Writing Your Life Story

truth.jpgMy group asked me the other day about how to use real people in their memoir writing. I wish I had found this quote when I was looking for information to share with them.

Mark Twain said,

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

So obvious and so true, but how often it is hard for people to hear. I have been trying truth telling but often feel unheard.

Another suggestion I tell my group is that it is their truth and may not be someone else’s. Another quote:

Keep in mind that memories are subjective and tend to evolve over time.
[http://helensedwick.com/how-to-use-real-people-in-your-writing/ found 30th July 2018]

That is not to say that the truth changes but how you view the truth changes. There are facts that never change however. Things like “yesterday I went to see a waterfall with my in-laws.” That is truth. But then things like how busy it was, how warm/cold it was, whether it was a good time, bad time, etc become subjective. Even things like “your mum was really happy there” can be subjective. In reality she seemed happy to me but to other members of the family she could have looked sad, angry, distant, crazy, etc. Even thingswhat is truth like “Bob is an alcoholic” is not a truth unless Bob has told the family. So one could say “Bob appears to drink a lot and I am concerned that he is an alcoholic” or “Bob says he is an alcoholic”. Both statements are true because one is that I have seen Bob drink a lot and he has said he is an alcoholic. The concerned bit is my opinion. So with “your mum” I could say she seemed happy to me because that is my opinion.

So even though Mark Twain says tell the truth what is the truth is not as clear. Also as the second quote says our memories evolve over time. Emily Dickenson has a lovely poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant By Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

So facts are facts and are unchangeable but our personal truths of what happened to us to change and evolve depending on what story we tell. There are people who say that the truth of their story doesn’t change but I don’t think that is true 🙂 We are an evolving people and so how we remember things will change.

Another quote that came to me as I wrote this was

Jesus said “know the truth and the truth will set you free” John 8:32

Now I wonder with this if Jesus meant that as we grow and evolve our theology will change and alter. Hopefully grow. He was talking to Pharisees who had spent years looking at the scriptures and working out the truth of them. Jesus says it is those who are his disciples and who follow his teachings who will know the truth and be set free by it. For myself I find that understand that how I perceive a series of facts is not how truth_set_freesomeone else might perceive them then I do feel freer to know that what I understand is what I understand and not to have to spend time browbeating the other person to believe in things how I see them. So going back to “your mum was really happy there”. That is my truth. Another family member could say “mum was really upset there” and that is there truth. Maybe we need to ask mum and see what she thinks? But then maybe mum was happy at the waterfall but upset as she walked back. Maybe both things are true and each person saw her at a different time (Note this is made up to help with a point and not factual 🙂  )

It is not about having different morals as is feared by some with the post-modern conversation, but it can be that all truth is subjective to who I am, my experiences, where I am as I tell this tale.

So my hope is, with my memoir writing group, that they can be free to write their story in their words with their memories of the facts that happened in their lives, as each of us should be free to.

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On THIS Rock I Will Build My Church

deganwy-north-beach-2I was walking the dog on Conwy Beach this morning looking toward Deganwy and felt God speak to me as I was looking at the basalt column that rises above the down. He felt Him say “on this rock I will build my church” so I asked for a bit of explanation as it’s a verse we all know well and have often been told it means the confession of Peter that Jesus was the Messiah.

As I was walking I kept thinking and chewing this over. Basalt columns pushed themselves up during a time of great volcanic upheaval, not a peaceful time. The rise above the surrounding area because erosion has stripped away all that may have surrounded them. This is how my faith feels. My faith came up during a time of upheaval

snaefellsnes_hiticeland_1140
I love this one standing alone

for me – single mum leading a lifestyle that focused around drinking, drugs and random people staying at my house. When it started it was surrounded by loads of supports, theologies, rules, etc but all those have been eroded away.

I went to the funeral of a dear friend last week who’d died at 43. A lovely, crazy, opinionated friend who sometimes drove me to distraction who had argued through her Christian faith. Gone way too soon. At her funeral the vicar read I Corinthians 13, the love chapter as it is often known. Whilst listening to it I could feel something stirring in me but wasn’t sure what. The walk today revealed what it was. Everything has been stripped away. I no longer care about whether it makes you a “proper” Christian if you speak in tongues or prophecy or say the right prayers at the right time or whatever silly ideas I had. I’ve been watching Gunpowder [and have studies this period too] and it amazes me how people were willing to die or to take the life of another for a believe which I’m not sure God even cares about. I may not have been that bad when I first came to faith but I know I lost friends because of my dogmatism. That has all been stripped away. Now very little remains but I stand – not so much tall but I stand like the basalt column.

tumblr_mhhsu9ys701qawir9o1_500What is left? Faith – A faith that God is bigger than anything I ever hoped or believed and that He is always there for me whatever I walk through and that I will stay with Him forever. Hope – that God is bigger and that those who’ve died before me will be with Him, that those who don’t profess to knowing Him on this earth will be with Him at the end [see I can’t believe that if we are all made in the image of God – and that we don’t just become made in that image when we “pray the prayer” – that God will take what He has made to be with Him . But that’s another thought entirely ] Love – that God loves me, loves those I love, loves those I don’t love too, and that I must learn to love too.

Faith and Hope and Love that is all that remains but I feel that God said to me today that this is what He’s building His Church on and I need to stand on that no matter what more the storms have to throw at me.

faith-hope-love
This says it all so well

Choose Life

Moses repeated the words God told him about the Jewish people’s having a choice life-spirit-feature-imgbetween life and death, blessing and curses. The apostle Paul said Jesus came to take the sting of death away. This poem on Velveteen Rabbi’s blog post this morning, says it all for me about how too often we choose death. For me not only are the gunmen responsible for deaths, the terrorists responsible for deaths but we all are. We are in a world that allows guns – ok so in the UK and Europe we don’t have the same gun laws and the US but we still have guns; young men in inner cities with guns because of fear and need for power, farmers with guns to shoot rabbit, vermin, etc, Policeman carrying guns because there are gun crimes. We live in a landscape that gives rise to fear and hate, for the need to control, for the need to be seen. Too often we choose death not live, we choose to put the other down rather than raise them up. We choose to fear rather than trust, to see the bad rather than the good.

Each time we fear or need power, don’t trust and don’t accept, we are choosing death empower1over life. Yes we need to stop gun crime. Yes we need to stop stabbings. But we also need to stop fear and disempowering others. If we gave people a voice, some place to speak, gave them power without the gun, maybe that would help them choose life over death.

 

Here’s Rachel’s poem

Prayer-after

I loved and grieved from the day you claimed your free will,
Knowing that you too would open into infinite love and grief,

Knowing how your hearts would bloom with gratitude and hope
With every child’s every first, and lament every child’s every last,

As I do and always will with My children’s every first and every last
In the raw and wild cosmic dance we began together in the garden.

What else could I do? You must become what you must become,
Like Me infinitely becoming, infinitely capable of love and grief,

So I clothed your shimmering lights in skins and hid in plain sight
For you to seek and find Me amidst life’s sweetness and sorrow.

How fast your lights flickered underneath: your second son’s blood
Cried out to Me from the ground, too soon returning earth to earth.

The guilty wandered the land howling, pining for peace and safety
Denied by the very violence that condemned the guilty to wander,

Setting in motion also the vicious whirlwind spinning through
Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas. Where next?

I did not mean for you to live like this or die like this – in fear and terror,
In trauma’s torrents, in shrapnel showers turning streets into killing fields.

You still can choose life: the free will your ancestors claimed for you
Remains yours even now, and still I gasp with loving pride and worry

With your every first and every last, grieving the countless innocents
Returning to Me in My own image too soon, bloodied and bagged.

But still you choose death. Aimlessly you wander the land howling,
Pining for peace and safety that senseless violence steals from you.

Choose to be My love, My strength, My intuition, My prophets, My beauty,
My healing hands – My living essence in this bloody and weary world.

Only then will this cruelest of your roulette wheels stop spinning red.
Oh, how I long with you for that day when you truly will choose life.

 

Claimed your own free will – Eve’s “defiance” in Eden claimed human agency for all her successors (Genesis 3:6-7).

Knowing … bloom – An allusion to the Tree of Knowledge and humanity’s “opening” into the knowledge of love and loss.

You must become – God describes God’s self to Moses as אהיה אשר אהיה / Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, “I Am Becoming Who I Am Becoming” (Exodus 3:14). We who are made in the divine image are also called to perennially become.

Clothed your shimmering light in skins – Because the Hebrew words for “skin” (עור) and “light” (אור) both are pronounced or, Zohar teaches that Eden’s first humans were beings of light, before God made us garments of skins. Even so, our skins cover our light, which we still can see if we look carefully.

Your second son’s blood… returning earth to earth. Humanity’s first murder – Cain killing Abel (Genesis 4) – spilled Abel’s blood (דם / dam) to the earth (אדמה / adamah).

Wander – Cain, after murdering his brother, was condemned to wander the land without peace (Genesis 4:14).

Setting in motion also – From Cain comes not only the first murder but also the rhetorical question – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:8) – that continues to reverberate through the generations, and also the first “Why?” (Genesis 4:6), which teaches all future generations the possibility of teshuvah / return and repair (Radak Gen. 4:6).

Whirlwind – An allusion to the סערה (storm) from which God answered Job (Job 38:1). The storm’s circular shape resembles both a roulette wheel and a gun’s rotating cylinder that conveys bullets.

Choose life – “Choose life, if you and your progeny would live’ (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Aimlessly – The indiscriminate shooter, the nation’s inertia.

My love, My strength… – Seven emanations of the divine, corresponding to the seven lower sefirot of Kabbalistic tradition: chesed (love), gevurah (strength / boundaries), tiferet (balance), netzach (endurance / momentum), hod (beauty / gratitude), yesod (foundation / generativity), malchut (indwelling).

Roulette wheels stop spinning red – For the gaming tables of Las Vegas and the ultimate gamble: walking the streets safe and unafraid.

14 stanzas – 14 for יד, the yad (hand) of God: we now are the hand that must act.

332 words – 332 for לבש, lavash (clothed) in divine skins that cover our light.

 

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Evan Markus

(cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi and to R’ David’s website; feel free to reprint, with attribution.)