Most writers juggle many professional roles and Lorraine Ash, a memoirist, journalist, teacher and now editorial director of the new Cape House Books, is no different. Today she kindly shares some insight into her writing and balancing her other roles, too.
Lorraine Ash, MA, is a journalist, author, and editorial director of Cape House Books. She also teaches memoir writing in New Jersey and other venues nationwide. Learn more about Self and Soul: On Creating a MeaningfulLife, her new book and visitLorraine online.
You've written here before about the process of writing a memoir. Did anything about the process change with your second book?
The process I used to write Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life was both the same and different than the one I used to write my first memoir, Life Touches Life.
Each started with a question. In the case of Life Touches Life, the question addressed how to survive the stillbirth of my daughter. Like most memoirs, it was rooted in some story that has taken place in the outside world.
In Self and Soul, however, I turned toward my inner life and asked: What effect are all the stories of my life having on my heart and mind, the places where my identity evolves or erodes? This memoir became an exploration of that terrain.
Dramas happen on our inner landscapes, too, and they are as vivid as any Maine mountaintop or Parisian meal. Indeed Self and Soul can be viewed in part as a kind of romp through the territory. The narrative takes us to both outer places—whether it be the hospital room in which my daughter died or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Pennsylvania—and inner ones, including a shamanic journey to the Mount of Teachers and an awakening in an ashram.
I was particularly excited to illuminate times in which both worlds are straddled simultaneously. For instance, I behold a gloaming and feel the colors penetrate the grayness of my grief-stricken mind. In another example, I go to a Rubenfeld synergist for a session in an attempt to heal a nagging pain in my lower back. While there I brought to consciousness the betrayal of a friend and instantly felt a proverbial knife dislodge from the point of pain.
In the end Self and Soul emerges with the insight that each of us is home to a divine spark and that the quality of our lives is directly related to the interplay between the personality-bound self, which busies itself with social roles and perceptions of success, and the soul, which keeps calling us into deeper meanings.
Every memoir gives its writer, and readers, gifts. What gift did Self and Soul give to you?
This book helped me understand my own capacity to adapt in life. I’ve had to adapt profoundly; letting go parenthood is one example. I wanted to understand what forces helped me do that. In the midst of writing, the insight came: if there is a soul at the core of me, and that soul, like God, is eternal, then my capacity to change must be eternal.
By the time I’d written the last sentence of Self and Soul, I’d concluded it just may be my job, spiritually speaking, to evaluate everything I do in terms of whether it enlivens or deadens my soul. I don’t mean to articulate that notion in a traditional judgmental way, and that’s an important thing to say. We all make soul-deadening choices, but if we turn inward and learn from them, we can come all the more alive.
Also, if our touchpoint is to look inward, we improve the odds we’ll live the life that is uniquely and authentically ours and not one based on others’ expectations.
You aren't only an author, you are also a journalist and now you are running a press. How does working as a journalist and publisher effect your creative non-fiction writing?
Great question. All my roles constantly remind me that I’m writing to readers, not in a vacuum. Anyone who delves into any writing must bear that in mind these days. What I write must have relevance to readers and help them. Self and Soul, for instance, is intended to be a refreshing influence for those who may find themselves trapped in the world of the self and sense a certain lack of depth or feeling in their lives.
On a similar note, what are your days like? How do you carve out time to write, think, revise and edit?
As a journalist, I happily don’t have to carve out time. All my time is about thinking, researching, and writing. It’s wonderful.
I do edit a lot of books, too, and I accomplish this through creating oases in my schedule. I call them “reading periods” and they are runs of days or a week in which I focus solely on other people’s work.
As to my writing my own books, the time I normally would spend doing that has, in the last few years, been devoted to creating Cape House Books, the new boutique collaborative publishing house I have built with my husband. Our infrastructure and amazing team now in place, I look to the future with optimism and excitement because it will be all the more easy for me to birth new works through Cape House Books. Indeed a number of new book projects have arisen and are taking shape in my mind.
One has started taking shape on the page, too, which may be a sign it’ll be the next to be completed. I suppose I’ll write that by creating time oases, too, though books tend to break through my consciousness whenever they feel like it. That’s why I’m forever scribbling and transferring my notes to a computer, where I keep creating folders, by theme or topic, and pitching in insights, scenes, quotes, and connecting ideas. They hold there until I’m ready to start weaving them together.
Since you also teach memoir writing workshops, what do you think are the advantages or disadvantages to taking a memoir writing workshop for a student who already has a writing goal in mind?
If the writing goal is a memoir, taking a memoir writing workshop that will steep a student in the arc of storytelling ultimately will save that student a lot of missteps, rewrites, frustration, and time. For some projects, a good workshop is the only thing standing between abandoning and successfully completing a work. I’m a person who doesn’t see a disadvantage to any kind of skillfully delivered education.