I also used life writing when I submitted a story to the issue of Women's Education des femmes on learning and violence. The empowerment I felt from writing, I realized, contributed to the process of healing, and I wanted to continue that process for myself and for other women. That story was accepted, and was published in the issue under the title "Between Silence and Silence."
Since my own first successes with life writing, I have gone on to use it in my work. This past year I used it as a tool in pastoral care" when I did an internship at a large United church in Edmonton. I worked with two groups: one group used writing as a healing process, and the other to tell their stories. Both groups produced powerful material and the experience leads me to believe that life writing has many purposes. In the future, I hope to use life writing as a process for healing in counseling, and as a way for people to tell their stories. Our own life stories are life giving. They are our history, and writing them is a creative way to bring us together in our diversity.
I also used life writing with a women's spirituality group, and had the most success here. Not all the women had experienced violence in their lives but most had. They all agreed that writing their stories was a very emotional and empowering experience. All of them said they had no idea they could write this sort of story. Or they said, "I don't know where this came from."
There are many techniques to start the writing process. One I often use in classes is to read a few sentences from a story, and then have the students write whatever the reading has evoked for them. They write non-stop for ten to fifteen minutes. When finished, the students can share their writing with the others, if they wish. For the following week everybody is asked to prepare a piece at home, which can be shared and workshopped in class. Workshopping means that the class works together, commenting and giving a critique of the work offered.
For women who have never had any power, no opportunity to tell their stories nor any chance to be heard, life writing is a powerful experience. I believe that justice and healing are closely connected and there is justice and healing in writing our stories. It is a very political act to write and to be heard. Language is power.
I don't believe it is relevant to question anybody's ability to learn. The question is, where can we go to inherit the power to learn the way we learn best? Learning the way we learn best is difficult for women in our male dominated institutions. However, we can survive in them, and we will find the occasional offering there. I found life writing. And if we can find a way for empowerment to happen before we get there, we will survive even better.
Sharon Ferguson-Hood is in her last year of a four year Masters of Divinity program at St. Andrew's College, University of Saskatchewan. In November of 1993, she participated in the annual CRIAW conference as a presenter on life writing and the collective process of producing "Learning and Violence: Women Speak Out" (WEdf, vol.9 no.4).