This year has been top heavy already— and it’s just mid-February. Some friends and I have lost loved ones and dear friends. Funerals, memorial services and eulogies have been sprinkled throughout my 2020 calendar. Grief and sadness land heavy in my heart. But as usual, I turn to comfort in the pages of books. I look for real people speaking their raw, unedited truth on the page. Listening to others becomes my word medicine, a balm for the soul.
Memoir is my genre of choice. Ordinary heroes emerge from the letters on the page. I can be the writer’s cheerleader as they peel back the layers of their experience to reach a better understanding of themselves or reveal some universal truth. How will this brave person turn their ashes into beauty? They will all live humanly ever after.
A great memoir is born because someone took the time to listen. They did the hard work of sitting through the storm, feeling the seismic shift and hearing their own heart tell the story. They listened to themselves as intently as they hoped to be heard by their readers.
This week it occurred to me that I have been doing a lot of listening— deep, thoughtful, intentional listening...to everyone except myself. When I devour memoirs and personal essays, such as On Being Human by Jennifer Pastiloff or One Long River of Song by Brian Doyle, I am listening to others. When I sit down to write, I am listening to myself.
Traditional education often asks for writing that demonstrates what we know. As a teacher, I ask my students to write so they can determine what they know. I want them to write for discovery and to find their truth. They need to slow down to listen to what they have to say. Writers rarely know what they are trying to say until they have said it. Sometimes students in my class will stumble upon beautiful epiphanies in their writing and audibly gasp. “Did you hear it? I hope you heard it. This classroom is full of people here to bear witness.”
Some call it closure. Some call it clarity. It is the moment when you stop hearing what everyone else is shouting, pushing or selling and listen to the whisper of your own voice. Writing does not have to be merely a method for transmitting or delivering a message; it can be a way of growing and discovering that message. Speak it. Hear it. Own it.
As Eudora Welty explains, writing is a way of testing for truth on the page. And while there is great merit in listening hard and hearing everyone’s stories, we neglect a transformational opportunity when we fail to listen to our own story come through the page. If we should listen twice as much as we talk, then logic dictates that we could write just as much. Two ears and two hands can lead us to one heart.
Help us welcome Joy Harjo, the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States
The Sensoria Literary Committee is very excited to welcome Joy Harjo to Central Piedmont Community College on Thursday, April 2nd. She will be speaking at 11am and 8pm. Prior to her arrival we would love for faculty, staff, students and members of the Charlotte community to become a bit more familiar with her life and work. We invite you to join us in reading her memoir.
by Joy Harjo
A “raw and honest” (Los Angeles Review of Books) memoir from the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States. In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a haunting, visionary memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice.
“Joy Harjo has always been able to see with more than her eyes. Her writing is a testament to this gift. Her memoir honors her own journey as well as those who fell along the wayside. Her hero’s journey is a gift for all those struggling to make their way.” —Sandra Cisneros
“Harjo allows the reader to know her intimately, and we are enriched by her honesty.” —Booklist