Memoir’s Small Frame

(I’m on a hiatus from writing about writing. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from Writing the Sacred Journey.)

Memoir revolves in an orbit of its own choosing, and therefore its pieces are often unified by a theme or period of time. The material is always the author’s life, and the narrator, (the speaker, or “I” voice), is always the author. Unlike autobiography, which attempts as complete an account of one’s life as possible, starting from the beginning, memoir begins where it wishes and concludes when its story is told. Memoir is more elastic, unpredictable, and crafted than autobiography. Because memoir does not strive for a complete accounting of one’s life, it depends on other elements, typically themes, to give it form.

Because memoir, by its very nature, is only a small window into the author’s life, one of the delights of writing memoir is discovering the best frame for that window. I remember an afterschool art class in which we were given a view finder (a black cardboard mat of about six square inches with a one-inch square hole cut in the center). We walked into the woods holding our view finders in front of our faces, looking for a view. Eventually I found a mossy root that entered and exited that small window in a way that intrigued me, and I sat down with a sketchbook to draw it.

Memoir is similar. A small scope is all that’s necessary. Some memoirists choose to write only about their depression, or their travels, or their cultural identity. Spiritual memoirists choose their sacred journeys. You can select a significant portion of your life, or a few years, or a single day. Regardless of the frame, some material comes into focus and other material—the majority of the woods, in fact—is left out of the picture. And that’s okay. Despite my drawing’s small scope, it conveyed the lush and creeping wooded environment. Whatever cross-section of life you choose to portray reveals the essence of the whole.


This first week back to school is one of my favorites–new clothes, new pencils, new routine, and excitement about learning. You can join in the fun with any of these upcoming offerings:

Friday, November 19, 7:00-9:00 p.m.:  Writers Unite!  Building a Writing Community

In this evening for creative writers, Lisa Brimmer, Michael Kiesow Moore, and I  will share the wide range of possibilities for forming writing community and offer advice on what makes groups or partnerships sustainable.  Participants will get to know one another in a series of small-group conversations, connecting around shared genres, levels of experience, interests, and location. We’ll end with social time so participants can exchange contact information and formalize plans.

Saturday, September 28, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: Writing the Sacred Journey: Introductory Workshop in Spiritual Memoir

Spiritual memoir is the practice of listening deeply to our life experiences through the creation of artful, true stories.  We come more alive when we accept how our experiences have formed us and when we form something of what we’ve experienced.  By writing memories with intention, we can find holiness in the details, patterns that unify our sense of self, and deep personal healing.  By crafting our stories to engage the inner life of readers, we can participate in transforming our world.

Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.:  Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions.

September 13: Making Connections
Just as contrasts in flavor make an exciting dish, great writing often emerges when we bring together disparate subjects.  We’ll experiment with this, conjoining memories from different eras of our lives and making leaps between objects and ideas, belief and doubt, narration and reflection.  Making connections across difference on the page can strengthen our capacity to do the same in our lives.

October 11:  Writing as Contemplation
In the city fields
Contemplating cherry trees…
Strangers are like friends

Contemplation, as the Buddhist priest and poet Issa illustrates, is a field of intimacy, and writing is one entrance.  Guest writer Kyoko Katayama will share observations about writing as a mindfulness practice and lead us in writing exercises that encourage deep listening, responsive creating, and open-hearted becoming.

November 8: Embodying Holiness
Our bodies are trustworthy sources of memory and wisdom.  Together we’ll write from our bodies, about our bodies, to our bodies, and with our bodies as a practice of welcoming the Spirit.  We’ll also delve into sensory description as a literary technique that invites the reader deep into our experiences.

December 13: Becoming the Stranger
We use the metaphor of a journey to describe the soul’s path because the risks, challenges, and surprises of spiritual growth are so similar to travel.  We’ll write memories of leaving home, visiting new landscapes, and becoming the stranger.  We’ll also explore how and why writing becomes a spiritual journey.

2 thoughts on “Memoir’s Small Frame”

    1. Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

      We’re on it! Hopefully we’ll have an online program up and running in 2020. Stay tuned… You could also work with WRITING THE SACRED JOURNEY in the meantime.

      Wishing you well with your writing journey,

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