Memoir 101: Writing the Stories of YOur Life starts Tuesday, January 26th, at 10 AM EDT

In every Memoir class I teach, I am astonished by what individuals can do when invited to unleash the power of their voice in writing. I witness over and over what sharing our stories does to create confidence, healing and transformation.

I invite you to join the next cohort of writers starting tomorrow, Tuesday, January 26th at 10 AM EDT for this live five-week online class. Partial scholarships available.

“This class has changed my life. I have the confidence and inspiration I need to see this project through to the end.”

WRITE YOUR STORIES…

I hear it all the time. “Do my stories really matter? Does anyone want to read what I have to say?” My answer is a resounding YES. But only if you tell your stories well, only if you write with passion, vulnerability and honesty. And that is something you can learn to do with instruction, practice and encouragement. If you write from your heart, your stories will move people. They will help others to make sense of their own past by reading about yours.

When you start writing your stories in this way, you may be surprised to discover more than you expected. Not only will you access memories you thought you’d forgotten, but also by reaching back into your past and bringing into the light memories you have been ignoring, you can move forward in your life with more clarity, power and awareness. By writing about events of your life, you are able to witness them from the perspective of your older wiser self as you make space to process, reflect on and release them.

This can be a powerful act. As Richard Blanco said to Melanie Brooks, author of Writing Hard Stories, “It’s either writing a memoir or therapy. But even therapy can’t compare to writing a memoir. Writing one memoir is worth ten about ten years of therapy!”

So when you find yourself discouraged by the hard work of writing, keep going. Keep writing from your heart. Keep looking back and writing your way forward.

Catharine H. Murrray

Author, Now You See the Sky, Akashic Books, 2018

Join me for Memoir 101: Writing the Stories of Your Life.

This 5-week live online course, will begin on Tuesday, January 26, 2020 at 10 AM. Click here for more information and to register. Enrollment is limited, reserve your spot early.

Saying Goodbye

I am sharing with you a link for a radio show I hope you will listen to.

As 2020 draws to a close and we find ourselves in that place between the holidays and the New Year, we may be in a kind of no-man’s land of emotion. This year the pandemic and the emergence of deep social and political divisions brought losses and feelings of grief, anger, confusion and dismay. As we move through these final days of the year, we may find ourselves even more emotionally depleted and disoriented than usual.

Saying Goodbye, currently airing around the country on NPR stations, is a show about how to be with our loved ones as they are dying. And yet I think this show speaks to all of us, addressing that tender place of grief that surfaces from time to time, whether from old losses or new.

As an author of a memoir about grief, I was interviewed by host Anne Hallward about saying goodbye to my son. That 7-minute interview and a reading of one of my poems occur near the end of this hour-long show.

I hope you will take some time for yourself to listen to the whole show and be moved and inspired by the stories in it as they strengthen your sense of connection to our one human family.

Save the Date…

Memoir 101: Writing the Stories of Your Life, the 5-week live online course, will begin on Tuesday, January 26, 2020 at 10 AM. Click here for more information and to register. Look for a message from me with more about this next week.

Surviving Social Slow Down: First of three Ideas

Some of us are having a hard time. Parents with children home all day have to suddenly negotiate a new family system that may demand more time and attention than before. Workers furloughed with no return date in sight are wondering how to keep a roof overhead and food on the table. All of us have to find ways to stay connected to those we love when we cannot touch each other. Many of us are afraid of illness for ourselves, those we love and those we’ve never met.

We are facing new ways of being, working and communicating, new situations that challenge our minds and our hearts. And for some of us, this can be very hard at times. Many of the places we used to go to find solace or camaraderie have been taken away from us. A close friend’s warm shoulder, a cold beer at a cozy bar, our favorite latte at a lively coffee shop, a bargain at a stylish store, none of this is accessible now.

So rather than avoiding our inner discomfort or having it soothed by the distraction of a friend or a drink or an ice cream or pair of earrings, we now have the very uncomfortable job of being with our own feelings. When there is no where to rush off to, we might notice vague feelings of fear or dread or boredom or loneliness rising up from the places within us we can usually keep out of sight.

There is always the TV, the fridge, the internet and the endless work of home, so we could keep hiding, keep busy, keep ourselves from hearing the insistent voices inside that ask for our attention. But after a while, screens begin to feel less inviting, food loses its appeal, chores exhaust us, and we find ourselves, again, alone with ourselves.

This can be a hard place to be. But the good news is, it can also be a deeply nourishing place to be if one makes the time and effort to pay attention. If we can, rather than flee from our discomfort, sit still and invite it in, we may find some powerful learning takes place, some healing we didn’t even know we needed.

It can be helpful, perhaps essential, to approach our difficult feelings with the clear sense of a container. A container both in terms of time and space can give us the reassuring sense that we don’t have to sit in these difficult places forever, that we will enter into contact with the thoughts and feelings, recognize and allow them, let them be transformed by our loving presence, and then we will move back into the present. So for the three methods I will describe over the next few days, the three containers, be sure to set a timer before you begin any of them. Start with just a few minutes, five or even one, whatever feels just at the edge of your comfort level. And as your practice becomes more regular, extend the period of time you work.

Meditation is one of the oldest forms of opening to the wise part of ourselves. It is a time-tested and effective tool for making space to increase peace in our lives and access inner wisdom. When we stop for a few minutes, sit still, and let the business of our minds settle into relaxed, loving, curiosity, we begin to see and feel what lies beneath the usual speed of our lives. If we do it regularly, we will have better access to our own intelligence.

When we meditate, we make room for thoughts and feelings to arise. And we lovingly receive whatever, I repeat WHATEVER, comes up. We let go of judgment, and we witness the mischievous mind’s offerings, saying to ourselves, “Oh that thought. That’s not me. That’s just the mind.” Or maybe we say to ourselves, “Sweetie, I’m so sorry that this has been here. That is hard. You’re doing a good job despite these thoughts that try to set you back, despite the difficult memories you’ve tried to avoid. Don’t worry. It’s only the mind. You’re just right. There’s nothing wrong with you.”

When the timer rings, acknowledge your good intention in sitting still, in pushing against a lifelong pattern of moving away rather than toward what’s hard. Be pleased with your efforts.

Doing something new that’s good for us, that we’re not used to doing, even for a few minutes once a day can be difficult. I think of each of my life-long patterns (procrastination, negative self-talk, reluctance to be in the spotlight) like a huge tanker moving across the ocean, steady with a tremendous amount of inertia. When I take up a practice to reverse the vector of the pattern, it’s like turning a that ship around. It doesn’t turn on a dime. It takes time and energy to slowly pull it off its old course and onto a better one. But once the turn begins, the inertia has shifted, and the ship is headed in the right direction at last.


After you do the work of nudging the ship in the right direction, reward yourself. Recognize your efforts for the hard work they are. Plan some pleasant, rewarding task for when you finish: water the plants, take a walk on the beach, cook your favorite soup, sit down to a bowl of ice cream.

Being with the parts of ourselves we have avoided for long periods of time is work that requires courage and patience. Be especially kind to yourself, knowing you are working hard to bring your best, most nurtured self to this challenging time.

Live Reading Sunday, january 10th at 8 pM

https://www.facebook.com/groups/stonehousereaders

I will be reading from my memoir Now You See the Sky (Akashic Books, 2018) at the Stone House Readers’ Series Sunday, January 10th at 8:00 PM.

Stonecoast MFA alumni BRADY KAMPHENKEL (poetry) and JOHN CHRISTOPHER NELSON (fiction) will also read. The event is free and will be streamed live on the Stone House Readers’ Series Facebook page. I plan to spend some time after I read answering questions about the process of memoir writing.

If you would like to attend but don’t have facebook, send me an email at writingwithcatharine@gmail.com, and I will set you up with a zoom link, so you can watch from there.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/stonehousereaders

Time to Speak

We are living in a time when uncertainty is at the forefront of our emotional landscape. We don’t know what will happen in the next few weeks and months as our country goes to the polls to voice our values and decide our direction. We don’t know how those in power will respond if the choice the voters make does not support them. What most of us thought was a stable foundation of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, is under threat.

One thing, however, has become certain throughout all of this. We can no longer remain silent.

And yet, we may wonder, how can I speak? I am not powerful. I don’t know how to put my voice into the call for justice. What do I know about ending any of this insanity?

Those of us who are able, give financial support to the organizations we think will help. We post on social media the words of those who speak eloquently. We march and raise our small voices into the chants of the multitudes. We vote.

What else can we do? we may ask ourselves. There must be more.

I suggest that we bring the tool of writing to this question. The practice of writing connects the potential power of the unconscious mind with the practical power of the conscious mind. When we ask ourselves what we can do in the midst of all this and write the thoughts that arise, we may be surprised to find a pattern to our responses. If we stay with this practice with persistence, we may tap into forgotten passions that can fuel our actions.

So I encourage you to make time to sit still and listen to yourself. I encourage you to wake up fifteen minutes earlier three days each week for the next month. Before you get out of bed, pick up your pen and notebook or laptop, sit up and ask yourself, What do I need to say in the midst of all of this? What am I afraid of? What am I hopeful about? How can I help?” And then you write honestly whatever comes. You write without stopping for fifteen minutes. This way the inner-critic doesn’t have time to get a foothold. You simply keep writing no matter what comes out. What comes out may be something you’d rather not face. You might rather not know that part of you thinks I’ve worked hard to have the life I do. I don’t have time to help other people figure this out or It’s all hopeless. Why bother? Or This isn’t my problem or I can barely manage my own life. How am I supposed to help manage all this overwhelming stuff?

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like your responses, write them anyway. Writing them out is releasing them. Maybe after you’ve written enough of them, they will recede, and a voice that feels more like the part you would like to cultivate will emerge. But you won’t know this if you don’t give the less likable parts room to speak. Listen to them, engage them, thank them. And keep writing.

Through the simple act of showing up to the blank page and writing what you hear, you will learn, day by day, line by line, to honor your own voice. And as you do, your deepest, most authentic voice will get stronger. You will know yourself better. You will have more confidence in your own power, and you may surprise yourself by speaking up where before you were silent.

This is an exploration. The nature of that means you don’t know where it will take you. But if you keep at it, the exploration will empower you. By taking time to sit with yourself, by listening patiently for what is waiting to be heard, you may learn what your role can be in healing our country’s wounds. You may help save our world. You may find a kind of superpower within that you can summon when the time comes. And that time has certainly come.

Catharine H. Murray is the author of Now You See the Sky, published by Akashic Books, 2018

To find support for your writing practice, join Catharine’s live online class Memoir 101: Writing the Stories of Your Life starting November 12, 2020.