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Writing My Truth: Twenty Years in the Guild

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Twenty years ago, I traveled from Los Angeles to Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York to attend the International Women’s Writing Guild’s “Remember the Magic” summer conference for the first time. I went with my friend, Connie Nyhan, who had just moved from Los Angeles to New York City.

I was only supposed to attend the weekend conference but I was so taken by all the women writers and the excitement generated by Susan Tiberghien, Eunice Scarfe, Myra Shapiro and Jan Phillips that I stayed for the week. Susan invited me to apply for a summer residency at Le Chateau de Lavigny awarded by the Heinrich Rowolt Foundation the following summer. I was invited to teach at the next summer’s “Remember the Magic” conference, and I have continued to teach each summer (missing only 2 because of scheduling conflicts) through our time at Drew, Brown, Yale and Muhlenberg.

I have always been deeply moved by the memoirs written in my classes and particularly by the dignity and eloquence of the three-minute readings presented each evening. To see and hear women of all nationalities and races read their most intimate stories is balm for my soul.

I was awarded a three-week writing residency at Lavigny in Switzerland. During that time, I was able to delve deeply into an examination of the thematic similarities between myth and memoir, a subject dear to my heart. Every morning before writing, I walked in the fields dotted with haystacks and began what became Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory about identity, memory and how to write a memoir. Unreliable Truth was published by Seal Press in 2003.

Nine years ago at Skidmore, one of the women in my memoir workshop wrote about being the mother of a prison inmate and I was deeply touched by her honesty. When she read, “People don’t realize that I am a prisoner too,” I wept.

It was a revelation to me; I had never considered the impact of a son’s incarceration on his mother.

Little did I know that I, too, would travel the same path as she had when my own son was convicted of a crime and imprisoned at San Quentin State Prison. Her courage and authentic writing gave me the nerve to write my own book, Blinded by Hope, highlighting the injustices of our criminal justice system in dealing with those who suffer from mental illness and addiction. It took me eight years to write that book. At each summer conference, I read a portion of it during the three-minute readings. I have since presented my work on injustice as a spoken word piece to audiences in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. I could never have done this without the support of the wonderful life-long friends I have made at the Guild.

This summer I will be teaching a workshop on The Heroine’s Journey, the book I wrote in 1990 in response to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. We will explore our own heroic journey as a narrative arc to reclaim the power of the feminine. If you come to the conference and attend my workshop, I hope you hear something, like I did so many years ago, that will give you the courage to write and speak your truth.

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Maureen Murdock is an author, educator, Jungian-oriented psychotherapist and photographer. Maureen teaches memoir writing, which she loves, through UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and in workshops throughout the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe. She has a small private psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara and was Chair and Core faculty of the MA Counseling Psychology Program at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara and adjunct faculty in the Depth Psychology Department at Sonoma State University. Murdock blogs about mental illness, addiction and incarceration and participates in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) as a volunteer in prisons.

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Comments
  • O'Neill, Catherine

    Thank you for sharing, we get a better sense of ourselves through reading other people’s stories.

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