Archive for Personal Memoir

Honoring Service

flag.4Dad carefully unrolled the recently acquired panoramic photos of his and his brother’s graduations from basic training during World War II. A tiny arrow was placed above both of their heads on the respective photos to identify them from the near hundred men.

“That’s Bo?” I asked with quiet respect. “I don’t know that I’ve seen any pictures of him.”

My 84-year old father nodded in a mixture of pride and sadness.

As he shared stories, Dad handed me a small, tattered brown folder. Inside were personal and official letters. I removed a faded telegram.

“…Private Clarence Martin Smith, Jr will be accompanied by Private. . .to the funeral home in Thomasville to arrive on December Two Four. . .”   The strict language marched as formal as a precision military formation, yet devoid of emotion.

Most of my life I’ve known Bo got an infection from a wisdom tooth extraction on base. On the transport ship to Europe, he reported ill to the infirmary on a morning before Thanksgiving, was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, and died before the next sunrise as the ship churned across the Atlantic. The family waited over a month for the return of his body. He was buried on Christmas day.

I gently blew open another envelope’s ragged end and retrieved the fragile paper inside. Seeing Bo’s handwriting and reading his words for the first time was like hearing his voice. Bo plainly wrote to his Momma about where he was, what he was doing, and how much he loved her and his family. There was also one page written just to Dad encouraging him to get a particular piece of farm equipment running and an added mention about their sweethearts. I asked Dad some questions, some of which he couldn’t remember the answers, some he simply couldn’t muster the words.

Gently folding and returning the letter to its resting place, I felt a rush of sadness—reading Bo’s words and holding his letter in my hand as I stared at his benevolent, timid expression in the photo was like meeting him and burying him in the same moment.

As I looked into Dad’s eyes full of respect for these precious artifacts, for what was and for what might have been, my heart began to grasp the depth of his loss. Through the tremble in his voice as he bravely fought to hold off the flood he’d kept in check for so many decades, I fought alongside him as he allowed me to be present with his love and loss.

It’s not a duty, but a freedom to choose to honor all who serve. With Dad, I am also grateful to witness and benefit from his choice to live every moment of his life in service to God, country, and family. He inspires me to strive to higher service in my own.

Chart A Course To Write Your Memoir

Like clients Kirby and Jonathan, you can write and publish your memoir.
Consider the Memoir class as getting your feet wet, the Creative Writers Workshop as training, and personal writer’s coaching & editing as the swim toward the finish line.

 

Start Somewhere.

nyad.espncdn.com.1 - CopyDiana Nyad, 64, an American long distance swimmer, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without using a shark cage in September 2013.  She attempted the 110-mile swim in 1978, then three more times during 2011-2012 without success.  Undaunted, she kept trying.

Some take to writing easily, while others need encouragement.  All could become successful writers.

I’ve seen those who keep dipping their toes rippling the surface ‘thinking’ about writing while others tread water.  These waste mental and physical efforts.  With practice and determination, others jump in to navigate their past and write their memoir.

Get in the Water.

SWIMMING-CUBA-US-NYADOn earlier tries, Nyad was stung by jellyfish, harassed by harsh currents and battered by storms forcing her to quit.  Still, her quest wasn’t over.  She changed tactics, updated equipment, and kept trying.  Obstacles were just lessons to examine and conquer.

Many hindrances can slow writers, but our self-doubts can sink us.  My greatest lesson in how to deal with doubt came from my swimming practice.

Whenever excuses weigh me down, and I really, really don’t want to swim, my motto is ‘get in the water.’  This never fails: I begin with the assurance I can stop whenever I want.  All the negative messages float into my mind like stinging jellyfish or attack my gut like sharks.  I endure and keep swimming.

Interestingly, whatever was blocking me – sinus issues, achey body, ornery mood – improves or dissipates.  Each time, I accomplish my goal of swimming my usual number of laps.

Jump headfirst into your writing.  Enjoy the weightlessness of freedom, the unburdened feeling of writing what comes from your pool of memories.  See what surfaces.

Swim with Friends.

diana-nyad-florida-to-cuba-swimNyad, like any seasoned athlete, dove to mental and emotional depths to acquire physical strength to complete her goal.  She didn’t swim alone; she had community onshore, as well as a boat load of folks for moral support and to watch her back.

In teaching memoir for years, I’ve seen group after group coalesce and support one another to dive deep into consciousness and bring up treasures.

Join the Memoir class, a guided group of no more than six participants. The expedition is more fun, even more enlightening, with others.

Go for the Goal!

nyad.cbsmiami - Copy“I have three messages,” Nyad said on the beach after her historic swim (Associated Press).  “One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dream. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team.”

Compassionate, honest fellow writers are crucial to your success; they want you to win! This happens with every Creative Writers Workshop I’ve led, a group of no more than 4 writers.

As your writing coach, I mentor you to chart your writing’s course and hold you accountable as you move from writing and revising to editing and publishing.

With friends and a dedicated coach on your team, you can more easily write and complete your memoir.

nyad.gmanewstv - Copy
Memoir Class

Creative Writers Workshop

Personal Writer’s Coaching & Editing, by appointment

 
References: Associated Press; Mike Smollins.
Photos:CBS/Miami; ESPN/CDN; GMA News TV; IlPostIt

Pleas and Thank Yous

rose.collage

After my morning ritual of journaling the cobwebs from my head, stretching the cricks from my joints, then feeding my body tea, fruit and grain, I felt jaunty, ready to go.

As I passed my desk, I noticed a text from an inner circle friend sharing that a mutual friend had suddenly passed away.

Instinctively, I sat down.  I stared at the screen’s stark words.  I knew my friend was hurting, too, yet the words seemed so flat on the phone.  Maybe it’s not true, I begged.  I read them over and over trying out every interpretation to deny the obvious as I felt my energy sink from the top of my head into a dense lump below my stomach.

Suddenly processing another significant loss, I recalled Mother’s Day just weeks before, the first since Mom died last October.  Getting ready to drive to my hometown and join the family, something had set me off, and my ‘stuff’ had risen and roared.  I called another inner circle friend who listened, allowed me to be mad, suggested ideas, then consoled while cajoling me to a happier, healing place.  I felt better, the rolling boil reduced to a steaming simmer.  Then she gently asked, “Have you written a letter to your mother telling her how much you miss her?”

Tears welled, and I could hardly take the breath to say ‘thanks’ before hanging up.  I slumped into my desk chair and through my puddled vision, found the home keys.

“Dear Momma…”

After wrapping up the letter, I sat spent.  I rested, but soon scolded myself for being a writing coach to others, yet I hadn’t identified what I needed.  I’d journaled about Mom all week acknowledging the significance of the coming holiday, but didn’t reach the core of complete expression, much less release.  Like when I encountered a display of Mother’s Day cards at the grocery store, felt the onset of pain and quickly pushed my buggy around the glaring truth, the overture was obvious.  Still, I pleaded for the opposite, politely notating the incident in my journal without divining its essence.

Putting avoidance and perfection aside, I finally spotted the depth of my hurt, as well as the stealthy way I’d skirted around it, and then wrote and nurtured myself.  Simultaneously, I gave thanks to Mom for all the love she’d shared and lessons she’d taught, to my friend for her compassionate encouragement, and to myself for opening again to full expression and accepting guidance.

Now, in the chair with phone still in hand, I sat with my present loss.  I had lost a new friend, someone I knew for only a year, but one who expanded my heart and broadened my thinking while providing safety for me to share, ask personal questions, as well as listen to her truth.  I had bonded with her kind, unassuming spirit, a unique presence draped with honor and love.

Recently, I pondered plans to spend time deepening our friendship into the inner circle.  Unexpectedly, all that remained were memories of someone special who gave so much in such a brief time.rose.petals

So, I asked myself the question, “Can I tell her how much she meant to me and how much I will miss her?”  I put down my phone and ceremonially placed fingers on home keys.  My breathing deepened, my eyes dampened, and with courage and gratitude, I listened, and my mourning ritual began.

“Dear Shauna…”

Just Now

Go. Out. Side.graffiti.3.2013

Waking up late today after a very full yesterday added to daylight savings time stealing an hour, I did my morning ritual in the afternoon — writing, drinking tea and checking in with the world online.

My intuition kept nudging me: Get in the sunshine.  Make that the priority.

Okay, okay.

No work.  No writing.  Take a break.

The feelings felt good, and I knew it was the right thing to do, so I went to walk the path from the Dekalb Tennis Center across the tracks, by the ruins of the old Dekalb Water Works, then onto the boardwalk by the stream over to Medlock Park where the little leaguers play.

Immediately, I tried to phone my sister-in-law and check in.  Got an answering machine.  The same with a friend and my dad.  I left multiple messages and pocketed the phone.  I relaxed into it.  Even alone, there were interactions between me and others, me and children, me and dogs.  Instead of talking on the phone to someone 60 or 1500 miles away, I was interacting and sharing face to face, often with only expressions and body language.

Both coming and going, I passed two girlfriends chatting about one’s new lover and how to navigate the relationship.  This contrasted with another woman on the phone who at first had turned away from the boardwalk for privacy, then when I saw her again, she had her curved hand on her forehead and was staring blankly.  I playfully thought she might be receiving a psychic message.  As I got closer, I saw she was just trying to read her smartphone screen in the mottled sunshine.  Again, I passed her without seeing her eyes.

That could have been me, I thought.

Back at the water works, structures graffiti artists use as a canvas, constantly spraying over each other’s work, I snapped some pictures on my smartphone and talked to a man as he watched his son.  He offered that he wasn’t thrilled with the ‘vandalism,’ mentioned even threatening to call the cops on a young adult with multiple spray cans and a respirator who was going for it one afternoon.

I offered my opinion:  I honestly look forward to seeing what they’ve done.  It’s like a free art gallery on my walk.  They respectfully don’t stray onto other surfaces, just sticking with these.

He looked at me and listened.

Besides, I continued, on my way in there were lots of moms and pops with kids, all talking about it, pointing at different parts, interacting with the art and one another.  Many of these people may never set foot in a museum, so that interaction may prove priceless to one of those kids.  And the artist had fun, too.  Mostly, though, the art encouraged folks to share.  So, really, what’s the harm?

Plus it got this stranger and I talking about our neighborhood.  We continued to chat, to question, to share and be heard.  Then we shook hands, smiled thanking one another, and moved on.

For all the messages I left on smartphones around the country, there were no return calls.  Great, I thought, what a beautiful afternoon to be outside.