Harvesting stories from life

I spent this past week as an instructor in the memoir workshop at Houston’s first annual Writefest, sponsored by Writespace. It’s been a rich week, immersed in the voices of new and emerging writers with evocative and amazing stories worth telling. The experience has given me an opportunity to reflect on why we dedicate ourselves to this work, this storytelling, crafting our memoirs. The courage it takes to reveal ourselves.

We are the authors of our life story, a personal narrative that compels us to leave home to find our destiny. Each time we take a risk to leave the safety (and boredom in the routine sameness) of our lives, we embark on a new beginning and the excitement of possibilities. As storytellers, we explore the depth of our experiences for meaning. There is pride in accomplishment, hope in surviving tragedy, and joy in a life fully lived. By sharing our stories, we share both our fragility and fierceness. We share our humanity.

Irish poet John O’Donohue writes: “Perhaps the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning.”

He adds: “To live a truly creative life, we always need to cast a cynical look at where we presently are, attempting always to discern where we have become stagnant and where new beginning might be ripening.”

I love O’Donohue’s word “ripening.” I imagine my ideas for storytelling as seeds. When I give myself permission to sit and craft those stories, I can imagine a story ripening with each draft, each new revision. The hardest part of craft is to begin. Once that occurs, I can be vulnerable, honest, and authentic. The story swirls, ripens, flourishes.

Sometimes writing is play, often it’s work, but oh my God, it is sweet ecstasy to see it finished.

Again quoting O’Donohue: “There can be no growth if we do not remain open to what is new and different. I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that has not been rewarded a thousand times over.”

When I explore my life experiences, I’m startled by the lessons they offer me. But as Carl Jung observed, an unexamined life is not worth living. Telling our amazing stories together may be living out loud, but it’s preferable to living unconsciously. Indeed, if life is worth the risk for the rewards, so all the more worthy is the telling of those stories for others to hear and celebrate.