For My Memoir Writing Students – Join A Writing Group!

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“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” – Kahlil Gibran

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I teach an actual Memoir Writing Class on Thursday mornings, and because of that, Thursday has become one of the best days of my week. When I agreed to teach the class, I had very few good expectations. In fact, I thought that a couple of unmotivated people would probably begin the class and quit a week or so later, and that did happen. But several other people also joined the group. Not only are those other students inspiring as human beings, they  also have exceptional writing gifts. And here is the best part: All of them have a unique way of writing. Allow me to tell you about some of their approaches to writing [until I have permission, I will not share any names].

First, there is  X1. In many ways, X1 and I have similar personalities. Both of us like to go places, and we like to do just about anything that there is to do, and both of us like to talk. When I was in one of my college writing classes, a professor said that I would never be a writer. He said that I would always tell my stories, and before she began to write, I felt that way about X1. Fortunately, my college writing professor was wrong about me, and I was wrong about X1. X1’s enthusiasm bubbles through her writing. Her absolute joy of life percolates along with her words, and X1’s writing is an inspiration. X1 is of the Bahai faith, and having her in my class is like having a walking-talking Buddha. X1 is a philosopher–a delightful and bubbly Buddha, if you can imagine that.

x2 writes about her second home in the mountains of New Hampshire. Through her words, I begin to smell the logs burning in her fireplace, I sniff the pines outside her door, and I stand amazed at the crystal clear beauty that sweeps across her mountain vista. X2 says that she is not a writer, but she is wrong.

The amazing thing is that X3 is the only one of my memoir students who had ever written before taking my class. X3’s writing is serious and pensive, and with a terseness, X3 cracks open the experiences of her mind, and she allows them to trickle, like a stream of only a few, spare words. X3 writes in free verse poetry and unlike X1, X2, and me, X3 truly shows, without telling. X3’s words have a life of their own, and through X3’s pen, her images swim across the page.

Here is another interesting quip about X3: Although I am supposedly teaching her in my Memoir Writing Class, X3 defiantly refuses to write memoir, and she refuses to follow my instructions. X3 has been a closet writer for 30 years and her writing reflects the polish that one can only attain through 30 years of writing. X3 writes fiction in my Memoir Class, and she writes it in free verse. How great is that? I love it when my students think and act outside the box.
ballet-542170X4 IS outside the box, and it is wonderful! On the first day that I met with my students, I asked all of them to write 6 words that they felt best defined their pasts. X4’s word was “toe shoes.” [Didn’t she understand that “toe shoes” is two words? Had she already begun to disregard my instruction?]

Second, I asked the students to write a sentence that they associate with the word that they had listed. X4’s sentence was: “No more toe shoes for you.”

For some reason, my jaw dropped. I was expecting everyone to list a word and then to write a straightforward, boring sentence to go along with the word. For instance, one of my words was “Forests,” and my sentence for “Forests” was: “When I was a child, I spent most of my summers in a camp that was covered by deep forests.”

As I said, X4 is totally out of the box, and the truly great thing is that I don’t believe that she even knows that there is a box. X4 had completely challenged my preconceived format. From day 1, X4’s words have danced across the page, and I dance with them.

While I am talking about X4, I’ll share something that happened yesterday. I want all of my students to consider writing descriptively, and a couple of weeks ago–in a private conversation–I suggested to X4 that she read Barbara Kingsolver’s Poinsonwood Bible, which I believe is an excellent example of descriptive writing. Yesterday, X4 mentioned that book in the class, and the entire group lit up.

Several people had read Poinsonwood Bible, and others had wanted to read it. Poinsonwood Bible is written in multiple voices. One of the voices is the voice of the mother, and the other voices are those of the children. I was just about to explain to  X5, who says that she is an editor and not a writer, that I only liked the mother’s voice and that the children’s voices bored me, but X4 beat me to the punch and she said that she only liked the children’s voices. This brought up an excellent truth: Because all of us are different people, we respond differently to any number of types of writing. By the same token, because we are different types of people, we write with unique voices. On the first day that X4 came to class, I heard the voice of a child poking its head from this white-haired lady who wears red glasses, and I marveled. X4 invites her reader to play, and I love that about X4 and also about her writing.

Hiding in Plain Sight
Jacki Kelllum

Smiling, Joking, Dancing, Free
That’s the Social Side of Me.

Tossing kisses from my car,
Scared, Confused Alone We Are.

If you look, you will see
The Scared, Confused and Social Three.

©Jacki Kellum December 17, 2015

I could continue with these reflections upon the writings of the students in my class, but I’ll conclude by saying that because of our class time together, my students and I have become intimate friends. I often write in my blog about the fact that I have always felt that no one ever “got” me and that I had been doomed to live a solitary and private life. Through this group of writers, I have found companions. Each person in the group sings a separate song, and all of us look forward to coming together each week and to singing as a choir–in harmony. That is what true friendship is about. True friendship is about seeing each other, hearing each other, empathizing, and harmonizing.

In my writing group, NO one knows the correct way to write [not even the teacher], and yet, everyone [except X5, who says that she can only edit] dares to try, and everyone [except X5] succeeds in writing beautifully.

Now, let’s talk about X5, who has worked for years as an editor. X5 has a degree in writing, and I know that if she had not wanted to write, she would never have pursued that degree. Because of her mastery and love of words and because of her brilliance, X5 became an editor. The travesty is that she allowed her work as an editor to mute her writing voice. X5 IS a writer, but she is a writer who has almost been destroyed by her self-editor. She has only come to my group twice, and yesterday I told her that she needs to allow herself to crawl beneath the umbrella that hangs above my Memoir Class and to learn to feel the security of my writing friends. X5 will eventually write. She will eventually take a leap and tell us about one of her memories, and she will produce the writing of the writer that she has always been. I am eager for that day to come.

The bottom line about my writing class is that I am not actually the teacher of  the class. I am merely the facilitator, and I am called “teacher.” Like everyone else in the group, I learn every time that I write, and I learn by writing. Like the other people in my writing group, every Thursday morning, I come together and I sing, and I hear what the others have sung. Everyone in the group appreciates what everyone else has written, and everyone in the group appreciates everyone else.

Yesterday, I had lunch with some of the members of my group, and I said that we need to plan a trip to Key West together. I said that we need to visit Hemingway’s home, and we need to write there. We do need to take that trip, and we need to do that together–as a group. We need to do it as friends. I encourage everyone to join a writing group that is more than a class–that is nothing short of a living, flowing friendship–and to embrace that friendship and write.

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” – Kahlil Gibran

©Jacki Kellum July 29, 2016

Wind

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