WHY WE EXIST: From life writing to life righting
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.
WHAT WE DO: Courses, publishing and fundraising
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.
HOW WE WORK: Themed memoir courses
We run a variety of short and long courses, as well as residential writing retreats. 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.
WHO WE ARE: Souls committed to the creative spirit
Dawn Garisch, our CEO, says:
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.
Dawn in five sentences:
- Author, mother, doctor, dancer, teacher, hiker. I’ve never had the yen to be a biker.
- Lives in the interdisciplinary zone; starting to lose the ability to multi-task.
- Has a life riven through with pain and beauty, which I take to the page and the dance floor to help me understand myself and how to live more effectively in community.
- Needs regular internet-free wilderness experiences where my only concerns are keeping warm, fed, watered and how to best observe the exuberance of birds.
- Loves being part of the writing tribe and the LRC Exco because it reminds me why I am alive and keeps my belly-laughing muscles super fit.
Giles Griffin, our Marketing Maestro & Writing Facilitator says:
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.
And this is Giles in five sentences:
- Advertising copywriter, editor, proofreader, marketing strategist and aspiring course facilitator, I have worked in both the private and public sector in health education and marketing roles, but my first love and hopefully highest skill is writing.
- Writing for a living is not the same thing as writing about your life, not at all: finding time for both is a constant challenge.
- I am otherwise obsessed with food, wine, beer and theatre – and, though less so, keeping fit by swimming, biking and hiking… in nature, when I get the balance right.
- I absolutely cannot multi-task, which is why I have just boiled two lovely but now charred golden beetroot dry, wondering the while what that burning smell was…
- My dream is to make a living out of helping people process loss through writing.
Johan Jordaan, our Money Magician, says:
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.
Johan in five sentences:
- I see writing as a powerful tool to heal yourself. A lot of excellent writing is produced by our members that should be seen and read by other people in order to inspire them and feel support.
- I am excited by creativity and have always worked and thrived in a creative environment.
Writing is new to me but I have found expression in other media, particularly film.
- Besides that, I love cooking, architecture and interiors.
- Fortunately for the LRC, I was schooled by the film industry and learned to cross the t’s and dot the I’s so I will be keeping an eye on my fellow Exco members.
Linda Kaoma, our Fab Facilitator, says:
When I first started writing, I did not realise that I was embarking on a journey of healing and transformation. I started blogging to track my transition from the corporate sector to the creative sector. I started Unbranded Truth, an online magazine, because I wanted a space where women could talk about self-discovery and self-love. I started writing poetry because it was one of the few mediums that quietened my overworked brain and it always gives me a different perspective. I did my first life writing course to unearth stories of my life and dissect reoccurring motifs. Joining the Life Righting Collective is a continuation of this healing and I can be a part of a much-needed process that is extended to different people from different walks of life.
Linda in five sentences:
- I spend too much time on social media platforms. But it is part of my work, so maybe I should not feel terrible about it?
- I love reading and travelling, and reading while travelling.
- People always get my age wrong, I am much older than I look.
- I need yoga, meditation, dancing and poetry to stay sane.
- If I was not doing what I do, I would have been a tap dancer.
Desiree-Anne Martin, Diva of Donations, says:
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.
Five things about Desiree-Anne:
- I am a passionate advocate for the destigmatization of addiction, abuse, trauma and mental health issues.
- My daughters’ laughter is my favourite sound.
- Cockroaches and goats. Just, no.
- I love eating good food but don’t particularly enjoy the cooking aspect of it.
- I believe everyone should be in therapy at least once in their lives.
Nina Geraghty, our Digital Diva, says:
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!
Nina in six sentences:
- Content development writer for businesses, I write copy for websites, ads, blogs, newsletters, articles and press releases, to create marketing magic.
- Business owner, jazz singer/guitarist, ceramic artist, mother of two young grown-ups.
- Writing a memoir about finding my unknown Japanese father who didn’t know I existed and uncovering the invisible forces that shaped my life.
- I long to visit Iceland.
- Writing is a way of eavesdropping on myself.
- Filling in tax returns is my voluntary area of helplessness. I just can’t do it. CAN’T. instead I submit willingly to being rescued annually by my tax consultant.
Terry Ayugi, our Administrator Extraordinaire, says:
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.
Terry in five sentences:
- I love a good manicure.
- I’m a HGTV binger!
- I love and appreciate good food.
- I love Congolese rhumba.
- My dream travel destinations are Kingston & Havana.
Karin Andersen, our Web Witch, says:
I’ve always been fascinated by the power of words to transport us from the mundane to the marvellous. I was utterly determined to read as soon and as young as possible, and I’ve never stopped since. I’ve had numerous different jobs, ranging from cleaner to teacher, and have lived in several countries. The first website I ever worked on was way back in the 90’s, when dial up was the only way to get onto the net and mobile phones were still a rarity. One of my most favourite jobs was working in an antiquarian bookshop and being in the company of very old and very beautiful books.
Karin in five sentences:
- I’m a poet, born under the sign of Aquarius, and my tarot card is The Star, which represents the link between conscious and unconscious.
- After reading, walking and yoga are the other essentials in my life.
- I adore the challenge of learning new skills, and am currently obsessed with growing food organically, or finding it on my walks.
- I am happiest when sharing my world with as many other creatures as possible, with the exception of mosquitoes and ticks, whose purpose I fail to comprehend.
- My book and notebook collection keeps mysteriously multiplying.
Philippa Kabali-Kagwa, our Storyteller on the Board, says:
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.
Philippa in five sentences:
- Storyteller. Poet. Facilitator. Coach. Dreamer. Holder of space to be.
- Mother. Sista. Womxn. Daughter of Africa.
- As a facilitator I hold spaces for people to have the conversations they need to have. My hope is the processes I facilitate enable people to breathe, to listen, to speak the unspoken, to see each other.
- Lover of trees, sunsets, rivers…
- Sometimes I think in pencil, sometimes in pen… and sometimes my shoes and earrings must come off so I can think…
Jennifer Radloff, our creative, activist board member says:
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!
Jenny in five sentences:
- The best surfer is the one having the most fun. I surf whenever I can with my gang of Surfragettes and volunteer with adaptive surfing
- My constant teachers are my tribe of incredible godchildren, ranging in age from 8 to 32 years.
- I wake early to be with the quiet and wonder of sunrise and retreat into the wilderness as often as I can
- I shape objects in clay and love the surprise of what comes out the kiln.
- Engaged Buddhist practice is my place of refuge, that helps me make meaning and stay in wonder.
Simon Sephton, our Legal and Publishing Fundi on the Board, says:
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.
Simon in a few sentences:
- I grew up on a mountainous farm in the Eastern Cape and the mountains remain in my bones. You’ll find me on a peninsula mountain somewhere most weekends.
- A planned career in journalism was hijacked by publishing, an industry I have been involved in since 1981. I currently own and run a small publishing house specialising in legal and business titles.
- I am a passionate photographer, an interest developed in childhood. My particular obsession at present is photographing water and my work is exhibited annually.
- I paint a bit.
- I am a husband, father of two and person of walking choice to two poodles.
Simone Le Hane IT-savvy Executive Coach Board Member says:
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.
Simone in 5 sentences:
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.