The three-part series WRites of Passage concluded with a writing workshop focused on “the final journey: the end of fertility, aging and death,” while down the road in Stockbridge the Women’s Interfaith Institute of the Berkshires hosted Laura Didyk, who gave a presentation on memoir writing as a path to peace.

Laura Didyk

Festival rep Hannah Fries reports:

In Laura Didyk’s workshop/reading on memoir, many of the fifty or so writers present experienced some kind of breakthrough or realization as we followed the steps of her writing exercise.  We found that writing out of two different voices–the voice of innocence and the voice of experience–was illuminating and helped us get to the heart of our stories.  And Laura’s own reading exemplified so movingly what we were all trying to do.  If you missed this event, try this exercise out on your own:

Writing Exercise from Women’s Interfaith event: “Illuminations”

The Voice of Innocence & the Voice of Wisdom*

1.  Make three columns

Label the columns the following way:

Column 1:  1–15

Column 2:  16–30

Column 3:  30+

2. In each column, make a list of stories or events for each age bracket.

These should be events that have stuck with you over the years. (In Column 1, list events from the ages of 1 to 15 years old, etc). Try and keep it to three events max for each age range. Use just enough words to prompt your own recall.

Consider events related to the following:  Personal/family events (birthdays, funerals, graduations, weddings); natural phenomenon (storms, excessive heat, extreme cold, earthquake); accidents/illness; personal rites of passage (first love, first kiss, losing virginity, coming out, moving in with; getting engaged); travel; geographic moves; cultural and/or political occurrences (JFK assassination, death of Elvis, the Gore/Bush recount, 9/11, Occupy Wall Street).

3. Now pick ONE event, the one that stands out most to you. (You can play with other ones later.)

4. Distill the event you’ve chosen down to a single moment

For example: If you are writing about a death, focus on the moment you got the phone call, or the moment of passing, or a moment at the funeral.

A. Write for 7–10 minutes on this moment, following these guidelines:

*Write in the present tense. (“I am sitting in the living room watching a repeat of Seinfeld when the phone rings…”) and from the point of view of whatever age you are writing from.

*Just tell the story straight. State what’s happened/happening. Who is there. What feelings are present. What thoughts go through you mind. But do not interpret your emotions or thoughts.

B. Write for 7–10 minutes about this moment from your present-day self, following these guidelines:

*Use the prompt: “Looking back at this now, I….”

*You can also re-tell the event in the simple past tense. Allow yourself to reflect on the event. (ex: If in the present-tense write you describe being lonely, in this one you seek to understand why you’re lonely.)

*What do you understand now that you couldn’t understand then?

5. If you want to take it one step further:

Write a third paragraph, experimenting with combining the present tense paragraph (a.k.a. “the voice of innocence”) and the looking-back paragraph (a.k.a. “the voice of wisdom”).

*Exercise inspired by Sue William Silverman’s contribution to The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction.