Monday, April 22, 2013

Somatic Writing and Memoir

Toronto, Ontario
Body Memory, in case you aren't aware of the idea, purports that we store experiences, sometimes exclusively, in our bodies. The only way to access these memories, or, a very direct way to access them, is through the body. Have you ever had a massage and suddenly burst out crying? Ever felt a pain that wouldn't go away that an allopathic doctor could not seem to treat? These are extreme examples of the body processing, or recalling, something that your mind cannot seem to access.

But it's more subtle than that. Alice Miller, in her book The Body Never Lies, goes pretty deep into analyzing, for instance, certain writers and how we can see what they struggled with, even though they don't express it directly in their journals/diaries. Because I am less interested in this kind of direct interpretation and more interested in overall communication "between" (as if they are separate) body and mind, the latter sections of this book (parts II and III) are what interest me most.

I met with one of my students who is writing memoir this morning. She noted that her daughter had requested more details in stories about her childhood - what color were the chickens on their farm? etc. She said, "But I was quite weak in the eyes when I was little - no one realized I needed glasses until I was eight or so." Also, "I am not like other people - I don't have much visual recall."

"But you definitely live in your body," I said and she nodded. She writes really well, already, from how her body felt at the time: sore, achy, liberated, loose. "Then ask your body for memories." Her eyes lit up. "You mean I could use body details instead? Now *that* I can do!"

Often, when we hear the writing adage "Show Don't Tell" we think it literally means we must SHOW VISUALLY when in fact any of our senses are useful. In fact, if we were to write only from a visual perspective, the experience would be literally two-dimensional.

There are at least two facets to using physical memory/memories: 

1. As Miller's title states: the body never lies. If we listen to our bodies, especially in the often intense process of writing memoir, we can find out new details about how we felt then, or what we need now in order to support ourselves through the process of writing and editing.

2. Body-based memories transport the reader in a way that nothing else does - if you can actually get a reader so that s/he is in their body while reading, then your embodied writing will both challenge them to stay present and engage their whole commitment to reading.

Writing memoir is not an easy process, no matter how old you are or how much other processing you have done in your life - therapy, whatever. There is no single story that will tell all you experienced. Your body helps keep you honest, and takes care of you in a way that a mind occupied with words and facts cannot. Listen to your body and see what it has to say in ways that are beyond words.

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