by Myrle Bowe, AARP Volunteer
“But I can’t write,” you protest. Yes, you can—it’s like telling stories to your grandchildren. Grammar and punctuation are important here for clarity, not formal style. A memoir writing workshop is inspiration and social interaction, all beneficial to your personal well-being. Stories shared stimulate memories—laughter and fond remembrances as well as more somber times. Memoir groups extend social life and friendships outside the class itself, enriching lives in the process.
“But my life hasn’t been exciting: “I was a stay-home Mom, a housewife.” Or, “I was born, grew up, went to school, got married, had a family, worked at a job or career, did military service, worked some more, and retired.” As Angela’s Ashes author and Pulitzer prizewinner Frank McCourt told a student, that’s “the plot of the great American novel!”
A memoir is a window into your life, not a complete life history. As one memoir writer said, “It rescued my life from insignificance.” And, as members of our Memoir Writing Group have found their voices, the ripple effect of their experience has touched others:
- An 89-year-old member shares her memoir with her lifelong friend in Florida. They’re shared too with a younger friend who sends them to her educator parents in Poland.
- Attending a family reunion, a member discussed his memoir with his brother-in-law from Nevada, who is a playwright and actor. Other family members became engaged in the stories, and now continue to share memoirs by email.
- The same member recently conducted his own 4-week Memoir series as part of his church fellowship program, to the delight of participants who did not want the fun to end.
- A staff member enjoys reading the memoirs to her grandmother and another shares them with a longtime friend in Georgia who is now 90.
Sometimes memoirs evoke media interest:
- A member going to South Carolina for a reunion took his writings to the local Historical Society and newspaper. One of his memoirs was shared with his former employer, the Charleston SC Boy Scout Council, and may now appear in the national Scouter magazine. Another memoir recalling the boxer Archie Moore intrigued a Charleston newspaper to follow up on an article they had published in 1969 that had featured a photograph of the author as a young man, meeting Archie Moore.
- A member (age 95) shared her memoir about Dr. Paul Hodgson, with whom she had worked early in his career in Vocational Education in Delaware. She soon discovered the University of Delaware Alumni magazine and Hodgson Vo-Tech High School, and a columnist for the News Journal are particularly interested in memoirs related to Delaware history.
And other times our memoir group attract authors as well as publication:
- A member is including an article in his column for the Jewish Voice newspaper. Through him we have learned his cousin recently authored a published memoir titled Return of the Exiled, about their family history in Germany; a 3-generation family trip to Germany; Holocaust losses and survivors; and Germany today. The author recently shared his experiences with our memoir group.
In order for all of this to happen, people made choices: reaching out, making connections, being open to and interested in and listening to others, and sometimes accepting help or solace.
Writing a memoir is a look back on your life with new eyes and an open heart.
A memoir may be poetry, or song lyrics, or a six-word story as in a headline, or snippets taking the form of short stories.
However you choose to leave a record of your memories, please, just do. Rewrites and editing are part of the process with additions happily entering your prose as you remember deeper into your past. You’ll find old friends and new ones, and who knows – you may decide to publish!
Myrle teaches a local memoir writing course. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.