Images of the sixties swirl through our media-drenched culture. The Beatles first trip to the U.S… Hippies dancing wildly at Woodstock… Soldiers creeping warily through overgrown jungle… Students shot dead at Kent State… The collage of those familiar images would cover the Berlin Wall. But seeing the external details of a story says little if anything about the hearts of the people.
Many of us who live through those times were stuck behind that wall, held back from sharing our stories by the fear that everyone already knew all about what we went through. As we grow older we wish we could explore and share not just the iconography but the complex emotions and ideas that had taken hold of our minds. But the fear of the cliché has always held us back.
Now, with the advent of the Memoir Revolution, many of us are writing stories as a tool to help us make sense of confusing or powerful memories. By portraying the world through the mind of a character in a memoir, we reveal our own journey in a fresh, intimate way. What did you really want? What did you really believe or fear? These are the questions that drive the Memoir Revolution. They take us behind the scenes of the clichés to understand the people.
The sixties are not the only type of story hidden by the fear of the cliché. We humans share many universal experiences. When we look at each other on the surface, we only see the images. But when we tell the story, we bond on a much deeper level.
What experiences do you want to write about? Do you wish you could tell the story of grieving, caregiving, coming of age, launching, addiction, betrayal, illness, search for identity and spirituality, cultural mixing, finding your dignity, or any of the other things that make us human? Are you avoiding writing because you fear your story might not be unique, or “has already been written?”
To break the silence, scrape away that fear. Under the surface you will find an authentic story that shows your humanity and in the process of writing it, you will gain a deeper understanding of it yourself.
I have read many memoirs which tell the “same story” as other ones – but their similarities don’t detract from the awesome insights and compassion evoked by each well-crafted experience.
This principle of “same but different” memoirs is perfectly illustrated by Pamela Jane’s Incredible Talent for Existing. It is about the way she willfully marched into the sixties, intending to unravel everything. I loved her exploration of this strange period in our culture when we were convinced that we could save the world by destroying our beliefs.
In addition to being a good story in its own right, it validated one of the most profound truths of the Memoir Revolution. Even when we go through “identical” experiences, each of us has been through that experience in our own way.
Pamela Jane’s memoir illustrates this point because it is in many ways identical to my own memoir Thinking My Way to the End of the World. I happened to be one of the millions who accepted the notion that we could build society up by tearing it down. Now, it sounds crazy but back then it made sense. I wrote about my journey down and back in my memoir
Both memoirs discuss a fact about the sixties that has rarely been discussed. After “dropping out” we had to drop back in. After you’ve destroyed all your beliefs, finding them again turns out to be incredibly difficult.
If you want a good insight into this psychic self-immolation and then the journey back to wholeness read Pamela Jane’s memoir An Incredible Talent for Existing. And then read mine, Thinking My Way to the End of the World.
Like Pamela Jane, when I emerged from the mass psychosis of the sixties, I went on a long forced march to make sense of myself. Through self-help, therapy, meditation, and reflection I gradually created a sane adult life. But during this long, grueling process of rebuilding, the news media and pop culture had stopped watching. The cameras were all packed up and moved on and we had to reconstruct our minds on our own. Now, thanks to the Memoir Revolution we can look back and understand the inner story, the one that the cameras missed.
We are taught in fiction writing classes to be specific about the things we saw, smelled, heard, tasted, and touched. Memoirs take advantage of all those sensory details and they also add another dimension. Because memoirs are about the deep specificity of your own inner life, you can tell an incredibly specific and powerful story by turning the spotlight inward. To turn your individual life into a powerful, moving story, dive into your own interior and try to describe exactly what you feared and hoped, thought and believed. When you add those inner truths, you will scrape away the clichés and reveal a unique multi-dimensional story.
Jerry Waxler is a memoir coach, teacher, and blogger, and author of Memoir Revolution: A Social Shift that Uses your Story to Heal, Connect, and Inspire. http://amzn.to/22cXANM]
Hear Jerry and Linda Joy talk at the Roundtable about his twelve-year odyssey to write his memoir. https://namw.org/2016/03/april-roundtable-discussion
For more stories about the sixties read Times They Were a Changing, an anthology edited by Linda Joy Myers and two other editors, an Indie Excellent finalist award.