"All my life I have been interested in how people can heal," writes Linda Joy Myers in her newly released book. As the reader will see, Linda has not just "been interested". She has built her professional and personal pursuits around this interest.
As a young child, Myers was abandoned by her own mother and father and left to be raised by her grandmother. After seeing three generations of rejection, abandonment, and mental illness (as she later learned) in her own family, she began a quest: "How (do) people come to healing and forgiveness...even when there were deep injuries...?"
This quest led Myers to a career in counseling. Linda is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1993, she returned to school and earned an MFA in creative writing from Mills College, where she learned skills and techniques she would need to tell the story that has always called her. Since then, in addition to her therapy practice, she has taught memoir writing and offers Autobiography and Therapeutic Healing workshops and training to therapists. Her memoir, Don't Call Me Mother, describes three generations of women in her family who abandoned their daughters. In Becoming Whole, Linda has written a clear, user-friendly guide for anyone contemplating writing her own story. She even created the original artwork for the cover.
The book is organized in three sections: "Healing with Memoirs"—how memoir writing can heal both physical and emotional pain, "The Psychology of Memoir Writing"—exploring family dynamics, childhood developmental stages, and the ethics of writing and revealing family stories, and "Writing the Memoir"—guidance to help the reader build her own memoir.
Throughout this book, Linda illustrates her topics not only with vignettes written by students in her workshops, but also generously shares examples from her own childhood and her experiences writing about them. Each chapter includes suggestions and questions to stimulate the reader's memory and writing, and references to relevant books and webpages. Several appendices include additional stories written by her students, a developmental questionnaire meant to capture memories chronologically, a note to therapists, and a list of writing tips. References and recommended memoirs follow.
In addition to explaining the theoretical underpinnings of what makes writing healing, Linda addresses different forms of self-writing that can be used for healing—journals, diaries, poetry, memoirs. Also discussed are trauma and PTSD, self-nurturing while writing about painful events, discovering the truth, exploring ever-deepening layers of how one sees oneself and one's family, and "weav(ing) a larger, more integrated story of your life." She nicely intertwines theory with her personal experiences of emotional abuse and search for healing. With down-to-earth language, she offers a wealth of practical suggestions for writing and containing the anxiety that may result.
In Part II, "The Psychology of Memoir Writing," Linda discusses how the past shapes the present and how families work. She touches upon stages of emotional child development and their relevance. There are interesting chapters on the genogram—a diagram of family relationships, the critic-censor, ethics of memoir writing and forgiveness.
In Part III, "Writing the Memoir," Linda presents a crash course in the elements of creative writing, organizing a memoir, making stories come alive, researching relevant settings and cultures, and how to enrich one's story by adding details from court records, newspaper archives, interviews with relatives and friends, phone books and genealogies. The last chapter, "Bringing Your Memoir Into the World," presents issues around the decision to publish (or not), rewriting, enhancing and fictionalizing, disguising identities, obtaining consents, hiring an editor, publishing options and resources, advances, royalties, publicity and promotional alternatives.
Linda Joy Myers has been a member of Story Circle since September 2000. Her essay, "Who am I?" won first place in the 2002 annual Carol Landherr Lifewriting Competition sponsored by Story Circle. Her story, "Herbert Hoover's Birthplace", won the Jessamyn West Prize in 1995, and her poetry, fiction, and memoirs have been published in "Westwind", "Writing for Our Lives", and other literary journals.
Check out our interview with the author of Becoming Whole.
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