March 2017 | Profile by Jane Ledwell
Contrivances and secrets—lies—they cause a lot of problems,” intimates Kathleen Hamilton. The playwright, actor, writing workshop leader, and author of Sex After Baby—Why There Is None says, “Right now, I’m deeply immersed in memoir—officially for the past five years. Unofficially for ten.
“Writing my own memoir, reading memoirs, and helping other women write their memoirs: I’m captivated by them,” she says. “I’ve always been very affected by one-woman shows that were memoir, books that were memoir, and novels that read as though they were memoir. The intimacy, the strong feeling of connection somehow illuminates my own life for me,” she reflects.
Memoir, to her, is a generous gesture: “I’m giving something very important to me—and I’m giving it to you, letting you see all the different angles, all the different facets. And people are moved by that. If I tell the truth about my life, it makes it easier to tell the truth about your life. The more honest we are as human beings, the more elevated we are as a species.”
“At the same time,” she admits, “I have a huge resistance to writing my memoir. We all have a voice inside that says, ‘Your story doesn’t really matter. No one cares.’ But the stories that have really mattered to me, that have shaped my life, have been memoir.”
She adds, “There are different voices and forms of resistance: One is, it’s in the past, and the past doesn’t matter. But it’s through understanding the past that we create possibility. It opens up a whole, bright world.”
The first two drafts of Kathleen’s memoir were written as a play. Unsurprising for a theatre professional. “It’s funny,” Kathleen muses, “because a lot of things I learned in acting apply so directly to writing. Everything connects. In acting, my approach is to go deep inside myself and find that character inside myself. In writing memoir, I go deep inside and find that aspect of myself or that persona that needs to tell the story.”
In acting and writing, “I always just think the more honest you are, the more opportunity for the audience to connect. In writing, the more you can bring them into the concrete details—the real stuff of life—the more they can connect…
“So, I grew up in a logging town in northern BC, but if I write my childhood well enough, you’ll say, ‘Yes. That’s just how it was.’”
Kathleen is exploring memoir not only through writing but also teaching, leading a ten-week memoir-writing workshop with “fourteen amazing women—amazing writers with amazing stories to tell,” she says. “It’s a privilege for me to make a safe place and give permission for people to do this work, and for their work to be received.”
Kathleen says, “At first I was very afraid to embark on teaching,” fearful it would drain her energy for her own writing. However, she recalls, “A voice was asking me to teach a class, and I kept saying ‘no, no, no.’ But when I finally decided to do it…, I have found my commitment to these writers has actually fuelled my own writing.”
Kathleen says, “I just know some excellent memoirs are going to come out of this workshop. Some of them will definitely come out in print —hopefully not before mine!” she adds with a laugh.
Her eyes crinkle with humour as she says, “Teaching is how I know I’m getting into heaven. Despite all the things I’ve done in my life, I’ve encouraged people to write. I feel like I’m covered off.”
For herself and workshop participants, she says, “Writing memoir, you get to be in the present and the distant past and the recent past. It’s magical – immersing yourself in the deep creative work and the emotion of re-experiencing the past, which in many cases is difficult… but underneath the heartache or pain, there’s this—joy.
“The work of shaping it into art is satisfying—I haven’t found anything that feels as satisfying as that.” Worth perseveres past the resistance, getting to the deep truths of the past and the heart.