(Jerry Waxler is obsessed with memory and remembering. For both literary and personal reasons he is intensely curious as to how events transform themselves into memories, and the process by which those memories become written works. Jerry has put together a tremendous collection of writing and thinking on this topic. Valuable stuff for anyone trying to write a memoir, or even record memories, and also for fiction writers. In his interview with me we touched on the relationship between memory and imagination, a pretty fascinating topic. More to this is that his Memory Writers Network blog is full of well-written, informative, and interesting essays. I asked Jerry about his motivation for blogging, and the following is his answer. – Xujun)
The television show, Grey’s Anatomy, is about a group of medical interns. Even though they seem to be clumsy, barely born doctors, their status as “beginners” takes place at the end of an arduous struggle through high school, college, and medical school. They are reaching the top of a mountain they have been climbing their whole lives. After much striving and competition, one of the interns wins a coveted spot scrubbing into her first surgery. She watches what to the rest of us looks like blood and guts, but to her is the dance of life, healing a body by cutting and reorganizing some of those messy tissues. She floats out at the end of the surgery, totally saturated with this peak moment, a climax of the endless desire that brought her to this point. She turns to a fellow intern and asks “Why would anyone do drugs?” I feel the same wonder after my first year of blogging. It is the culmination of a lifetime of desire.
For my whole life, I’ve been intrigued by the variety of human experience. I also love to write. Over the years, these two passions have persisted and grown. I want to understand people, and I want to write. But until recently, I have been unable to combine these desires into one, so I wrote about other things. My first two books were about writing. When I was 52, I received a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology. After imbibing this rich array of insights into ways that people could grow, I wanted to put it all in writing, but I didn’t want to just keep it in a drawer, and I didn’t think it would be a publishable work. So I wrote it on my first website, mental-health-survival-guide.com, which thanks to the magic of the internet is still out there.
I kept writing and learning about people, and a few years ago I stumbled on memoir writing as a system into which I could pour all my passions. Memoir writing turns attention inwards, where we can examine our own journey. And it also turns our attention outward, learning how to shape a story that makes sense to others. This is what happens in a therapist’s office. During therapy people authentically share their lives and in the process they improve their own self-understanding. I wanted to extend this from individual therapy to include everyone who is looking for deeper meaning within their lives.
I did not study the value of memoir writing in school. I had to develop the ideas myself, so I began to study, reading memoir after memoir. Each one teaches me two things: what it was like being that one person, and what it was like turning that life journey into a story. The lessons poured in, and I began to organize what I was learning. Again, I did not want my ideas to sit in a drawer, so I turned to blogging. At first I thought this would simply provide an easy way to publish my essays. That turned out to be only the beginning. I continue to find more and deeper rewards.
The longer I blog the more advantages I discover. By receiving comments and visiting other blogs, and finding people interested in memoir writing, I was both discovering and creating a micro-community of like minded individuals. The opportunity to write, then publish my ideas, and get feedback and community from others has been enormously empowering. Like the radicals who printed brochures during the American Revolution, I can put together and hand out my ideas, and I don’t have to stand on street corners.
What is the revolution I am fomenting? I suppose in one way, blogging itself is a revolution. Turning your individual, unique knowledge, passion, and wisdom into story and publishing it to the world is one of the neatest ways I have ever seen to incite deeper understanding and sharing of self. By blogging our life stories we can learn about each other and perhaps improve world peace. Hopefully it will work better and more creatively than trying to promote understanding through street protests.
The blogging world is highly diverse and diffuse, and so it requires exploring to discover blogs that convey this passion but they are out there, sharing worlds, connecting and empowering people. Some are empowering politically, giving people a chance to express views they wouldn’t have a way to publicize any other way. Some are empowering culturally, because sub-communities, outsiders, cliques, ethnic minorities, or in fact any group can band together and share ideas. And others are empowering creatively, because the creative spark becomes brighter when it connect with people in the world. Is blogging the only and true revolution? I don’t think so. Blogging and writing are just tools. The revolution that interests me most is to grow, individually and collectively towards greater wisdom.
One of the most surprising things about blogging is that it’s a form of performance. I have always been shy, preferring to avoid the public. Now, as I blog, I am learning how to extend myself towards strangers. Some become friends, in this new internet sense of friendship, while others remain onlookers. This means I am a performer, which is a mindboggling expansion of my social skills that I never expected to be achieving in my sixties. (I just turned 61 so I’m in the thick of it now.)
What’s next? As I learn more about life story telling, I realize that stories become powerful not just because of external events, but because the storyteller found the power in the events. This has caused me to look more closely at situations in my life that I always assumed were mundane, and what looked like blood and guts becomes the powerful, exhilarating struggle to find meaning within the ordinary. I intend to reveal more of what I discover through my blog and perhaps someday in a book. Over time I expect my investigation will lead in new directions. I find that, in a way, aging is a spiritual experience and at some point I may shift from finding the wisdom in the past into finding wisdom in the future. For now, what’s next is my next blog entry. I’m on deadline every week, under pressure to learn and grow, and find words that let me share myself with the world.