Let’s talk about how hard childhood can be and how writers express the pain. Regardless of religious background, ethnicity, nationality, or socioeconomic status, all writers vent in some form through memoir. Think of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes or Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The writing style is a matter of choice.
Today I’m introducing blogger and memoir writer, Sherrey Meyer who is writing about abuse and forgiveness.
SR: How do you as a writer deal with hurt or trauma?
SM: Susan, this is a good question. I thought when I started writing that the childhood hurts and trauma would not still be fresh enough to be bothersome. Was I ever wrong!
With each word, sentence or paragraph, I felt myself cringing at some of the memories dredged up with my writing. I began slowly because of the recalled pain and soon realized I needed to find a way to cope with these resurgent memories.
One fortunate occurrence for me was the forgiveness I felt for my mother shortly before her death. There were multiple reasons for this forgiveness, none of which were verbal between us. Yet to share them here would give away an essential part of my memoir.
However, quite often even that forgiveness would not be enough to block the pain and at those times I found several avenues for coping. I would simply stop writing, unless I was at a point where I might lose something I would never reach again. If that were the case, I would immediately turn to a verse of Scripture that was a favorite and if I may, I’ll share the one I sought most often. In Jeremiah 29:11, God shares: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This always centered me on the promise that God never intended me to be hurt, that my mother had an inherent problem due to a dysfunctional childhood, and that the hurt actually was not the result of her not loving me.
If all else failed, I turned to music, reading a lighthearted book, or getting outside and stretching my legs.
SR: Do you think a particular style works for writing about childhood wounds? IE how does a writer effectively deal with trauma without sounding like he or she is reciting a litany of complaints?
SM: Funny you should ask this question. I have recently been struggling with feeling like I have turned into a whining 67-year old daughter. I certainly do not wish to seem to be writing solely about my mother as the “Wicked Witch of the South.” Mama had her good points too, which my memoir will share.
In recent weeks, I have brainstormed about circumventing this easily adopted pattern of writing about the “bad parent.” On my blog, I have a page devoted to Letters to Mama, where I attempt to give my inner child a voice against Mama’s verbal and emotional onslaughts. As I considered those for inclusion in my memoir, another idea came in a light bulb moment. Incorporating vignettes as I write about those bad times between us would be the way to “show” rather than just “tell” the facts of Mama’s temperamental shortcomings. My nearest and dearest critic, my husband, has agreed this is highly workable and the option of choice. I’d love for any other memoirists to weigh in on this idea.
SR: What are a few of your favorite books or writers?
SM: You have opened the gate widely now, Susan. As you may or may not know, I am an avid reader and I review books for several publishing outlets on my book blog, Found Between the Covers.
I’ll try to keep the list short!
Among my favorite authors are Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Faulkner and a local Oregon author, Jane Kirkpatrick. There are many more but I’ll stop here.
Among my favorite books are Emma, Pride and Prejudice, The Anne of Green Gables series (a gift from Dad), The Little House books (you never grow too old for these!), Stephen King’s On Writing, Bird by Bird, The House Behind the Cedars, A Sweetness to the Soul, The Year of Magical Thinking, The Power of Memoir.
SR: What are you working on now?
SM: Currently, I’m working on the first draft of my memoir. I’ve had my share of false starts meaning I would get started and life would insert itself in a rude fashion. I would be forced to give up my writing for a while, and then start over again.
I have two other projects in mind, both historical fiction. I love to research and these two books will allow me to dig into some interesting history. The first is the story of orphanages in this country in the early 1900s centering on my father’s admission to an orphanage at age four and the 12 years he spent there before being apprenticed to a small town newspaper.
The other project is a book my recently deceased brother-in-law had hoped to write. His story idea is built around what was once The Poor Farm here in Portland, Oregon. The central characters visit the now restored facility on their honeymoon and become obsessed with the old photographs on the walls. They begin researching and soon find that the records they are uncovering lead to some interesting facts about their individual ancestries.
A retired legal secretary, Sherrey Meyer grew tired of drafting and revising pleadings and legal documents. She had always dreamed of writing something else, anything else! Once she retired she couldn’t stay away from the computer, and so she began to write. Among her projects is a memoir of her “life with mama,” an intriguing Southern tale of matriarchal power and control displayed in verbal and emotional abuse. Sherrey is married and lives with husband Bob in Milwaukie, OR.
Thanks, Sherrey! I’m looking forward to reading your memoir. Here’s a shout out to helping children everywhere. I’m a dedicated advocate for kids and families.
Journal prompt: Try writing a letter to someone who caused you harm or with whom you have unresolved issues. Let loose, use bad language if necessary and allow yourself to release. Do not send the letter. Wait a few months and go back and read the letter and see how you feel about it.
Suggestion: Try writing from the other person’s point of view and answer your letter. What happens? Is this difficult?
Readers, if you have a blog or a website and are interested in sharing your journaling, memoir, poetry, or writing about life contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming up: Native American author, musician and visionary, Joy Harjo.
photo credits: Susan Rowland