Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Parts Work

A split-person pot from the "boneyard" (discarded pottery) room at the Arrowmont School of the Arts
Though of course, memoir is not therapy, there are natural overlaps between the two. Just like there are natural overlaps between mindfulness/meditation and memoir.

Because I am a contemplative psychology nerd, on occasion I like to bring out that side. And one of the most helpful tools I have found for memoir writing - for writing in general, and in fact, for life - is parts work.

Parts work stems out of Gestalt Therapy (we consist of many parts that fit together) and Internal Family Systems Therapy (we have internalized our family situation and have aspects of us that speak to each other in those same dynamics). Teaching writing, I encourage students to explore these, because they represent our natural range of voice (not to say our only range, but our natural starting) and developing compassion for all these inner parts (whom I sometimes call our "inner others") really helps us meet the outer others - strangers, friends, lovers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Importance of Basic Goodness in Memoir

In writing memoir, we must veer from blame-placing or shame-taking. Either of these actions imply two beliefs:
1. There is something fundamentally wrong/bad/broken about our lives
2. If we could just name names, all will be fixed.
Either of these are uselessly circular - endless struggle and suffering.

I had a dream last night in which I started a righteous argument by trying to place blame. It all escalated from there, and I soon remembered there's no backing down from a bad beginning. And that's not even a published manuscript, just a dream in my head. A parable reminder of how painful and self-defeating that is.

But there is another kind of endlessness. In contemplating basic goodness this morning, in pondering something my mind believes but heart still struggles to grasp: that humans, that all beings are fundamentally good, ok, as is - the image of ouroboros came to mind. The snake eating its own tail.

I have often thought of the ouroboros as a sign of futility, but a little research showed me its natural positivity and flow (see in image above). 

That fine edge between wisdom and neurosis, right here in our own stories.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mirror Maze

I came to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to revise my main memoir, My Bermuda Triangle. I came here thinking it would be like Johnson, Vermont, where I spent a month at Vermont Studio Center a decade or so ago. Johnson is a tiny town, barely a town, quite rural and remote, extremely quiet.

Gatlinburg is not.
Or, I should say, Arrowmont is (the school where I am in residency for the week), but the town is not.

The town has not one, not two but eight separate Ripley's museums - the main "Believe it or Not!" museum, plus two mirror maze things, plus a haunted house and...you get the idea. It's actually a lot like Wisconsin Dells near Madison, with strips full of 100's of crappy shops which seem exciting at first but then you realize just repeat variations on the same fudge (universal) and moonshine (ok, THAT we don't have in Wisconsin).

But what caught my attention first thing the first day was the mirror maze.
THAT is what memoir is like, I thought, and snapped the above shot.