Grief, loss and writing for strangers

I was talking to a friend last night, and we moved from real life trauma that seems like it is something out of a movie, to why people write to process grief. Today I came across an article from Kristi DiLallo who runs a site called The Grief Diaries,  which shows that the need to write and create to process feelings of loss and grief is common to many of us. She says, “I started The Grief Diaries because there is no “right” way to lose someone, and grieving through art means there are no rules or restrictions.” In the article for Guernica she details her own journey of loss and grief, and her struggles to communicate an experience that often leaves people feeling that no-one hears what they are saying, no-one wants to listen. She also looks at how it is sometimes easier to share this sort of therapeutic writing and art with strangers.

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Workshop: How to Tell Your Story, 10am Saturday 12th September

Belles LettresIf you have a story to tell, life experiences to share, but have said, ‘I’m not a writer’, come to this introductory workshop with Antonia Chitty and learn ‘How to tell Your Story’.

Antonia will show you different ways people tell their story, you can try out different exercises to help you put pen to paper, and come away with ideas for different outlets to help you tell your tale.

10am, The Hastings Engine Room, St Leonards-on-Sea. Part of Belles Lettres
and Coastal Currents.

Your life, my life, story

I haven’t worked on this much recently, I’ve been writing a dissertation instead! If you’re looking for some great reading on life stories, a friend sent me this, which is all about how you arrange your life as a narrative.

My dissertation is about writing trauma. Right from when I worked at RNIB and had to carry out focus groups with people taking about sight loss, I have been inviting people to tell me their trauma. Examining this in detail makes me think about how I tell my own story. I think a lot of the time, I don’t. When I told my story as a child it was rejected too often, and in becoming an author I have the perfect excuse to listen rather than tell. I’ll be working on this… My life’s work is my story.

Review: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig #reasonstostayalive


How do you write a traumatic life experience like depression? In the midst of it, picking up a pen and exploring your feelings is impossible.

Why do you write about depression? Because when you are deep within depression, it feels like no-one else in the history of time has ever felt like you … and once you have reached a place beyond depression, maybe you want to let others know about that elusive thing called hope.

When do you write about depression? When the drugs have started to work? When you feel like you’re living again? When there’s something new to say, or something only you can say, or the impulse to write it is too great and none of what you have written so far quite deals with the itch, the need, to stop other people hurting in the same way that you hurt?

I don’t think I’ve every written properly about being depressed. Much of it is a blur: the parts I remember will be hard to write and painful to share. Maybe, 13 years down the line, I haven’t yet reached that point.

Matt Haig experienced depression in his twenties, and now, around 15 years later, he had finally addressed it head on in Reasons to Stay Alive. It’s a beautiful book, pocket sized, white binding, orange inner covers, rainbows dancing across the paper outer. And inside, it’s beautiful too.

The writing takes the form of scattered pieces, part memoir, part lists, a few selected tweets, and the story builds between the short chapters and sections. I don’t always finish every book I start, for a range of reasons, but I finished this one. It’s honest. It’s compelling. And it doesn’t tell you not to be depressed.

Haig skilfully avoids the ‘them and us’ of most self help style books: he’s there, deep in the depression, he’s there again as his current self, offering help, proof of a future, and most importantly, hope. He does end with 40 bits of advice on ‘How to live’, but none of it is preachy, it’s all tempered by the fact that he admits he doesn’t always follow his own advice.

And to finish, here’s one bit from the book that I love …

Self-help

How to stop time: kiss.

How to travel in time: read.

How to escape time: music.

How to feel time: write.

How to release time: breathe.

 

Reasons to Stay Alive is an incredibly low priced £6.99 at time of writing. Well worth a read whether you have been depressed, or want to understand someone else a little bit better.

Blogs, diaries, stories and a sense of self

dear world
This week I’ve started to read Dear World: Contemporary Uses of the Diary (Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography) by Kylie Cardell.

She writes, “in this study I argue that diary is the genre Smilinked intimately to the representation and construction of self and that it crystallises a certain set of these ideas of self: confession/privacy, surveillance/public presence.”

I’m interested in how this relates to blogging, which Cardell goes on to address in relation in particular to two British bloggers, Belle Du Jour and Abby Lee. I’m not covering sex bloggers in this study, but I think Cardell raises some relevant points about diarying and blogging in general.

For me, blogging feels like an essential part of this study. This blog is a place where I can gather and categorise thoughts that may or may not later make it into the dissertation, thoughts on books that I have read and lists of books I need to read. It is a public blog: if you are considering taking part in the study, the blog makes it possible for you to get an insight into all aspects that I have written about, from a simple call out to more in depth academic pieces. It is somewhere that you can find out about me, prior to letting me find out more about you. And, as the project progresses, this blog will be somewhere to hold interviews with people who contribute their experiences, it will be a place to tell stories.

I’ve just added links to my other sites, so alongside this research project you can have a look at

Enough about me, although perhaps this brings up a useful further point. In this blog I feel I can write academicaly, but I can also write informally. This blog is a space between academia and real life, between academics and people who write their life experiences.

So, back to the project, blogging and diaries …

Cardell quotes Frank Furedi: “Contemporary society transmits the belief that problems of emotion ought not to be faced by people on their own.”  She also touches on writing a diary as a confession, something I want to touch on in a separate post. Do you feel that in current society there is a need for transparency, a requirement to confess? Does writing your story, blogging about your experience, fill this function in some way?

Cardell also addresses, “The shifting boundary between public and private life.” In sharing a story that is based on life experience we open up our inner selves to scrutiny. There is, in that act, a hope that by sharing we will become better, more authentic, healed perhaps. Blogging, promoting a book, sharing your thoughts and experiences via social media smashes all ideas of ‘private’ that might in previous decades and centuries have been a fundamental part of a diary. Cardell highlights the Big Brother diary room as an example of the new norm about privacy of the confessional. This leads us back to ideas of self: self as a reflection of others opinions and views. Blogging creates a new self, a self on the screen. In writing a blog one can choose which parts of life experience to expose, and in that choosing, once can create a new self.

Authenticity is an important word in business, in blogging, in the world of social media promotion. Be authentic, be yourself, business gurus exhort. But which self are you true to when you blog? I’d like to suggest that blogging, a true blank page, allows anyone to create a new true self, find new virtual friends, and therefore the question of authenticity is warped. Being an authentic blogger means being true to something, perhaps to one aspect of the whole self, to the self that appears when writing life onto a blog.autob trauma

In any writing, blog, diary or book, one gets the chance to become the hero of one’s own story. Philippe Lejeune writes, “Autobiography is a human right. Become the owner of your life!”

Bibliography:

Furedi, Frank Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age Routledge 2003

Gilmore, Leigh The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma, Testimony, Theory (Cornell paperbacks) Cornell University Press 2001

Lejeune, Phillippe On Autobiography (Theory & History of Literature) University of Minnesota 1989

Smith, Sidonie Poetics of Women’s Autobiography: Marginality and the Fictions of Self-representationBloomington: Indiana University Press 1987

Smith, Sidonie and Watson, Julia Getting a Life: Everyday Uses of Autobiography University of Minnesota 1996

Exploring the transition from experience to story

whats your story 4I struggled to walk during my third pregnancy because my pelvis separated too far, too soon. At the age of 39, I became reliant on a mobility scooter. Pregnancy hormones helped me cope, the nine months during and after the pregnancy where I could only walk a few feet with crutches are a blur. Despite that, I finished a book and won an award for it in the 6 months after K’s birth. And while promoting the book, I told my story. I spoke it, I wrote it, I turned it into a press release, articles, blog posts. And what happened to me ceased to be simply my experience, it became a story, a thing itself, seen on paper, online. I no longer needed to be there for it to exist. In print, replicated, communicated, my story became something else.

This research project examines the transition, the leap, the moment where experience becomes something separate from the person, a story.

Exploring the transition from experience to story is important because we live in an age where our lives are not private in the way that they used to be. There is a compulsion to share, to have our fifteen minutes of fame, or simply to update our status on Facebook. Whether it is writing a blog, or appearing in a tabloid, or self-publishing a book, publication is now accessible in a way it has never been.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????People who have life changing experiences feel compelled to share, but rarely understand fully what will happen once they have shared. In sharing, you become vulnerable as you expose key parts of what makes up your life, your story, your self. Once your story is out there, you have limited control over the results.

This study will help increase our understanding of the act of sharing a story in the 21st century. In particular, it will focus on the moment when the person’s life experience separates from them, of the feeling it has become something else, a fiction, a story.

Through this study I will interview people to explore the transition from experience to story. Beyond that, the approach will be cross-disciplinary, bringing in my experience in creative writing, journalism and healthcare. I will use autoethnography, writing my own ‘experience to story’, and as I interview people I will write an online journal of response to the experiences / stories. I intend to publish all the material on a blog, provoking the feeling of an experience, a verbal description, a retelling, becoming something else.

Every day, hundreds of journalists interview case studies. Thousands of people write and share their own stories on blogs and in memoirs. This study will help the journalists, case studies, bloggers and writers understand more about what they are doing. On a secondary level it may help health and social care professionals advise those who want to share their story.