Before there was a written language, oral societies used storytelling to explain and preserve their cultural history. Songs, chants and fables used rhyme and movement to act out and preserve the memories of ancestors as they explained the world that was both seen and unseen. The repetition of these stories created an affirming affect on individuals and helped to establish their value system.
Those of us in today’s literate society still need this powerful connection. Part of my artwork is to foster this creative spirit in others, which is why I focus my writing around and teaching on reminiscence. As individuals recall and record the stories about individuals and incidents that shaped their lives, they can celebrate the similarities and differences across generational, socio-economic and ethnic lines.
Not all memories are about happy times. Some recount painful experiences or times without harmony. Celebrating the laughter and the lessons are what bring comfort and affirm one’s own culture and belief system. As a writer, whether I am working on a story for publication or an entry in my journal, I draw upon this healing power of reminiscence to tell the story.
When I put together the syllabus for a writing course that I taught at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, I used written accounts of memories about my mother, who I lost to cancer, as examples. The stories identified and celebrated the wonderful qualities that made my mother who she was and also defined how her life affected me as an individual. This process and its outcome is what my new work is all about. “The Healing Power of Reminiscence” will celebrate the stories of individuals from the community, serving as a workbook for others to follow.