Whoever writes gives life: A Seminar in Biography

This week in mid-July marks a red-letter event in Ernen’s literary summer: the annual one-week “Biography” seminar conducted by the renowned German psychologist and author, Dr. Brigitte Boothe. This is the 6th time the seminar has been held in the village’s historic Tellenhaus, the week’s goal again being for participants to explore ways writers define personal experiences and/or crafting a narrative around their own. As in former years, the course targets both young and old, both experienced or still inexperienced attendees who want to address either their own writing or the craft of writing itself, but from a new angle: How and why can I tell the story? Where to begin, and at what point to stop? Are my recollections accurate and true-to-life? How can I find my own literary expression? These were just some among the thought-provoking questions that spurred the direction of this year’s course.

In the Wednesday break, I spoke to three of the seminar participants, each of whom had a different reason for coming. Nina − attending for the second time this year − had little ambition as a writer, but was keen, as an avid reader, to boost her exposure to the variety and wealth of literary styles. Lina, who lived in nearly Brig, had attended one of Donna Leon’s courses here in Ernen, but wanted now to get a handle on her own craft, since she was intending to pen stories for her grandchildren. Juliana, after the many demands of a full-time job, was taking a week off alone to pursue something personally important to her.

Each of the women shared thoughts about the course structure and its implementation, and all three cited their work together as “inspiring.” In the seminar room, I had noticed that all had sat behind their computers at a circle of large tables, an arrangement that democratically denied any one person a “shiner” role or a “front row seat.” In that same vein, Juliana relayed that any texts read in response to short writing assignments were handled equally, and without any prejudice. Lina was astounded by the degree of creativity her fellow attendees brought to their images, and impressed upon me how carefully and respectively Prof. Boothe handled each of the submissions shared. All three women emphasized was hardly a school class; instead, their seminar was a confirmation of each person’s own unique expression, each one as valid as the next.

Dr. Boothe, who has cited “examining, remembering, experimenting, collecting, organizing, proofreading and making corrections” as the building blocks of resounding narrative kindly took time with me before the group re-gathered. Hers is a soft spoken but serious manner, and she clearly enjoyed encouraging each one of the class members – all female this year − to find her own “voice.” She was moved by the way many of them were willing to share both the poignant and pivotal moments in their lives, and noted the welcome role that humor and fun always brought to the exercise. Tale telling, it would seem, somehow makes the bond between pain and good humor possible. She was also pleased that some participants had taken advantage of one-on-one consultations she offered as an option after class.

For the blogger in me, it was insightful to see some of the notes that had been collected on the white board: ideas pooled to try and better understand the role biography might play for the human psyche. “The story is within us; we only have to let it come to light.” was a call to action. “Biography is an internal mentor that gives credit where it’s due.” seemed to want affirmation. “With all else transitory, something should remain.” was the mantra of any respectable collector or historian. My favorite, though, may have been the simplest formulation. Why biography? Simple enough:  It’s “Life’s rucksack!”

Ernen, Friday, 14 July 2017, by Sarah Batschelet

The “Biography” seminar is among the annual offers of the Musikdorf Ernen’s summer festival. Dr. Brigitte Boothe, formerly Professor for Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis at the University of Zurich, studied German and Romance languages and took a doctorate in Philosophy. Her book (The Narrative. Biographical Stories in the Psychotherapeutic Process) was published in 2010 by Schattauer Verlag, Stuttgart. More recently, she also published “Wenn doch nur – ach hätt ich bloss. Die Anatomie des Wünsches. (If Only I’d… The Anatomy of Longing) Zürich: Rüffer & Rub, in 2013.