Stories Connect Us To A Narrative Larger Than Self: What Author Shoshana Rubin Discovers Through Co-Writing A Book With Her Late Grandfather
"Began making my self-portrait but I wasn't very much satisfied with the proportions," was the diary entry. Its one of those personal, private thoughts we never imagine anyone will see or know, a frank and honest self-assessment. Something most of us who journal and are willing to see the truth about ourselves come to at some point: that we are not much satisfied with the proportions. Also that there are powers shaping our emotions and our choices that must be recognized and reckoned with.
|"The book basically focuses on love in the 1940s vs modern day dating, |
losing a loved one to dementia only to get to know him again
through a diary he once wrote and learning to live life on one's own terms."
Writing is a way of knowing. Private thoughts become more vivid. One's view of the world and its impact on hopes and dreams are laid out. Fears and fantasies come into focus. Truths about what lies beneath the surface of conscious thoughts and emotions make it past the defensive sentinels at the doorways of awareness. For these reasons, the psychological, emotional and physical benefits of journaling and expressive writing are many and increasingly supported by scientific evidence.
Writer, painter and Emmy-award winning television producer Shoshana Rubin has found yet another way that a journal can expand self-knowledge and shape the narrative of her life, except in her case the journal was not her own, but that of her beloved grandfather, author of the diary entries quoted above. Reading his personal diary - which she found almost exactly a year after he died - was a kind of literary Back To The Future, a window into the man she had only known as a wise, older man and guiding presence. Her recently published book The Diary Of A Mensch weaves together his diary entries with Rubin's memories of him and stories from her own life. "Through reading his diary, I got to know him when he was still trying to figure out his life at age 22, before he was a grandpa, before he was a dad, before he was even a husband," she explains. "I realized that he was always very true to himself, even at that age - he was very self-aware and focused. It helped me to make sense of things he had said to me in the past, because I got a better sense of what had shaped him. It also helped me to make sense of how it was I always felt he understood me, despite being so much older than me and from a different time."
Rubin's ingenious approach to integrating her life story with the actual thoughts and reflections of an important, older family member has produced a rich read that I highly recommend for entertainment value alone, but has the added value of demonstrating the impact of knowing the inner life of people from generations past. Through her engaging and detailed memories with and without her grandfather we come to know not just the writer - well, writers - of a memoir, but also a family's inner life. For example, in a chapter titled "The Unveiling" about going with the family to her grandfather's tombstone, she brings us into one of those moments we all face when the past merges with the present:
|by Jude TrederWolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP|
There is scientific evidence to support the power in journaling for better mental health. We learn about our inner life. We create a record of our process through struggles. But most importantly, through writing we can change the narrative itself. Shift perspectives. Explore a different take on the same set of facts. "New research is studying whether the power of writing - and rewriting - your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness," writes Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times. "The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves...Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health."
Reading her grandfather's diary offered Rubin new perspective on old memories, connecting her story to his in unexpected and important ways. "I think in many ways we were actually very similar," she reflects. "I think he knew that - he could see it. But I didn't really know that about him, because I hadn't known him when he was young and single and trying to figure out his life. I think that's also what is nice about writing. Sometimes when you write it helps to get to the truth. "
Diary Of A Mensch is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback.