Memoirs – stories drawn from the well of personal experience
By Ellery Littleton.
Ellery will be offering his memoir-writing program From Memory to Memoir at The Haven October 26–28, 2012 & November 1–3, 2013.
“To write a memoir is to taste life twice.” – Anais Nin
It was a weekend last fall, and I do remember it well. As I sit here reading some of the pieces people wrote in that particular memoir-writing program, I can’t help but feel moved all over again, as I felt during the workshop, listening to these deeply-felt personal stories read aloud by the participants. At the end of the workshop, I asked them to choose a couple of pieces they had written in the course of the weekend and e-mail them to me, so I could put them together in a booklet and send everybody a copy.
Following are some brief excerpts from a few of those heartfelt healing memories and reflections. I have changed the names for obvious reasons.
From “Stepping Stones” – by Elena
“I knew about things my classmates didn’t. I knew about slavery and racism and poverty. I knew about homosexuality and concentration camps, the holocaust… I saw the duplicity of my parents in joining a club that had admission policies that went against our highest values of racial acceptance. I felt myself to be running sometimes lonely outside the pack at school, feeling myself to be not understood.”
From “My Role in the Family” – by Rose
“Another day done. Well, not done, but almost. The kids were upstairs getting themselves ready for bed and the darkness outside turned the curtainless windows of the house into mirrors, reflecting the lives of those within. A huge house it was, with not enough furniture to make it cozy. Not enough anything to make it what it might have been.
“Then looking more closely at the reflection, she took it in. A wan, sad woman looked back at her. Hair straggled, like her soul, her face expressionless with eyes red-rimmed from crying earlier that day, a ghost, joyless. Who was that spectre in the window? It sure as hell wasn’t her. It wasn’t the little girl who entertained her family and sang happy songs with her sisters while they washed dishes in a different sink so long ago.”
“I was gathering images all my life, storing them away and forgetting them. Somehow, I had to send myself back, with words as catalysts, to open the memories out and see what they had to offer.” – Ray Bradbury
From “The Turning Point” – by Louisa
“Without that nudge from Sandra, my best friend at school, I might never have become who I am nor had the life I am so privileged to enjoy. Sandra was a bit fast. By that I mean that she actually dated during high school. I, on the other hand, felt lucky if finally asked to a school dance by some classmate (dared by his buddies). Robert braved that, found that it wasn’t so bad, and from then on, he just kind of assumed we were going steady by default. But that boy could sure as hell dance … Then Sandra suggested I dump Robert, and look for someone more interesting, which I did.
“Oh, I cringe looking back, but this was a major turning point in my life. And I have to say it was a relief to have done it. Richard never pursued dancing, the one thing he did well and loved. He remains uninspiring, joyless, pinching his pennies.”
From “My Role in the Family” – by Elsie
“There is a photo of me around that time, standing very still in my winter coat and pointed hat and holding my hands together in front of me. This was my very good girl stance, for I had a job to do. When everyone else is behaving badly, someone has to be good. And that someone was me. Furthermore, by being good, by doing the right thing, by not making too many mistakes, I could keep my family together and I would be safe.
“And so we carried on with Daddy as the bad guy, Mommy as the victim, my brother as the difficult child and me as the self-appointed savior. We each of us played our parts unerringly, unhappily.”
The memoirs people write in this program not only come from the heart, but ARE the heart of their life stories. – John Fox
From “Thoughts About Writing” – by Elsie
“I have been enjoying the writing this weekend so very much. It’s like coming back to a long abandoned place and slipping into the joy and comfort of something deliciously familiar. I’m reminded of the chapter in ‘Wind in the Willows’ when Mole finds his way back home, building a fire, and settling gratefully and movingly into his old digs.
“I’m always surprised at what I produce and that is the pleasure of it. The layers of the self just waiting their turn on the page, jumping out at random, never lining up in orderly fashion like good boys and girls, but surfacing unexpectedly, sometimes quietly, even reluctantly, other times tearing at the mind and skin, pushing and shoving to be first and to be heard.”
From “A Captured Moment” – by Judith
“This past June, I visited my old university … into the very building I haven’t entered since 1975. Pushing the hallowed door open … taking a step, to walk on my path of 49 years ago … my body floods with wonder, with delight. This brilliant, exploratory, wide open space captures and enfolds me … I am home … this is sanctified territory. Oh how you nurtured me … revealed the secrets of life to me. You pointed to unknown territory and allowed me to glimpse, to explore, to discover, to find treasures … both inside myself and inside others … and inside the moon, the centuries, the universe, the grain of sand.”
“I write so that I may decipher the mystery of myself and become more whole” – Richard Moss
From “A Captured Moment” – by John
(John was amongst other things, a jet pilot in the Canadian airforce)
“I learned to fly military jets before the early jet airliners began service. We military pilots had the high altitudes to ourselves. High altitude flight was something mysterious, an area of unknown. Something up there was drawing me – and I didn’t know what it was.
My first high flight was in a two-seat trainer with my instructor. It was a stormy afternoon with lots of clouds filling the sky, built and grown to massive dimensions, churning at the top like water boiling in a pot. To avoid the clouds, we had to jink and swerve down gullies between them, finding new portals to enter and then finding new cloud formations and new maneuvers to avoid them.
“Suddenly it became fun … I soared, I floated, I played with the clouds. I was flying like a bird but doing what no bird could do. I felt absolutely free, absolutely in control, absolutely at one with the environment around me. I was in heaven.”
“Memoir-writing provides a blank canvas onto which the rich intricate portrait of your life can be painted.” – Kathleen Adams
From “Dialogue” by Stacey
Me: Danny, Danny … is it you?
D: My big sister?
Me: I was … I am.
D: How did it end? I can’t remember? You never forgot though. You simply pushed it all down. I watched from above. I saw you sitting at my wake with all the rest … the only child in that room … yet somehow you were the only one who knew I was safe. You helped to fill the rough box with blankets and sweet grass, like all the rest.
Me: I remember that part so well. I remember what a beautiful child you were with your big brown sparkling eyes, those long dark eyelashes and your playful grin. You were such a handsome six-year old.
D: Now I remember. I jumped off the school bus on the reservation, headed across the highway towards home, and then … I remember seeing you from somewhere else … I saw you where the drums were beating and the singers chanting. You were holding my mom’s hand and she was crying as the smell of sage and smoke filled the room.
Me: I remember too. That was then Danny… and how are you now?
D: I am of the light. I am your angel. And, so … I can be your playmate again. Will you take some time to play now you are not so busy? Will you play with me in the kayak and swim in the ocean? Will you go where there is sunshine. Can I come home with you to play?
Me: Of course dear child. We will run free with the deer, dance at the pow-wow, swim with the dolphins in the warm ocean and eat all the berries we want. I will play with you every day Danny Boy!
“Whence come I? I come from childhood, as from a homeland.” – Antoine de Saint Exupery
From “The Gift-Bringer” by Jane
“The second person to step forward is my father. I see him now with greater clarity and more acceptance than ever before. I understand him through my son Alan , through my knowledge of his family history, and through my own explorations of myself. At first, I try to give him a necklace of semi-precious stones, but he is too awkward in them. They are not right. So then I give him a book, compact and handsomely-bound with leather, which holds our stories – his, mine, our family’s. He takes it in his smooth-skinned artistic hands and I can feel his gratitude and this love and acceptance I give him now but which I denied him while he was alive.”
“Then there is the listening at the gates of the heart which have been closed for so long, and waiting for that mysterious inner voice to speak. – Beth Ferris