Dawn Garisch has been running life writing courses since 2010, and has observed how writing can change people. She says, “one thing is abundantly clear; paying attention to the details of your life, and experimenting with ways to put your story on the page, coupled with a particular mentoring approach, is not only about learning writing skills. The tools participants acquire in order to initiate, pursue and complete a piece of writing can assist them to live life more creatively, less anxiously, less self-destructively and with more tolerance and compassion for themselves and others.”
Writing about troublesome events facilitates the healing of trauma. The undermining voices we carry around in our heads often mirror outer critics from the past. People who struggle with feelings of poor self-esteem, and who find it difficult to express themselves, are often labouring under devastating internal judgement. Most of us have been put down at some point; those who have been systematically devalued because of sexist or racist attitudes have a huge obstacle to overcome. Paradoxically, it is through working with the devalued body, language and culture, that we can start to address our country’s woundedness. Writing has the power to heal.
One of the voices against writing memoir is the charge of ‘self-indulgence’. This criticism frequently shuts people down before they have even started. We all have a need – and a right – to be seen. Writer and LRC member Bongani Kona puts it well: ‘We forget that the most daring thing we can do is to allow ourselves to be seen. To stand before the world and to say this who I am. This is how it is.’
We are all living huge stories whether we realise it or not, some handed down through family and history, some embedded genetically and visited on us by circumstance, accident, politics or natural disasters. Finding out more about the story we are living allows us to engage with it, and to live it with curiosity and attention, rather than as the victim of our story. Sharing that story with others promotes empathy and tolerance, and can activate engagement, change attitudes and even overcome apathy where the issues explored by the writer affect a community.
The Life Righting Collective is a not-for-profit membership organisation aligned strongly with the international medical humanities movement. The movement promotes conversation between the arts and the social and health sciences focused on holistic well-being.
Our purpose is to promote regular creative practice as a vital, low-cost and inbuilt resource for a more humane, responsible and compassionate attitude in institutions and society as a whole. To that end we have been invited to run courses for climate change activists, entrepreneurs, faith communities, LGBTQIA+ activists, medical students and teachers. These collaborations are always mutually enriching.
We run in-person, online and audio courses for anyone who wants to uncover personal meaning and facilitate self-recovery through writing about our life experiences. By providing a safe space to share our stories with others from all walks of life, the LRC promotes interaction, inclusiveness, cross-cultural learning and mutual understanding.
Life writing is an economical, creative tool that promotes improved mental health. Most people in South Africa do not have access to any kind of debriefing of emotional trauma. Medical humanities research shows that people who write about their lives reap a range of benefits: increased self-esteem, greater self-understanding, improved self-expression and enriched relationships with others. Our courses always receive very positive feedback. You can read course reviews and testimonials here.
Our intention is to provide publishing platforms through the stories on our website and by publishing anthologies: our first anthology, ‘This is how it is’, was published in 2018.
The income from courses, along with donations from individuals, organisations and trusts, supports a key objective, which is to raise funds to make life writing courses available to all, including marginalised groups. We encourage those who can’t pay course fees to apply for full or discounted sponsorship.
We run a variety of short and long courses, as well as residential Rheenendal Writing Retreat and Sunny Cove Writing Retreat. Some courses are as short as three hours; others are longer, ranging from two to five days. Shorter courses are often online via Zoom, while longer courses are mostly face-to-face in-person in peaceful venues, conducive to creativity.
We are often invited by other organisations to host writing workshops that may be themed around particular issues. The LRC aims to serve, amongst others: women’s issue-groups focused on gender violence, rape and empowerment; at-risk youth; people living with disability and their carers; LGBTIAQ+ groups; and diverse religious, cultural and art groups. Food, water, loss, our planet, childhood, ancestry and poetry are other specific themes on which we offer courses.
We also enjoy and promote collaboration with other healing modalities, combining life writing with other self-exploratory practices such as Family Constellations and Meditation. These hybrid courses have been met with great enthusiasm.
After each course, participants are invited to join, for a small fee, a facilitated Follow-Up Group (FUG) which meet regularly at various organisational or home-based venues, to encourage ongoing creative writing practice. These are warm, safe, enjoyable gatherings where people can share their writing and receive feedback from others in the group. There is also, as is the LRC way, food and even, on occasion, cake.
Writing has always helped me understand myself and others better. Since I started teaching life writing in 2009, I have also seen how beneficial regular creative practice can be. Also, there is such good writing coming out of the courses that I had to find a way to grow the number of people that the course could reach, and to find ways to bring the richness of our human experience to readers.
I think I may have barged my way on to the Exco with Lucy and Dawn but I don’t regret it. I have been wanting to work in the field of loss writing for a while and my first still-born life writing/righting project remains a project called The Mourner’s Cookbook. Perhaps one day… For now, as an advertising hack with a few decades of admanning under my belt, I am happy to help with designing logos (tick: hope you like), website creation (a rather hairier beast to tame, but we are getting there) and, of course, supplying high quality foodstuffs for Exco meetings.
I was first introduced to memoir writing at a follow-up reading session hosted by Dawn. The writing was impressive and I wanted to become involved with the formation of the LRC, with the intention of working towards publishing a selection of the work for the benefit of a wider audience. I have subsequently attended one of Dawn’s courses and became a convert. I am currently exploring my own writing, which is mind boggling.
Desiree-Anne Martin was lured into the LRC ExCo with bribery and blackmail but is a willing hostage and thrilled to be heading up the LRC’s Patreon portfolio. She is a published author and poet, a counsellor in private practice, a public speaker and a wife, mother and warrior woman. She has a torrid love affair with the English language and believes in healing through self-expression and connection. She believes that there is hope, always.
I was excited to be invited to join the LRC Exco as, apart from it being an initiative I loved and resonated with, I suspected I might have a lot of fun. I wasn’t wrong. No other organisation I knew of burst into bouts of spontaneous and very funny haiku writing whilst exchanging emails about the serious business of creating an organisation from scratch. Nor had any Exco agenda I’d ever seen devote quite as much creativity to what we would eat at our monthly meetings. The aims and vision of the LRC speak to my mind, heart and gut!
For me, writing has always been an outlet before I understood and could articulate it as that.
I have always journaled sometimes with ease, sometimes in pain, sometimes with joy, sometimes with anger. When I turned 40 I wanted to burn all my journals but ended up not doing so as reading them traces my trajectory in this life and though I cringe at some moments I’m proud of more.
Writing has been an a release for me in ways that in retrospect, I now truly appreciate. I joined the LRC because its ethos speak to my quest to continuously grow.
Why the Board? Giles was unrelenting. But on a more serious note I believe in the mission of LRC. I feel my work is to help people tell their stories, and sometimes re-story their lives – change the narrative, tell a more complete narrative. I want to see more Africans telling their story their way. Another reason is writing has always been a centring, meditative practice for me. It’s a practice I want others to share.
When I was 5 years old, I won a prize at school and chose to buy the book called The Ugly Duckling. That story shaped my life. It opened me to knowing that difference and diversity are beautiful, suffering is there and we work with it with curiosity and joy. At 13, my English teacher invited us to close our eyes, lay our heads on our desks and she read us Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips”. I felt in that moment how embodied words can be and how, when crafted with intention, can save us. My paid work is engaging with activists around the world to use the internet creatively, safely and with mindfulness. It’s wonderfully disruptive and fun work and involves lots of storytelling. The Life Righting Collective does real and necessary work with passion and with wonderful people. It’s an honour to be on the LRC Board. Maybe now I will have a more regular writing practice!
It’s not entirely clear to me why Dawn invited me to join the board, but I trust her instincts and no doubt purposes will reveal themselves in good time. Life writing has indeed proven to be life righting for me in difficult times and I endorse the LRC’s objectives based on this experience. My own writing is currently somewhat in hibernation but I suspect my involvement with the LRC will awaken it.
I am left-brain and have always enjoyed working with numbers and not words. I had never considered myself a writer, until a friend encouraged me to write my memoir after hearing my story one evening. I started writing vignettes of family memories and sharing these with others. I recently attended a memoir writing course at UCT. As I’ve started telling my story on various platforms, I have realised the power of writing as a healing modality.
1. I am Mom to two adult children, chief bottle washer, children’s personal assistant in SA, a leader, an executive manager, an international executive coach.
2. I maintain a good quality of life through eating right, sleeping enough, resting when I need, exercising (not enough), looking after my health and living in Cape Town.
3. I believe in continuous learning – learning from the old, the young and my clients.
4. I am IT savvy and enjoy social media.
5. I enjoy crafting (knitting, embroidery, crochet), and growing beautiful flowers in my garden.