Excerpt from The Spiritual Aspect of Memoir by Camilla Sanderson


The following essay appears in our Spring/Summer 2019 issue. Purchase this issue in print or digital format to read the rest of Camilla’s story plus the other poems, stories, essays and interviews that were featured in this issue.

How We Find Stories in Our Quest to Find Meaning

Vivian Gornick writes in her 2001 book, The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative:

“Thirty years ago people who thought they had a story to tell sat down to write a novel. Today they sit down to write a memoir. …For many, the development is puzzling. Everywhere—among those who read and those who write—people are asking, Why memoir? And why now?” (Kindle loc. 896)

This question of “Why memoir? And why now?” intrigues me. Perhaps this question is even more pertinent today than it was fifteen years ago when Gornick’s book was first published, as demonstrated by the number of memoirs that have hit the New York Times bestseller list in recent years. In my own journey of writing memoir, I experienced an intersection of two situations which gave rise to an idea of one possible explanation. By delving into this possible explanation, I will explore how, when a writer embraces and cultivates the spiritual aspect of memoir, the resulting psychic space that is created, often facilitates effective writing of memoir.

One of the situations that gave rise to a possible explanation of “Why memoir? And why now?” involved a two-year journey of studying world religions which I embarked upon after my husband recovered from cancer, and we left our twenty-year careers and lives in New York City to move to a log cabin in the woods of Temple, New Hampshire. My upbringing involved no religious conditioning, yet I did experience several years of a Waldorf education of body, mind, and spirit. My parents were interested in spirituality, but not in the dogma and baggage that so often comes with religion.

When doctors diagnosed my husband with cancer, we both faced his possible death. Truly considering an early end of Jamie’s life changed us both—in ways both internal and external. We changed where we live, how we nourish our souls, how we spend our time, what we eat (we’re now more simpatico with food—he’s more interested in organic vegetables and healthy foods.) Perhaps the fact that we also both approached mid-life added to my deep dive into questioning the meaning of our lives.

Camilla SandersonCAMILLA SANDERSON, author of The Mini Book of Mindfulness (Running Press, 2016), was ordained an interfaith minister in 2014, and earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2017. She is a Guide for the Interfaith Seminary program offered online through the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple: Seminary Program Overview. This program involves a two-year commitment to a daily spiritual practice, an overview study of world religions, and an in-depth study of the ancient Hindu sacred text, The Bhagavad Gita.

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