24 April 2009

“We cannot do great things on this Earth,
only small things with great love.”
  - Mother Theresa

I attended the IWWG Big Apple Conference in New York City last weekend. Not only did I have the enormous privilege and pleasure of participating in the Authors Panel Discussion on Sunday and then meeting several leading literary agents, but I participated in the all-day workshop on Saturday, conducted by Lisa Dale Norton, author of Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills (Picador USA/St. Martin’s Press.)

If you haven't read that book, or the recently published Shimmering Images (St. Martin's Griffin), get thee quickly to the bookstore. Norton guides us through the unpredictable--and on occasion, unreliable--terrain of personal memory, and while the results are always entertaining, they are also nearly always surprising.
This is your chance to get a grip on the story you've always wanted to tell, and to find the compassion, forgiveness, and altruism in yourself to tell it. When she spoke of compassion, she wasn't equating it with pity or sympathy. Forgiveness can be extended to yourself, as well as to the person who has offended you. 

Altruism is without motive, and therefore arises from the capacity to love. Non-judgmental, non-threatening, and without agenda or motive other than to tell the story, the memoirist can use his or her experience to inform the world of truth.

Trust me. I know what I'm talking about here.

At the workshop ("The Compassionate Memoir") this past Saturday, more than once I found myself moved to tears as time and again, a woman revealed something of herself that resonated deeply within my own heart. It was an astonishing process, this discovery of self in somebody else. Lisa's definition of memoir, "Changing the future by re-seeing the past," set the tone for the whole day, and her final question to us at its conclusion, "Ask yourself, 'What was I searching for?' What's the bigger question that is to be answered?" sent me on my way back to New England prepared to dig for the hidden gems in my own memory banks.

Compassion, forgiveness, altruism. These ought to be the watchwords for every day of our lives.

We'd be better off for them.

Excuse me. I feel my memoir calling to me.


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