This Fall, I had the privilege of teaching a memoir writing course for the Salzman Foundation Life Long Learning Institute at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, NJ. The class, entitled Memoir: Telling Your Story, Writing from the Heart, was my first for the Salzman Foundation and my first foray into memoir! Working with 10 fabulous adults, we studied various texts on memoir, differentiated between memoir and fiction, and sought to mine our real life experiences to craft stories that both came from our hearts and spoke to others. Throughout it all, we had a wonderful time learning together and developing an authentic sense of community that comes from being willing to make ourselves vulnerable and sharing our true selves.
We spent a lot of time discussing the meaning of truth. I could capitalize it here, Truth, to raise the question to an existential one, but the line between truth in writing and Truth is, frankly, blurred. (See my earlier blog entry about how this can play out in the fiction world.) Our goal was always to tell a story from a place of factual history, but what exactly are “facts” in our personal recollection? Two people who observe an event together will undoubtedly recollect it differently, and in fact, one person may remember things one way at one moment and another way after the passing of time. So where is the truth in the story, and does it matter?
Well yes, it does matter, we learned. Not so much factual accuracy, though in memoir, we seek to capture that as well, but truth in conveying the feelings at stake in the story. Psychological truth—honesty about the emotions evoked at the time of an event, and recognition of how that impacts us—is what cracks us open and draws the reader in. That is what allows us to make connections with one another, and that is what Writing from the Heart means.
During our six class sessions, we shared a few tears and many, many laughs. We learned about one another’s truths, and we learned about our own. Writing memoir is cathartic, and we were blessed to experience some moments of personal growth throughout the process. The participants produced some darn good memoir stories, too!
If you’d like to learn to write your story, keep an eye out for the Salzman Foundation’s Life Long Learning spring brochure. We’re going do it all over again. Join us.