«When I was 10 years old, my grandmother committed suicide in the room next to mine. More than four decades later, after my first cancer diagnosis, I ...»
CREATIVE TRANSCENDENCE: MEMOIR WRITING FOR
TRANSFORMATION AND EMPOWERMENT
Diana Raab, Ph.D.
Santa Barbara, CA
ABSTRACT: Inspired by the researcher’s experiences as a memoir writer, this qualitative narrative
inquiry research study examined the transformative and empowering dynamics of writing a memoir
in connection with transcendent/pivotal experiences. The study was informed by Maslow’s theory
of creativity and metamotivation. The five participants were esteemed writers with at least one fulllength memoir. The study offered a comprehensive profile of each participant showing the relevance of writing as a transpersonal practice. Data collection included memoir excerpts, interviews, lectures, and observations. Data analysis was done using thematic analysis. The findings contribute to the ongoing knowledge of writing as a transpersonal practice. The results illustrate the transformative and empowering dynamics of writing a full-length memoir. The writing experience offered the participants a chance to review their lives, find resolution and redemption, find inner peace, and establish the clarity of mind to move forward in their lives.
KEYWORDS: memoir, transformative writing, empowerment, creative transcendence, transcendent experiences, Abraham Maslow, B- (being) creativity, D- (deficiency) creativity, metamotivation.
When I was 10 years old, my grandmother committed suicide in the room next to mine. More than four decades later, after my first cancer diagnosis, I realized what a transformative event that had been. This awareness set me on a path to discover the reason my grandmother took her life and resulted in two published memoirs, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal and Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey that helped me understand, grow, and become empowered. This study examined the transcendent or pivotal experiences that inspire memoir writing for transformation and empowerment in esteemed writers. Many memoir writers choose this genre as a way to find or reclaim their voice, share a family secret, or tell a story. The act or experience of writing brings a sense of awareness, a transformed identity, and a deeper understanding of the individual writer’s place in the world (Krippner, 2002; Yagelski, 2009).
In his discussion of creativity, Csikszentmihalyi (1996) said, ‘‘The real work begins when the emotion or idea that sprang from the uncharted regions of the psyche is held up to the light of reason … it is here that craft comes into play’’ (p. 263). The decision to write a memoir is dependent upon both intrinsic and extrinsic factors that are illuminated by pivotal or transcendent experiences.
The intrinsic factors may relate to the individual’s emotions, and the extrinsic factors may pertain to what occurs in his or her world. Writing about certain Acknowledgment: The author would like to express heartfelt thanks to the following individuals for their vital role in her research: Dissertation chair: Jay Dufrechou, Ph.D., Committee members: Dorit Netzer, Ph.D, and Tristine Rainer, Ph.D. Also special thanks to Mark McCaslin, Ph.D. and Rosemarie Anderson, Ph.D. and other
faculty of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now known as Sofia University), and her participants:
Maxine Hong Kingston, Mark Matousek, Kim Stafford, Alexandra Styron and Monica Wesolowska, and of course, to the editors and reviewers of the Journal for honoring my research and including it in this publication.
firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright ’ 2014 Transpersonal Institute The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2014, Vol. 46, No. 2 experiences helps provide an understanding of one’s unique self, as well as one’s relationship with others and the world-at-large.
Maslow’s (1971) theory of motivation informed this study in that in writing a memoir an individual might be motivated by higher means or higher truths.
‘‘They are dedicated people, devoted to some task ‘outside themselves,’ some vocation, or duty, or beloved job’’ (Maslow, 1971, p. 291). This metamotivation may be connected to a calling, daimon, mission, or life purpose or what inspires the self-actualized individual. This metamotivation may be connected to what Maslow calls B- (being) creativity or creativity that arises from being motivated by a higher level of growth. The other type of creativity coined by Maslow is called D- (deficiency) creativity and is a type of creativity that arises from an individual needing to fill a gap due to an unmet primary need or the need for affirmation, acceptance and/or love.
In lieu of presenting a problem, this study presented an opportunity to examine the transcendent or pivotal experiences that encourage individuals to choose memoir writing to transform, grow, and become empowered. The transcendent event may be seen as a unique experience that can confirm or affirm an individual’s identity. The purpose of this study was to examine and interpret the transformative dynamics of writing a memoir as elicited by transcendent or pivotal experiences, or transformation and empowerment, resulting in an interpretation of the experience. A transcendent experience is defined as an experience that goes beyond the ordinary. Additionally, this study aimed to contribute to the field of knowledge in this area by facilitating another level of processing after an individual has written a memoir.
Compelling memoirs that express profound emotions and utilize embodied writing may become powerful tools for transformation, as both the writer and the reader become more aware, reflective, connected, and inquisitive about the transcendent experience or pivotal experience that inspired the writing of the memoir. In most cases, an individual writes a memoir because of a burning need to share one’s story or as a way to figure something out in one’s life, and in some cases, to bring a voice to a family secret or event. Pennebaker (1993, 1997a, 1997b) has conducted numerous studies on the therapeutic power of writing. He found that when using expressive writing or journaling about upsetting experiences, that narratives might not have been initially coherent, but with ongoing writing, the narratives became even more coherent (Pennebaker, 1993). This is indicative of the transformative and empowering qualities of engaging a larger writing project such as a memoir. However, as far as I have learned from my research, there seems to be a minimal amount of empirical literature supporting the transformative and empowering dynamics of memoir writing that is inspired by pivotal or transcendent experiences.
The research method used for this study was narrative inquiry. The data were gathered via spoken and written communication with the participants, who 188 The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2014, Vol. 46, No. 2 shared the transformative dynamics elicited by pivotal and transcendent experiences that inspired them to write a memoir. This method allowed for the in-depth study of lived experiences by describing, clarifying, and bringing awareness to a lived experience, while providing a deeper understanding of individuals and their truths in a way that objective or quantitative studies cannot so easily achieve. As the researcher, I read and listened to each participant’s story and was attentive to any resonance that offered a universal truth (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2012; Freeman, 2007; Hinton, 2012; Polkinghorne, 2005).
In narrative inquiry, the participants recall the lived experience and, with the researcher, coproduce it. In this way, the researcher’s interview questions are as important as the participant’s responses. In creating the interview questions, the researcher becomes an integral and visible part of the research and results.
Even after the published memoirs were read, an open-ended dialogue occurred between each participant and me, an exchange that offered deeper and richer insights into the transformative dynamics of writing a memoir. Narrative inquiry lends itself to the use of a more creative literary style of writing. My personal interest in narrative provided the opportunity to interview peer memoir writers. There was a merging of the data while corroborating the analysis of my own story with that of the participants’ stories. The narratives were crafted from the data by the use of reflexive, participatory, and aesthetic processes. The interviews and published memoirs provided indirect evidence regarding the research topic (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2012; Leavy, 2009;
The main research questions addressed in this study were: What are the transformative dynamics of writing a memoir elicited by a pivotal or transcendent experience? What are the pivotal or transcendent experiences that inspire memoir writing for transformation and empowerment in esteemed writers? What is the impact of the pivotal or transcendent experiences in terms of an individual’s life theme? How are those experiences representative of Maslow’s theory of metamotivation, B- (being) creativity and D- (deficiency) creativity?
The philosophical assumption of this study primarily entailed the transpersonal paradigm and also incorporated certain aspects of the constructivist view. The purpose of the transpersonal paradigm or approach to research was to expand, enrich, integrate, unify, awaken, enlighten, transcend, and transform both the researcher and the participant. In this paradigm, the researcher’s qualities and sensibilities played a critical role in all the phases of research. In fact, my role as the researcher was emphasized in the transpersonal paradigm, particularly since I already had familiarity with the area of study and was part of the measuring instrument. In addressing the transpersonal paradigm, emphasis was placed on the researcher’s and participants’ personal knowledge gained through intuition, direct knowing, empathy, and other paranormal means. The study, therefore, explored and honored the utilization of alternate modes of knowing.
Creative Transcendence Narratives are especially important in the transpersonal paradigm because they form the core of ‘‘nuances of our personal identities’’ (Braud & Anderson, 1998, p. 23). In the act of sharing these nuances, a story is told, a past is remembered, and insights are formed as a way to cast a light on a lived experience. By sharing narratives the participants became more aware of their pivotal or transcendent experience. Thus, as Braud & Anderson stated, ‘‘a more fully enriched spiritual awareness seems not only possible but more probable’’ (p. 24).
Another pertinent aspect of the transpersonal paradigm is the importance of interconnectedness—the acknowledgment of shared multiple realities that were accomplished through dialogue and an exchange of information between the researcher and participants. Thus, the relationship becomes interactive, a quality of relationship that will further emphasize the equal terrain on which both participant and researcher stand (Braud & Anderson, 1998).
With the transpersonal paradigm, this researcher studied the various transcendent experiences that inspired individuals to write memoir to transform and become empowered at the center of this process. As a researcher, I concur with Braud and Anderson (1998), who believe that, although a large part of our knowledge is received through sense data validated by others, other forms of knowing also offer an opportunity to gain knowledge.
The constructivist worldview complements the transpersonal paradigm because, for data collection, it uses methods such as observations, interviews, and document reviews, which included the reading of the participants’ published memoirs. The goal of this worldview is for individuals to understand the world in which we live. The assumption here is that the researcher and participant would recall, collect, examine, and interpret data, and would then socially construct conclusions explicit in the narratives: ‘‘The constructivist therefore opts for a more personal, interactive mode of data collection’’ (Mertens, 2005, p. 15).
After collection via interviews, reading the memoirs, and lectures, the data were connected to a broad spectrum of theoretical frameworks. This was one way to interpret and analyze the data. Each story was analyzed individually for particular elements; then similarities, differences, and common themes were identified (Murray, 2011).
The five participants were chosen via purposeful sampling, thus providing a rich blend of information, ‘‘with the objective of yielding insight and understanding of the phenomenon under investigation’’ (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2012, p. 104). The participants had all written a memoir that referenced them having had a pivotal or transcendent experience that moved them to write either one or two memoirs. The experience of writing the memoir should have been transformative and empowering to the participant. In order to initiate this purposeful selection, I read a selection of memoirs from both emerging and esteemed (well-published author with at least one published book) writers.
190 The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2014, Vol. 46, No. 2 At the onset of this study, as a researcher, I identified potential participants by gathering names from published memoir reviews, such as in Publisher’s Weekly, Poets and Writers, Salon, and The Sunday New York Times Book Review. E-mails were also sent to literary colleagues for suggestions of writers who had written a memoir that dealt with the subject of loss—whether referencing the loss of a loved one, health, or status. The intention was not to study loss, but loss was used as a participant criterion as a way to narrow down the number of potential memoirs to be studied; otherwise the list of possible memoirs would have been too extensive.
The potential participant list began with nearly 34 memoirists. Utilizing the process of elimination, the list was narrowed down to 25 participants and finally to five participants. Then, I read each memoir (some participants had written two memoirs) to ensure their pertinence to the study. When the preferred memoirs were chosen, e-mails were sent advising the memoirist of the nature and essence of the research study, and what it would involve for him or her. For example, the participants were advised that they would be interviewed three times via phone or Skype over a 3-month period, at mutually agreeable times.