Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Ever-Not-So-Humble Gods

The women at my first writing retreat.


In the 19th century homebound women came together in reading and sewing circles.  These informal gatherings provided an intellectual forum to discuss social issues of the day.  Now women are coming together in ever-increasing numbers in writing circles like the Women's Writing Circle.  They are learning that finding voice is synonymous with being empowered, which in turn opens the door to a cogent exploration and explanation of past and present and paves the way for a healthy and meaningful future.

The history of women's circles has revolved around one constant - an inherent desire by women to connect and find intimacy and the intellectual satisfaction often lacking in their personal lives.  It is by cultivating the mind and the heart that the possibility of fulfillment presents itself.  As we come together and write our scripts, we move beyond the narrow confines and roles others would assign us.

Lately, there has been a renewed effort to denigrate memoir and women's writing.  Yes, the gods are paying us back for having the audacity - the temerity - to write our stories! The "gods" being the ever-not-so-humble male editors at the New York Times, one of whom recently created a bit of a firestorm by labeling memoirs "me" stories with little or no saving grace.  Of course, this editor assumed what he wrote was worth reading and publishing.  But I digress . . .

Since the personal writing movement is largely powered by women, this criticism of  memoir as trite "confessionals"  feels both familiar and inevitable.  Indeed, this is the same old story but with a 21st century spin.  Please shut up, they write in the first paragraph of their tirade. The ease of publishing has made it possible to circumvent the powers-that-be and so the dander is up and the gloves are off.

But have no fear.  Writing as a way to heal, to better understand ourselves, and offer a legacy to future generations is unstoppable.  Good thing, too, since there are so many stories that need to be told.  It would be a crying shame to shame us out of writing stories with the power of voice and conviction; ergo, stories rippling with self-awareness, healthy narcissism and a potent message that resonates with others.

It would be wrong to discourage a woman from delving deeply into the process that makes one a writer, whether she starts as a young girl, a woman in middle age or an older woman.  Our already fragile sense of confidence about our writing and our voices can be shattered by critics  . . . if we let them. Don't.
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