A Review of Leslie Leyland Fields’ Your Story Matters
June 5, 2020 § 5 Comments
By Carole Duff
I sit among workshop attendees in Leslie Leyland Fields’ living room at Harvester Island, Alaska. Although never actually having been there, I hear fishing boats puttering by outside her house. Fields reaches for a blue marker and writes a prompt in cursive on the whiteboard: For once, I want to tell the truth about when I lied.
Now, in my own living room, I set Fields’ book aside and search my memory. In a past living room of nearly thirty years ago, I see and hear myself say, “I love you,” to a man on the other end of the phone. A lie. The truth: I didn’t love him anymore, and given how much pain had passed between us, it was hard to remember when I had.
Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life by Leslie Leyland Fields is a product of Fields’ three decades of teaching and writing. What sets her craft book apart from others is its spiritual focus. Fields calls us to remember, as the Jewish people were called in the Old Testament, to seek the truth and bring language to the silence, and to teach others.
…do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9 (NIV)
Fields’ book is a practical guide to writing narrative nonfiction. She weaves her own journey as a memoir writer with scenes from teaching and also offers her students’ work through chapters about mapping, creating scenes knitted together with summary and reflection, gathering stories, discovering their outer and inner arcs, editing, structuring, and sharing. Each chapter ends with “Your Turn!” exercises and examples.
As Fields’ writes: “Every time we lock up a person, an event, even an entire decade in the Closet of Forgetting and Denial, we’re robbing ourselves of the strength and wisdom that can come from those experiences.” And when we unlock ourselves, we pull off our masks and discover opportunities to transform. Transformation memoirs are for me the most meaningful.
Back in Fields’ living room on Harvester Island, she asks, “What was the lie that you told? Where and when did you tell it? Why did you tell it?” Hunched over my laptop, I recall the where and the when of my lie. And the why: Because I wanted “I love you” to be true; because I wanted to hear him say, I love you, too; because I’m not above manipulation to get what I want.
The Closet of Forgetting and Denial opens. By unmasking myself, I find the truth, write the truth, and begin to live the truth. And share it.
Fields: “We cannot be the heroes of our stories because these stories aren’t actually about us. We’re not studying our lives simply to know ourselves better (though this will happen). Or to offer up to the world our own guttural howl and yelp to the moon. (Though occasionally that is just what is needed.) We are not writing to justify or defend or ennoble ourselves. We are far more ambitious. We’re after growth, however painful. We’re after truth, however hard. We’re hoping our words will serve others.”
As you sit in your living room during these strange days of isolation, remember what your eyes have seen and your heart knows. Teach this wisdom to your children and their children after them. Honor the ancient calling, because as Leslie Leyland Fields says, Your Story Matters.
Carole Duff is a veteran teacher, flutist, and writer of narrative nonfiction. She posts weekly to her long-standing blog Notes from Vanaprastha, has written for The Perennial Gen, Streetlight Magazine’s Blog, and Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, and is working on a book titled Wisdom Builds Her House: A Memoir about Faith, Love, and Forgiveness. Carole lives in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband Keith Kenny, also a writer, and two large, overly-friendly shelter dogs plus a new shelter puppy, who’s learning that living rooms are not for piddling.