First published in Mature Lifestyles of Tennessee, Nov. 2013. Reprinted by permission.
“I knocked on doors and convinced people that they needed electricity.”
“Mom and Dad took me to the welfare office and left me there.”
“Cows have personality, and Wild Sue was super shy.”
Everyone has a story to tell, as you can tell by reading these quotes from Tennesseans who write memoir. Every life is unique. What do you have to say? Telling your life story for others is the fascinating genre of memoir. Memoir is a life story, told by the person who lived it, that focuses on important key events.
If you’ve thought about saving your life story so that others can read or view it, you are not alone. Memoir writing is an increasingly popular activity, and books of memoir are scattered throughout the best seller lists. After all, “truth is stranger than fiction.” Recording your personal story or family history offers some excellent benefits!
1. Preservation. Some say the spirit endures three deaths in this world: when the body dies, when the body is buried, and when it is finally forgotten. You can ensure your life and the stories of your family are not forgotten by leaving your memoir.
2. Revelation – This is a chance to tell the truth as you see it. While history is written, and rewritten, tell others what really happened, personally and historically in memoir. You were there!
3. Education – Leave to others the valuable lessons you have learned about life! Storytelling is the oldest form of education. If you learned something the hard way, or have a valuable skill, why not share that in memoir?
4. Family Connection – The process is fun and interesting, prompting sharing between family members. Your memoir will bring you closer to family members, sometimes in unexpected ways. It can also be a treasured heritage gift.
5. Mental Stimulation – Simply making an outline of events can tickle dormant memories awake. You’ll enjoy corresponding, looking at old photos, and simply telling that special story as you compose your memoir. Learning new skills, meeting new people that help with your project, and practicing formal thought are enjoyable mental exercise.
6. Self-Awareness – As you recollect and record, you’ll find yourself revisiting choices that you made, or were made for you. But now, you have a whole life of wisdom. You may find that you see the past in a different light this time around. Memoir can be therapy and an aid to spiritual development.
Many people find these benefits and more from telling their life stories. Ninety-eight year old Thad Martin was proud of being the last person to remember croquet games at Nashville’s Centennial Park. He wanted to tell that and more, creating more conversation with his great-grandchildren. One year later, Thad’s family was listening to their minister read Thad’s stories about his religious experiences. Their elder had passed, but everyone was still laughing at his stories. His spirit was there, and the great-grandchildren saw love and respect for him all around them.
Mary Mallen is determined to make something of her journals and notes. She’s writing a memoir for her daughters’ families, and for the public. “Optimism and enthusiasm will get you through the hardships,” will be Mary’s theme as she recollects the changes in the travel industry. Mary started life in a traveling house trailer, but ended up revolutionizing airline sales.
Convinced yet? Many people have an idea for a memoir that stays with them for years. It’s important to act on that idea. Writing or recording your life story comes easily to some and seems difficult to others. There may be a “kin-keeper” in your family, the go-to person who saves the stories, the photographs, and whatever you may have of genealogy and family trees. A younger person may be willing to spend time recording and editing your story. Books, websites, and classes are available. Professionals are creating the new career path of personal historian, with a professional chapter in Tennessee. A personal historian, I offer a free blog subscription to tips on writing memoir at my website, PerfectMemoirs.com.
So put away your fears and procrastination, and take up your pen or recorder. Now, where were you when . . . ?
Deborah Wilbrink is an editor and ghostwriter for Writers in the Sky. She is a personal historian and proprietor of Perfect Memoirs, a personal history business. At PerfectMemoirs.com you can also subscribe to her blog about the genre of memoir, “Point of View.”