Photo Credit: Sandra Marinella
Reviewed By: Steve Hardy
Steve serves on One Summit's Board of Directors. He and his wife Donna live in Durham, NH.
Humans are hardwired for stories. Myths, mysteries, tragedies, comedies — in poems, films, theater, books, or cartoons. The form, medium or place matter less than the tales themselves, full of challenges, journeys, obstacles, heroes, mentors, villains, twists and turns, and finally conclusions that bring change to characters and lessons to readers and viewers.
In The Story You Need To Tell, Sandra Marinella shows us how to write and rewrite our personal stories in ways that can scoop us from the craters of seismic trauma that threaten us at one time or another, providing new meaning and perspective in the process. Her book is a remarkable fusion of lyrical memoir and technical resource — a daunting project for even the most gifted writer.
Marinella taught writing for decades at the high school and college levels, always stressing its value as a means to personal growth. Her students included peach-fuzzed kids stunned by the deaths of classmates, battle-hardened Marines still battling demons long after their return from Afghanistan, and rape victims processing long-ago assaults. She preached the utility of expression in many forms, including diaries, journals, poems, and scripts.
But her lessons were never more important than when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She needed to write this book. In doing so, she reread dozens of her personal journals, combed through several hundred studies examining the benefits of expressive writing, and interviewed more than 100 people. She weaves her own story together with vignettes from those of others, each segment exploring the power of writing. She embraces the research of James Pennebaker (also endorsed in Upside, reviewed in our October Resources in Resilience blog) showing the “profound healing impact” experienced by people who wrote deliberately about a seismic trauma for at least twenty minutes on four consecutive days. She ends each chapter with “writing prompts” such as this:
“Write a talk you need to have with someone you have lost. Before you begin to write, think about these questions: Is there a conversation you still need to have with this person. Is there a conversation you would like to have? Are there questions you wish you had asked? Are there topics you think would be important to explore together?”
She suggests searching through old journals or photos, looking at maps, or listening to music you’ve saved. Anything that can prompt memories. Like any good teacher or counselor, she cautions her readers not to take on more than they feel ready for. But the rewards can be enormous. One Marine, who kept a journal in Afghanistan amid the daily stress and havoc, said: “The writing helped. Yeah it helped a lot. If you simply write your story or your thoughts and get it out of you, it helps relieve the stress and anxiety.”
Marinella ends her book with a prompt to make “drawings or graphics — or find pictures, photos, words — and create a collage that embodies a theme that you treasure in your life. Creativity? Resilience? Nature? Love? Hope?”
This made me think of my oldest son, Josh, who battled brain cancer with an abundance of hope and resilience that staggers me still, 25 years later. Josh never gave up the battle, even to the very end. He had a journal to go along with his sketchpads, so he could express his thoughts across art forms. After he died, we were moved by the front page, adorned with his characteristic doodle-font, but also his choice of word’s:
Josh’s Journal: Never deprive someone of hope. It might be all he or she has.
Writing, drawing, rock-climbing, making music: they are among many tools any of us can summon in our battles for hope and resilience.
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