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Ten Reasons for Writing Memoir

In my book, The Gift of Memoir,  the twenty reasons I give for writing memoir are culled from the forty-two I offer in my course. The more reasons there are, the more apt you are to finish your story. Not that all forty-two, or twenty, will be valid for everyone. Are there three or four that seem more relevant to you than the others? Those are the ones that will propel you forward into your story and keep you adding to it.

Here, in this post, I have harvested ten of the best from the list of twenty. I thought I had collected all possible reasons for writing memoir, but recently someone suggested another, and I will start with that one. It is an especially poignant and relevant one in our times because so many people are living alone—especially older people.

1. To dispel loneliness. When you write your stories, usually you have someone in mind to whom you are speaking. You have an audience who will one day receive and read your words. This is communication beyond your own mind with whoever may be there.

2. To counteract dying with the permanence of written words that will live on. “Fundamentally,” said Mordecai Richler, “all writing is about the same thing: it’s about dying.”

3. To pass on your wisdom and insights by leaving visible tracks behind you. This is a form of mentoring.

4. To give yourself and your descendants a history. This is why Philip Marchand wrote Ghost Empire: How the French Almost Conquered North America.

5. To heal. “Without memory there is no healing,” said Bishop Tutu.

6. To be sheltered by what is real and true for you. To create a shelter for your spirit, a “parka for your soul,” as Alice Walker calls it in a poem.

7. To play your role in social justice. For example, if you suffered from abuse as a child, break the silence and bring about change. This was the purpose of the over one hundred published slave narratives.

8. It’s not the money, says Thomas King of Canada’s First Nations, who wrote The Truth About Stories. “Maybe it’s a desire to recreate the world.”

9. To increase empathy in the world. Reading a memoir is to walk a mile in another’s shoes, and this fells the barriers between people. Understanding another, who may be quite different from ourselves, decreases stereotyping, which decreases racism, xenophobia and all the other phobias. This in turn reduces violence.

10. To immerse yourself in love. Love for life, love even for the losses, love for language, and love for the literary form that makes sense of it all.

Do someone a favour. Write your story! Leave a bouquet of your thoughts.

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Time Was Soft There, a memoir by Jeremy Mercer

A good memoir is a good mentor when you read as a writer. Time Was Soft There is a romp through literary escapades in one the world’s most famous bookstores, Shakespeare & Co., situated on Paris’s Left Bank. Canadian reporter Jeremy Mercer stumbled in one day, bought a book, and wound up living on the second floor of the store for eight months. Populated with people who live on the edge and on dreams, the store was rife with dirt, thievery, hunger, love affairs and the enormous good will of owner, George Whitman, eighty-six at the time.

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I met George when he was just eighty-two. I’d walked into the store on the advice of a friend. Used books were piled ceiling high everywhere. I spotted whom I assumed to be the owner because he looked aged and worn and I’d heard he had started this store half a century ago. He was sitting deathly still on a stool, his thin body tilted stiffly at an angle of about 15 degrees. His eyes were almost closed; his hoary hair was cobweb gray. He looked as if he was ready to breathe his last. I was afraid that if I spoke too quickly or too loudly that the force of my breath would blow him over. In slow speech, that would not offend nor harm the near dead, I began to ask him about a book I was looking for.

“Do … you … have … a … book … ”
The body sprang upright, eyes flew open, words flew out. “Yes, madame, I have half a million books.”
Startled by this unexpectedly quick response from the near dead, I forgot which book it was I’d been asking about.
“Oh! Do you have a book about love?” I don’t know where this came from.
“Madame, all these books are about love. That’s why writers write.”
My heart paused; suddenly, I was wide awake.

A few years later, one of my book-lover friends told me she’d read a memoir about Shakespeare & Co. for her book club. You can understand why I raced to my local bookstore and bought a copy.

Time Was Soft There is an engaging memoir, filled with possibility. I couldn’t put it down. I like to ask myself what it is that makes for good writing so that I might incorporate some of those same techniques in my own writing. These are a few of Mercer’s www.jeremymercer.net literary skills I noticed in this book.

1. Continual mention of food—especially French food, cheeses, restaurants, and the cooking in the bookstore itself.
2. Much use of the five senses —doors banging open, cursing the cold.
3. Vivid quick descriptions of the many characters.
4. Simple dialogue moves the story along, and reveals more about the speaker.
5. Mercer lays bare his own emotions to us—a sweaty terror, an ego bruising.
6. Some history that gives the perspective of centuries. E.g., the bookstore is on a street that has been in continuous use since the year 400.
7. Details of Whitman’s dreams, his daughter from whom he was estranged, his desire to give a job, a bed and a refuge to homeless writers. Indeed, a sign over a basin of coins read “Take what you need, give what you can.”

Have I piqued your curiosity? If you read Time Was Soft There, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

For more information on Mercer, see: www.jeremymercer.net  Many thanks to Jeremy for sending me the above photo of himself and George Whitman in front of the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. In his note to me, he said that he believes more than ever in the “power of personal stories”.

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Crowd Funding My Book

I, who am a nitwit when it comes to computerese (computer-ease), decided to crowd fund the publishing costs of my recent book, The Gift of Memoir. My only other book came out in the last century. That was before we knew that the future would run wild with connections zooming across oceans and galaxies.

Was there a fear factor in venturing into the unknown? Indeed there was. However, I didn’t want to be left behind by technology. And, I knew I would be grateful for any financial assistance with the costs. What I didn’t know was what a huge emotional and psychological support the contributions would be.

I had a role model. Dr. Melissa West www.melissawest.com has an online yoga business, and as part of that she offers a free class. That class has a worldwide audience with thousands of followers. What she needed was a more suitable microphone, one that would tuck into the waist band of her yoga pants. It would leave her hands free. It would cost $1000, money she didn’t have.

Melissa wrote a story to accompany her online campaign. Following Indiegogo instructions, her husband shot a one-minute video of Melissa talking her audience through yoga poses that showed what a difference the new microphone would make. We hear her voice, watch her movements, and see that she is a real person with a real need. She urged her followers to give just $2 each. He pressed a button, and the campaign went live. A few weeks later, she had more than enough money for the new microphone.

This is a heart-warming story on several fronts. The people taking the online class got better instruction. Those same people felt good because they were helping Melissa do her job better. And Melissa www.melissawest.com benefitted from being freer to demonstrate and explain poses without having to worry about holding the microphone. Everyone benefitted. Win. Win. Win. !cid_ii_14c06675bf8a29dd Crowd funding is about so much more than the money. It’s about expanding ourselves beyond the boundaries of our bodies and becoming part of something larger, part of a community. It’s a way for us to promote an idea that will benefit others. The word community come from the Latin communitas. This word has two parts, com,“with” or “together” and munus, “gift”. Gift! We have gifts to offer one another. Most of us yearn to be part of such a community where we can give. Giving, nurturing, is a primal urge.

With Melissa’s experience as a beacon, I set up my campaign. Would anyone respond? They did. I can tell you that with every contribution, I felt joy and amazement. NOT so much for the money, which would enable my book to be delivered into the world, but because my request had been heard and acknowledged, and people believed either in the book or in me. The emotional support was phenomenal. Never before had I felt so supported by a crowd, by a community, by magic.

And so, am I glad I leapt into the unknown? You bet. Crowd funding is a kind of modern barn raising. What a thrill to see timbers hoisted into position and watch the creation come into being. Thank you, Melissa. Your “Namaste Yoga TV” offers health, healing and guidance in a great many ways. And thank you to the many others  who helped give my book wings.

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