Writing the Memoir in a Time of Crisis: Self-knowledge as Self-care
“To take care of oneself consists of knowing oneself”
—Michel Foucault, Technologies of the Self
Session 1: Week of April 13-May 18
Saturday’s @ 4pm
Session 2: Week of June 13-July 18
Meeting Time TBA
Autobiographical theorist James Olney wrote that “Self is the intrinsic oneness of a thing.” During a time of crisis, people often experience the self as fragmented and compartmentalized—anything but essentially “one” and whole. Writing the self, even when it means writing out the fragmented pieces of a self’s experience, can be a way to piece back together that experience of oneness.
Why write in a time of crisis? Isn’t there something more important we can spend our time doing? Gathering sycamore leaves to use when the toilet paper runs out? Sewing face masks? Attending to stressed and lonely children? Certainly, all these tasks demand our attention. But the work of self-care and self-reflection undergirds our ability to be fully present to all these other tasks, and this work can be accomplished through writing in a way that achieves many crucial objectives at once:
To keep a log of this experience, as the pandemic unfolds in the mundane realities that make up our days. As the news constantly reports, this experience is unprecedented. Writing gives us the opportunity to take note of what this new experience looks and feels like.
To mourn, to channel the overwhelming feelings that pool beneath the surface and color our reality with their murky depths. When we spend our days caring for others, the work of holding back our own emotions takes a toll on our energy and our life-giving spirit. Taking the space to express the inexpressible can loosen those parts of the self that this crisis holds in a tight grip.
To remember, to piece together and bring to voice pieces of your own story that you haven’t had occasion to put to words, to bring to light the meaning that dwells within your experience. In writing about the past we’ll explore the ways that the experience of pandemic and quarantine may color the memories we compose and how memories may shape our experience of the present.
To investigate the new meanings and ways of being that are being charted in these uncharted territories. How has communication changed as a result of being mediated almost exclusively digitally? How has your experience of bodies and proximity to others shifted and affected your perception of your own body? How are people drawing together in new ways? How are we responding to the ways in which we are pulled apart?
This course will:
Investigate why and how writing the self has powerful potential for self-care. This course will provide brief readings in the theory of autobiography to create a sense of the intricacy of attempting to write one’s life. We’ll also read excerpts from women’s autobiographical narratives. As we read we will ask what it is about these stories that speak to us, and how the authors accomplish that. The reading load will be light, so we can focus our short time mostly on writing. Readings will be used to inspire and spur our discussion about the craft of memoir.
Facilitate entry into and exploration of your own narrative. We all have a story that needs to be told. Maybe you already know what it is. But maybe, like me, you sit down before the blank page and your mind goes blank. Where do you start? We’ll explore different strategies for confronting this writing dilemma and think about how different ways of entering a story can open up that story to surprising new paths.
Provide feedback on your work, with an eye to communicating how I’m experiencing your story and asking you clarifying questions or suggesting places that I want to know more. There won’t be any grades, of course. I will read your work with an eye to helping you bring out the fullest potential of the narrative. Students will have the option to share and comment on each other’s work as well.
Week 1: Introduction to the art of memoir
Week 2: Entering the narrative
Week 3: Structural strategies
Week 4: Keeping momentum
Week 5: Sense of time
Week 6: Meaning and discovery
$150 for six 1.5 hr hour classes. $75 due upon registration. Remaining $75 due mid-course. I’m offering one seat free of charge to a student with financial hardship. If interested, please email me.
To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org and pay via PayPal, same address.
About the Instructor:
Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser lives in San Antonio, TX, where she explores the city and hill country with her two girls. Her PhD dissertation in English Literature explored how civilian women writers wrote memoirs to sustain the self amidst the trauma of the Second World War. Elisabeth has published academic essays on war literature, trauma, and teaching. Currently, she is finishing a book of memoir essays which interweave meditations on mothering with adventures from her pilgrim days. One of these, “Pilgrim, Mother,” was a finalist in Talking Writing’s Writing and Faith contest. She has also published in Lucia journal and Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. You can follow her blog Pilgriming, about embodied spirituality, mothering, and other adventures at elisabethhedrickmoser.com.