The Sublime Sliver of Illumination

Type, Micro-memoir and Development


Photo by Barcelos_fotos from PexelsType and micro-memoir are the perfect pair. Each holds up a mirror and invites us to contemplate what we see, allowing us to take in as much as we are able, without becoming overwhelmed. Many of us are drawn to type because it reveals something essential without dumbing down the complexities of our individual characters, and while it’s been said that everyone’s life is worth a novel, it is equally true that most of us don’t want to write one.

Both type and micro-memoir provide concise evocations of a larger, more complex world. They get right to the point and are short and accessible, and both can be building blocks to a lifetime of development.  Many micro-memoirs explore the present moment in relationship to the past, and micro-memoir can enhance type development by reinforcing where we have been and allowing us to discover where we are and where we might be heading.

Type development is the process of bringing what is unconscious into consciousness, and personal writing can provide a diagnosis of our psychic resources and deficits. The consequences of failing to facilitate this process can be staying stuck, or else facing the unchecked eruptions of repressed contents. We can also improve our writing by deliberately calling on our less developed aspects of self, such as lesser preferred functions and attitudes.  One way to begin is to read our own and others’ writing from a conscious typological perspective noting where functions show up, where they are missing, and what effects these evoke. We can also prompt our own writing by looking from different perspectives. It not necessary to give everything equal weight. The point is to observe and notice, to imagine and try on, to value and assess.

Micro-memoirs, as the name implies, are short personal essays about one’s experiences (versus more objective or public issues or events), usually of 750 words or less. Like other forms of expressive writing, they aid in self-discovery. Popular forms include the six-word memoir, hermit crab essays, prose poems, or flash essays, but any form will do! Because they are both intimate and short, micro-memoirs can be written quickly, and provide immediate, as well as lasting, gratification. As I got older this became a consideration for me. I felt a sense of urgency drawing me away from longer and fictional pieces to the more proximate satisfaction of the micro-memoir.

Many of us are familiar with the alternative coined four word acronyms of type like INFP = I’ll Never Find Perfection. It can be fun to make our own (“I’m Not for Profit!””!” In my Neighborhood, Friendship Prevails”). A ‘hermit crab’ essay is one that pours its content into a familiar, but contrasting form, like a list, a how-to manual, a letter (that you will never get an answer to), menu, or a recipe. Prose poems use poetic techniques such as images, metaphor, and other evocative language; and sensory sounds such as assonance, alliteration, rhythm and rhyme. I personally love them all, whether reading or writing them.

I am similarly eclectic when it comes to theories of type dynamics and development. Any: whether whole type, dominant function type, functional pairs, temperament, or archetypal theories can provide inspiring prompts for micro-memoirs.  In this way your favorite type development book (I like Facets of Type by Hartzler & Hartzler) can become your big book of (little) prompts!

People often wonder how this type of writing is different from journaling. All expressive writing provides catharsis, discovery, and understanding. Journaling is a great practice, and complements type development.  Journaling alone is more stream of conscious, not revised and private, whereas micro-memoirs are often honed and shared. So journaling can be a step on the way to writing micro-memoir.

Of course, a lot of people who want to write, especially “beyond the journal,” resist it because they are afraid they will not write well. But writing is a process, not a competition. It starts with a prompt, internal or external: a daydream, a fragment, an observation, and it evolves over time. Not only do the products of our writing evolve, but more importantly, our selves evolve as the writing we do works on us, bringing the unconscious into consciousness, making more resources in the form of wisdom, insight and energy, available to us. There is research to indicate that writing with the intent to share, when we and the writing are ready, and the subsequent process of making the private more polished and public can also make it even more valuable and is more beneficial than journaling alone. It’s a bit like how preparing a meal for yourself is lovely self-care, but curating your favorite dishes and tweaking them and presenting them with panache for others to enjoy with you, may be more satisfying and have more impact on you, as well as others. We pay more attention; we push beyond our comfort zone.

In an example from my own practice a specific challenge to include concrete facts, specifically “dates” in micro-memoirs lead me to a prose poem I actually titled “Three Dates with Harry Chapin: Story Songs.” I got on the web and found the exact dates, the weather reports, the fashions. While the poem overall remained true to my usual dreamy and impressionistic style, it was improved by the sharpness of the dates, and other facts led me to an unexpected “punchline:” “I still feel like a widow.” And it was that line allowed me to consider what my imagined widowhood needed from me for me to take steps to develop. The sensate details grounded the poem and grounded me in it and it in me.

And that is the most direct, and customizable, combination writing prompt and type development exercise: ask yourself, or perhaps better yet, ask someone else you trust, what about you needs some shoring up, and perhaps ask someone skilled in reading what in your writing needs reinforcement. Then consider any overlap and address it, perhaps the more awkwardly and strenuously the better because, as FDR said: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” Which is as good an aphorism for writing as it is for life, as many novice writers assume that smooth prose was easily produced, which in most cases could not be farther from the truth.

A multipurpose do-it-yourself (DIY) writing prompt that can provide a first draft for this type of analysis goes like this: Think about a transition crisis or dilemma, large or small. Make four (landcape) columns in your notebook: 1) Objects/Sensations/Actions (including images from all five senses) 2) Thoughts & Emotions 3) Themes, and 4) Conclusions and Questions.

Make your lists before trying to write any sentences. Come back and write a paragraph.

A wonderful collection of micro-memoirs is Beth Ann Fennelly’s Heating and Cooling. Here is a link to six of her micro-memoirs, including my favorite “The Coming of the Coming of Age”.

When I presented on micro-memoirs last fall at the International Leadership Association Conference, the whole group was in tears, in a good way, by the end. And that was without the very appropriate angle of type development! Type and micro-memoir are great alone, but better together, and, succinct though they may appear, can point us in the direction of the individuation of our Self and the fulfillment of our unique potential.

And here are some links to some of my own micro-memoirs.

(How to Be) Dismissed: Turning points like separations, whether marital, employment, relocations can be fruitful prompts.

D.A.D.: I have written hundreds of pages about my father, but this short piece ultimately provided a satisfying compressed distillation that preserved the complexity of our relationship.  It’s supposedly a cliché to write about funerals, but clichés are sometimes popular for good reasons.

CNF: Flyover Girls: I’d tried so many times to write this—using the plural (“we”) made all the difference as I leaned into both my second function extraverted N and the farther down extraverted S.

Interventions:  In this piece I travel through time from my earliest memory to teen-age years, to grad school and present time—way N, my second function.

How to (try to) Be Cute:  In the form of a how-to manual, I explore my experiences with performative femininity. Persona issues are common for my whole type INFP. Rather than avoid thinking about them, I dove into them.

How to Not Write Fiction:  This is another longitudinal “how to manual” it strikes me as more NT than NF, and I felt I took a more objective stance.

Bombardment:  Managing sensation can be an issue for INs. This piece also depicts how completely at first I misread the Extraverted Feeling of the other characters at the end.

Dear Yoga:  INFPs may tend to find Extraverted Feeling as false and cheesy. It was cathartic to lean in, and despite the humor this is sincere and true to my feelings.

About the Author

Julie BeneshJulie Benesh, PhD, MFA, INFP is a professor and department chair of organizational leadership and business psychology who has been working with type since the 1980s. She also teaches creative writing and has published numerous short stories and micro-memoirs.

[Featured photo by Barcelos_fotos from Pexels]

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