Monday, March 26, 2012

U is for “Unreeling the Unseen,” By Evelyn Watson

Many of the stories in this ABC series have established that sharing our experiences in a group of sympathetic listeners is just as important as writing the stories in the first place. I think that Evelyn has demonstrated one of the key factors in such a group. Without a willingness to be vulnerable, no such sharing could take place.

          Walking into the memoirs class several years ago was somewhat of an unmasking of myself. Writing my stories was one thing, but reading them aloud was like undressing, and I felt vulnerable. However, I soon found that the unique part of this particular group was that they were united as if bound together by an umbilical cord in their understanding and inexpressible kindness towards one another. This group is unequal to most groups because of their unusual unity and encouragement.

        I began to feel the umbrella of friendship and kinship with others who were unearthing the events of their lives just as I was, who were undressing themselves emotionally the same as I, and who were unlocking the unseen stories their lives had journeyed.

        Our teacher, Bonnie, has shown us ways to write our stories not in the usual way of beginning at the beginning, but by writing little snippets to make up the story of our life, since our lives are many stories contained in one. She has inspired us with ideals to help us find the unborn stories within, always urging us to write whatever we find.

This class has been an ultimate experience for me. Never could I have known what awaited me when I walked into the unreeling of my unseen stories.

Friday, March 23, 2012

T is for “Teachers,” By Judy Brandemihl

2010 was a difficult year for our memoir class. One of several losses we experienced was the passing of our dear friend, Judy Brandemihl. So it is with some tenderness that I share this story today. Judy had some true insights into what makes this class special. I have often said that I learn more from my students than they could ever learn from me. Judy nailed it when she said “we are all teaching each other.”

I’ve led a fortunate life. It’s been packed with teachers from the beginning. Not all the teachers have been the kind you’d find in school. Many have been what I think of as “life’s teachers.” My parents and grandparents were the first, and I could write volumes about everything I learned from them. And there were siblings, playmates and classmates. Not everything they taught me was good, but they were my teachers just the same.

Well, I’ve had some terrific teachers along the way and I remember some bad ones, but hopefully, by the time I ran into them I was wise enough to know the difference.

Now I’m in my “golden years” and I know there’s still more to learn and here in our memoir class I’ve found not one teacher, but a room full of them. Yes, we have one designated teacher and a terrific one she is. With amazing patience she’s taught us to pull our memories from our subconscious and to capture them on paper for our children, or grandchildren and, with luck, our great-greats. What a thrill it would be to pick up a book, a treasury of stories written by your distant ancestor and to read about his or her life, all written in their own words. And if our descendents gain some kernel of knowledge or bit of strength from the tapestry of our lives, then we, too, will have become teachers, reaching out across time to pass on the treasure of wisdom.

In the meantime, we have the luxury of remembering and through our remembering, reliving our lives as well as those our fellow students. If our tales, some tender and some touchy, are lightly sprinkled with a tad of taradiddle, so be it.

We are all teaching each other. Each time we hear a story we learn what it was like to grow up in foreign lands, in different cultures, different neighborhoods, or only two streets over in a house like ours. Each life is different; the values taught by our parents were unlike those of the family a mile away. Our religions are varied and sometimes absent, and for some of us our native language was even different. But, in spite of this, we tarry here, in the same room, openly telling each other stories that reveal so much. Each one is a window into another’s past, into the life of yet a new teacher.

Monday, March 19, 2012

S is for “Sanctuary,” By Yolanda Adele

This is such a great follow-up to Jacqui’s “Road” reflection! When you decide to stop by the “house on the side of the road,” you need to find some sanctuary. Here is Yolanda’s thoughtful and inspiring story.

Synonymous with our memoir group is “sanctuary” because our memoir group is a safe place, where we openly share ourselves: the good, the bad, and the ugly, knowing full well that we will be listened to with respect and without judgments. A memoir class is truly a treasure because it is conducive for letting each person’s uniqueness flourish. We give labor and birth to our memoirs in our “sanctuary” place before we even share them with our families.

Our writing coach, Bonnie Mansell, has taught us that we have the power to leave a legacy through our memoirs. I know this to be true personally. A dear friend of mine, Eve, told me that she had finally found her own voice by coming to memoir class. She had suffered a lot of abuse in her childhood and most of her adult life. She had also found happiness in the arrival of her first grandchild. She felt the need to express and make sense of all that had happened to her.

She finally did that when she began to write her story, to have her say within the walls of our writing sanctuary. She became one of the most prolific writers in our group, but more importantly she became a happier person. Her stories reflected that. She began to write delightful stories for her new grandbaby.

I’m very grateful that Eve had the sanctuary of our memoir group before she died in 2003 at the age of 59. I have taken this opportunity to write this in her behalf. I know that she would have wanted me to do so.

Friday, March 16, 2012

R is for “Road,” By Jacqueline Smith

Where has your road taken you lately? Has it been a bit rough from time to time? Maybe you could use a little break, a stop in “The House by the Side of the Road.” Here is Jacqui’s reflection on the strength to be gained by deliberately spending time in the shelter of community. When you finish her story, take a moment to read the link to the poem by Sam Walter Foss. ~ Bonnie

The road I travel is usually smooth and rather pleasant but lately there have been too many stones causing my journey to become a bit bumpy. In my weariness I have been fortunate enough to find a place where I can rest my soul, a safe harbor where I enjoy the company of some very delightful traveling companions whose stories help me to see the world in a different light.
As we share our memories we are awakened to a greater understanding of the many roads that life has to offer and even when we realize that each of us has left our own special trails behind, somehow God has allowed our paths to meet. Each of us has grown and shall continue to grow as we listen and learn from one another.
Since I love libraries and books, my mind allows me to view these precious people as if they were a rare collection of very valuable and priceless books. Each one is filled with childhood memories, incredible adventure, joys, sorrows, humor and much more. They are a part of my private collection.
I love this class! We travelers laugh together, weep together and just have a great time in this wonderful part of our journey. As we move onward the road grows wider to welcome new travelers because the road of life was never meant to be traveled alone.
My spirit is always lifted when I remember this is the day for me to go to my memoir class, where I know there will be a welcoming hug, a kind word, a gentle touch and rest for my weary soul. This is indeed my refuge, my safe harbor where I can dock and find only goodness.
Bonnie, with her caring smile and her tender heart, sits at the helm and kindness reigns. She is a leader, a gentle and wise woman, and a lover of people. She is the captain of this ship and no one could ever take her place for she is indeed “irreplaceable.” This is much more than a class where students can learn; this is a place where hearts are connected and strangers become family.

I am truly thankful for the opportunity to walk this road with such an amazing group of fellow travelers.

To Read Foss’s poem, click here:
The House by the Side of the Road

Monday, March 12, 2012

Q is for “Quotas,” “Quotes,” and “Quality,” By Mina Anne Chudilowsky

Now here is a fun story for your pleasure. How many words can you think of that start with the letter “Q”? I think Mina Anne may just have you beat! What an imaginative way to tell a story. . . read on –

          One day after book club Judy posed a question to me: how would I like to join the memoirs group to which she belonged? She said, and I quote, “(I) would be an asset to the group,” (unquote). But really, it was because the quantity of the group had receded and new members were needed.

        I was in a quandary. I had no one for whom to write memoirs and I didn’t think that I had that much about which to write. And it was questionable that I would be an asset to the group. The quality of the group, and the stories read, I discovered, was high.

        Some people were very quick. Jacque wrote her “City of Regret,” in fifteen minutes before class, and Loie wrote a story in class and read it that same day. Some stories are quaint and some are quirky. Some are about quiet reflections, and some show the author’s quick wit. While one may be about a personal quest, another may be about quilting. Another good topic is about quitting. Some stories are written with quotes and personal quotations. Queries may follow the stories.

        Some stories leave you with a quizzical look on your face, while others may provoke a quip from Don, who is quite a quipster. Some authors come close to quarreling about their topic, but no one seems quick tempered.

        There is no quota for stories to write, though many people write quite a few. Some even seem to be a quire long.

        Sometimes Bonnie, our qualified instructor, will give us questionnaires to quicken our brains. We are here to flex our brains, not our quadriceps. Sometimes this feels like a quiz and you quiver, quake and quail when you can’t come up with a quick, qualified answer to the questions. You look around and see quizzical, queasy looks on other people’s faces.

        A new member may quaver, quiver and quake with nervousness and be qualmish about presenting his/her first story; His/her heart may even quicken, but the group quickly quashes this with their unquestionable acceptance of the person.

        If you get blocked, don’t quit and give up. Find a quiet place, a place of quietude, and maybe even look up a quintessential story to stimulate your imagination. You’re not the only one to encounter a block; get in the queue with the rest of us.

        At the center, we sit around quadrilateral tables. During the summer months, the center provides ice water to quash, or quench, our thirst. You can even quaff a quart if you’re quenchless, without question.

        If you come in with qualms, the group puts you at ease and makes you feel welcome. Soon you become a qualified member of the group, and you help meet the quota.

Friday, March 9, 2012

P is for a “Perfect Production,” By Virginian (Ginger) Lane

          The Norwalk Senior Center offers a class in learning to write memoirs. It is a priceless stimulant for the seniors’ minds. This class gives the intellectual challenge to prod students’ memories, keeping them keep alert, and possibly preventing or forestalling dementia and Alzheimer’s. In addition, these elders of our community can leave behind a present, a history of their lives and times for their families.
The class is a stimulant to thinking and it prods older people to get started, find purpose, and complete a product that anyone would be pleased to peruse. Every class is priceless as we all share our products and trigger memories in each other. Some of our pieces are funny; some are informative; some are touching or sad. All are deserving of the praise that the students pour out on each others’ finished products.  The class supports the members with the encouragement that keeps students writing their histories for their families. Many seniors would not finish writing their memoirs without continuing to attend this program. In addition, the class is one of the few at the Center that offers intellectual content, yet has a practical purpose. The class offers seniors the practice in writing and thinking that pushes them to perform. Most of the people would procrastinate without this peerless class prompting them. It got me started, and now I am writing prolifically.

        Our teacher is always prepared, providing us material that is priceless. Her lectures are informative and interesting, yet she allows plenty of time for the people to present their own productions. The teacher has a pertinent background and education for teaching memoir writing. Her unique perceptions are prized by class members. In addition, the instructor creates a pleasant atmosphere that allows people to feel relaxed and comfortable in their own performances. All together, her talents and education make the perfect combination for a memoirs program.

Monday, March 5, 2012

O is for "Ordinary People," by Betty Mitchell

This is another story by a former student. We miss Betty and hope she will come back to visit us soon. She was a great addition to our class and wrote many good stories, including her own ABC book about her life.

When I first joined this memoir class I didn’t have a clue about how to put my memories down on paper. They were so ordinary. After hearing some of the stories others wrote, I found out that what I had to say could be of interest to my family, particularly to my grandchildren. Now the task begins. With the help of others I received the confidence in myself to take pen in hand and start writing. Remembering some of the things that happened in what I thought as an ordinary period of my life brought back an outpouring of other memories, some happy and some not so happy. I’m still learning and getting braver in my writing. I am so thankful for all of these ordinary people I have met in this class.