of spirituality, religion, and cancer

Interview with author Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg by Jerry Waxler

When Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg was diagnosed with breast cancer, she and her friends were busy organizing a conference to protect the environment. So her journey through doctor’s offices, chemotherapy, and surgery takes place against a rich back drop of family, spirituality, and rivers of community support. (“I have cancer, but I also have friends.”) She skillfully and generously shares her experience in the memoir “The Sky Begins at your Feet,” offering insights that expand my horizons about life as well as about life writing.

Caryn is also a poet, a writing teacher, and the founder of Goddard College’s Master’s Degree Program in Transforming Language Arts. In the following two-part interview she offers observations about writing this memoir, and suggestions that may help any memoir writer overcome difficulties on their quest to share their own stories.

In Part 1 below, Caryn offers observations about how she conveys spirituality, religion, and grieving. In Part 2, (click here to read Part 2) she talks about style, privacy, and some of the ways her memoir has touched the public.

Jerry Waxler: For many people, the two words “religion” and “spirituality” seem so different as to almost be opposite to each other. And yet in your view, you straddle the fence nicely between them. This is a powerful addition to the memoir literature I have read, because I know of many people who wish they could convey their spirituality but don’t know how to find the language. You are so eminently comfortable with the most intimate details of your own search for transcendence I wonder if you could explain how you came to be so comfortable sharing these intimate details of your life.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: As a seeker and a writer, I find the two yearnings — to create and to connect with the sacred — to come from the same impulse: to feel as fully alive as possible. How to write about religion and spirituality wasn’t really something I thought much about; it simply happened because both spirituality and religion are vital parts of my life. I guess I see religion as one part of spirituality that’s institutionalized, and added to the institutional mix is community, group dynamics, group governance, etc., which can be messy but also beautiful. Last week when I went to Yom Kippur services, I had a moment of looking around and thinking how odd and amazing it was that I knew so many of the people around me from various parts of my life, but here — at our services — we entered collectively into the somewhat tribal, confusing and challenging practices of Judaism. I also found it wild that I shared some of the most intimate communal prayers with people, some of whom I didn’t share anything else intimate with ever. That’s the magic of collective spirituality: you can share profound moments with people who drive you crazy, people you hardly know, people you know from other contexts too. I’ve also always been Jewish plus. What I mean by that is that I’ve explored other traditions from Sufi dancing in my 20s through Buddhism in my 30s and 40s to Yoga today.

JW: You use a substantial amount of Jewish lore and practice in the memoir. Of course, not all readers have a background in these references, so it seems that the memoir takes a step into an interesting territory for any memoir writer who might ask, “How much of my unique background will be interesting to readers?” When you wrote the references to Judaism, did you worry that non-Jews would not understand it?

CMG: Some of my own spiritual journey through cancer has included Jewish traditions, myths and practices because integral to my story. At the same time, I tried to contextualize and explain references so that non-Jews would better understand them. Because I live in Kansas, where there is a very small Jewish population, I’ve also done readings from this book, and I find that people tend to understand the Jewish context. Some things, such as the story of Jacob, are well-known to many people, as is the tradition of a Bar Mitzvah. Other aspects I found that people could understand with a bit of reference. I wasn’t worried about this issue just as I don’t think Christian or Buddhist or Moslem authors would need to filter their spiritual experience when telling a story with spiritual aspects.

JW: Can you offer any advice to other memoir writers who wish they could authentically describe their own transcendent beliefs.

CMG: It’s like writing anything: you have to find your own truest words, dive into it, and surrender to what wants to be said instead of what you think you should say. At the same time, I think it’s far more effective to describe the big stuff of life — spiritual struggles, traumas and wounds, giant yearnings or losses — by entering through the backdoor. By that, I mean you can convey the depth of what you’re writing by aiming toward specific detail and specific moments instead of making pronouncements about what it all means. In fact, I think it’s dangerous to try to say what it all means too fast or sometimes at all. For example, I described the moment of my father’s death as surprisingly ordinary, and I told readers how I paced back and forth on the deck, what the sky was like, how my voice sounded when describing the moment I found out I would need chemo. Our sensory experiences — what we see, smell, hear, taste, and touch — are powerful tools for bringing readers to the vital and living emotions and realizations we find, which never happen in a vacuum, but always somewhere at some time, such as sitting in a lawn chair in early autumn and suddenly seeing a crow land on a dying tree, and knowing something new at that moment.

JW: I love the way you use the concept of “grieving” in the book. At one point you say you were grieving your loss of strength. Another time you say, “another part of me I sloughed off.” In popular use, the word “grieving” tends to be used for coping with the death of a loved one. You are using it in a broader sense here. Please say more about how the process of grieving has been extended to help you adjust to life through its various stages and changes.

CMG: There are all kinds of causes for grief in this life, and luckily, all kinds of causes for joy too, sometimes even joy and grief simultaneously. For me, it was important to name what I was losing, whether it was my breasts, my strength, my sense of humor, my father, etc. as a way to tell my true story. I needed to look at the loss and feel the grief because my life as continually illuminated how the only way out is through. I also realize that as I age — just as all of us — I will be losing things all along the way, such as the capacity to run down the street, or sleep eight hours straight (well, I already lost that one!), or get through a day without discomfort or pain, and certainly the speed at which I live my life and how much I can get done in an hour. That great poem by Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art,” states, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master/ so many things are filled with the intent/ to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” I also heard a novelist, Julia Glass, on the radio the other day say that all novels are really about how to go on with life in spite of whatever happens. I hope my memoir also points toward how to go on with life, and to find greater life in learning from whatever life gives us.



Click here for Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s website

Click here for more information about Caryn’s Transformative Language Arts Program at Goddard College


Click here for the Transformative Language Arts Network

Click here to visit the Amazon page for The Sky Begins at Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community, and Coming Home to the Body by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

This interview is part of the blog tour hosted by Women on Writing. To see Caryn’s Blogtour page, click here.

More Q&A with Sue William Silverman on confessions, memoirs, and the art of writing

by Jerry Waxler

Author of Memoir Revolution: a guide to memoirs, including yours.

This is part two of an original Interview between Jerry Waxler and author Sue William Silverman. To read the first part, click here. Silverman is author of an excellent how-to book for memoir writers, “Fearless Confessions: A Writers Guide to Memoir.”

Jerry Waxler:
One of the strange and wonderful things about memoir writing is that it converts haphazard, chaotic memories into a coherent, “sensible” story. How did it feel when you first tried to reach back and search amidst those disturbing memories for a story? How did it feel to see the story coming together?

Sue William Silverman:
Yes, memoir writing is giving a coherent organization to a life!  Memoir, then, isn’t so much writing a life, but writing a slice of a life.  Each memoir needs to have its own theme, its own plot, its own narrowly defined storyline, as it were.

That’s why even though, in real life, there is a close relationship between the childhood incest and the adult sexual addiction, still, when it came to writing, these two subjects wouldn’t fit in one book.  As I mentioned above, the voice, in each, is different.

It really is empowering or exhilarating, while writing, to learn what any given event really meant.

What did it feel like after you published? Did you have periods of uncertainty, vulnerability, fear?

Always! But the important thing is to write anyway.  Publish anyway.  Believe in yourself anyway.  I guess I’ve learned to accept having contradictory feelings at the same time.

In other words, I can be full of doubt, yet know that I still have to write, still have to publish.

Is there anything you wish you could have done or said differently? (regrets, remorse, after-shock?)

Oh, probably a ton of things.  I’d probably even like to revise everything I’ve ever written!  But, you know, what’s done is done. And there’s always another book or essay or poem to write.

Trauma researchers like Judith Herman and Sandra Bloom have written about the collective amnesia and denial that tries to suppress a public awareness of sexual abuse and other traumatic memories. I believe memoirs, such as yours are launching an assault on this denial. That puts you on the frontline, facing the counter-forces that try to stop confessions, to blame the victim, to reduce credibility and so on. What can you tell aspiring memoir writers to help prepare them for this kind of backlash?

Write anyway!!

Yes, there are definitely naysayers out there, critics who simply are angry at memoirists for telling the truth!  They call us navel gazers—and worse.  And, especially on radio interviews, I’ve been asked some very inappropriate questions!
My advice?  Know that you don’t have to answer any question that makes you uncomfortable. You can re-direct the questions and answers around what you want to discuss—and how you want to discuss it. Stay true to your message.
Also, when writing or promoting a memoir, I think it’s a good idea to have a strong support system on hand, friends available to help you through the process.

That said, though, it’s important to know that there are others out there who fully recognize the importance of personal narrative, and understand how it can make us, as a culture, more empathetic.

And even though the naysayers can make me angry (and I write about this in chapter nine of Fearless Confessions), my sense is that the public can’t get enough of memoir.  Readers find our stories useful—in a really good way.

So my other bit of advice is to keep writing, regardless. Everyone has a story to tell.  And all our stories are important.

Your memoir is the first I’ve read in which the molesting continues repeatedly over a period of time. Trauma experts say that repetitive trauma creates even worse after-effects and amnesia than individual incidents. What can you share about any special problems of remembering repetitive trauma, and your process of discovering these memories, and telling them in such detail?

Actually, I never had repressed memories or anything like that. But how to remember specific details of events that happened years earlier?  Of course, no one, off the top of her head, can simply recall everything—regardless of your history.

For me, the best way to recollect the details of past events is to submerge myself in sensory imagery. For example, say I want to write about a birthday party in sixth grade.  Maybe I remember some broad brushstrokes of the party but can’t recall as many details as I’d like.  In order to do so, I begin by asking myself the following: what did the birthday party sound like, taste like, feel like, look like, smell like?

By focusing on the five senses, it’s amazing how many seemingly “lost” details we remember!  In other words, by concentrating, I try to “re-enter” scenes, submerge myself in any given past experience, and see where that leads me.

When I read a memoir, it can sometimes trigger a great deal of my own anxiety. For example, certain kinds of cruelty or violence are almost too much for me to bear. Have you had feedback from readers who have been unable to read your memoir? What advice could you give memoir readers about this issue of feeling overwhelmed or “re-traumatized” by reading explicit material of abuse and suffering?

Oh, that’s such a personal decision.  I’ve had people tell me they can only read my books in short snippets.  A page here, a page there.

But other people tell me they read my books straight through from beginning to end.  Just because of their own anxiety, they want to know how the book ends. Of course, on an intellectual level, they know I’m all right; after all, I wrote the book.  But on an emotional level, they want to keep reading just to make sure I’m okay.  Which I find very caring and lovely.

Additionally, some people have told me that they aren’t ready to read my books at all, but they feel a sense of comfort just having the books on their bookcases, knowing the books are there, when they’re ready.


Many memoir and journaling advocates believe that writing about trauma helps heal from it. What has been your experience?

Yes, there is that element to this, for sure.  Writing is instrumental in helping me understand the trauma, give it a context, understand the metaphors around it.

Too, while it can be painful to write about painful events, still, I reached the point that just the opposite ultimately became true: that, with each word, the pain lessened, as if I extracted it one word at a time.

This interview is part of the blog book tour for Women on Writing.  To read other entries in the blog tour, including reviews, interviews, and essays, click here to visit the Women on Writing blog.

To learn more about Sue William Silverman, visit her website by clicking here.

For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my book Memoir Revolution about the powerful trend to create, connect, and learn, see the Amazon page for eBook or Paperback.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

Writing for Community – or – When Going Public Can Save Dignity and Lives

by Jerry Waxler

Read my book, Memoir Revolution, about how turning your life into a story can change the world.

Author Naomi Gal invited me to attend her book signing at Moravian Book Shop, an independent book store in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In her native Israel, Gal was a novelist. Now she teaches creative writing at Moravian College. However, the event at the bookstore related to another aspect of her life. Gal leads a creative group at Turning Point, a shelter for abused women, and their collected testimonials were published in the book “Free To Be.” Last year, I interviewed Gal, asking her how life influences fiction. Now, I was looking to her latest project to learn another way real life finds its way to the page.

I have heard from authors that book signings can be lonely affairs, so I was surprised to see people streaming in to the store, one of them carrying a tray of snacks. The atmosphere seemed festive. I picked up a copy of the book and flipped through it. The entries were a mix of poetry and prose, revealing private worlds of fearful silence. In the expression of that danger, I felt the stirring of true courage.

I stood in the line that extended from Gal back into the store, and chatted with a writer I know from the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group. The line had been moving slowly, and when I reached the front, I understood why. Naomi was showering each of us with warm thanks and a few moments of chatter. By that time, the crowd had swelled to fifty or sixty and the hubbub swelled to a din. Despite the serious subject matter, everyone seemed courteous and friendly, happy to be together.

Then, a moderator interrupted the signing so Naomi could make a short speech, which consisted almost entirely of effusive thanks to the project’s many contributors. She praised the Turning Point organization and its leaders, and the writers. She also thanked Moravian College’s sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha, who helped gather the pieces and publish the book.

She went on to explain that many of the pieces in the collection were anonymous, because one of the tragedies of domestic abuse is that defiance can trigger aggression and even deadly force. Several contributors stepped forward to read their work, poems about their need to escape their abusers, and to demand better treatment in their own home. One woman used her full name. The reason for her lack of fear was that she had already lost a daughter to domestic violence. The shift from festivity to dark reality shook me. How awful that people can hurt each other. The human condition can be so cruel.

And then the readings were over, and the organizer asked everyone to buy books, and that the money would go to supporting the women’s shelter. Someone said they were almost sold out. A small cheer went up, and the sorority leader choked up as she thanked everyone who had participated, and Naomi reached over to hug her. The hubbub and the mingling started again.

I felt I had witnessed a powerful event. These women found relief from their suffering at Turning Point where they received shelter and guidance, and forged bonds with each other. Creative writing turned them inward, a tool that helped them cope and grow. Now publishing turned their pain from private to public, to let the rest of us know what is going on in our midst. By sharing their words, they gave us an opportunity to reach back towards them, to offer hope and support.

The testimonials served a different purpose than most memoirs. Rather than being selected for literary merit or completeness of story, these pieces were selected for their moral courage and willingness to communicate. And while this particular book may not reach the best seller charts, its effects radiate far beyond these particular individuals. The gathering gives witness to the impact of the written word and I visualize similar groups in other communities, reaching out to each other to hear words that need to be spoken.

On the way out of the store, I glanced at the display of gourmet chocolates. The woman behind the counter caught my eye and asked, “Do you like pistachios?” I nodded and with a conspiratorial smile she handed me a chocolate covered one. The explosion of good taste jolted me back into my body. Out on the streets of historic Bethlehem, holding my copy of “Free to Be” and a bag of candy, the sun still yellow in the early spring evening, I strolled past quaint gift shops and buildings dating from the 18th century. Surrounded by a sense of normalcy and safety, I thought of a passage from Kate Braestrup’s memoir, “Here if you need me.”

In her work as a police chaplain, Braestrup often pondered suffering. After a particularly grisly kidnap and murder, she asks herself the age-old question, “How can a loving God permit the existence of evil?” Then she attempts to answer it. First she considers the power of evil, quoting the devil’s brag “We are legion.” Then Braestrup considers all the kind people who she regularly witnesses, who come pouring out of their homes to give aid to those who suffer. These neighbors and friends attempt to spread love in order to ease the burden. Swelling with the compassion and generosity of her own heart and the people she routinely encounters, Braestrup refutes the devil’s claim. “No,” she says, “We are legion.”

Note and Links for this Essay
Turning Point, Lehigh Valley Shelter for Women

Moravian Book Shop, Independent book and gift store in historic Bethlehem PA

Read my interview with Naomi Gal about the relationship between fiction and fact.

Read my essay about Kate Braestrup’s exploration of Good and Evil

Writers in the Lehigh Valley – visit the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group