13 Comments

Who is Your Audience?

It was Mother’s Day in Port Hope. In a small house, gray clapboard with blue shutters, the phone rang. Her walker was handy, but so was the phone this time. It was John.

“Mom, you have to write your story!”

John had just reconnected with the yoga teacher his mom had signed him up with when he was five … over six decades ago. Out of the blue, it was time to know more about his mother’s spiritual path.

A few days later, at the meditation class that she runs, Melodie told us that she was now going ahead with her memoir. Surprise! Several people over the years had urged her to tell her story, either orally into a tape recorder so that it could then be transcribed, or written in her own words.

No, she’d said, I don’t want to go back. She saw more value in the one-on-one, here and now. Another time, long silvery hair twisted into a knot on the top of her head, she shrugged her shoulders and said, who would it be for? “Us!” cried those in the room. But we weren’t motivation enough. When she read my book, and in particular the passage about Thomas Merton’s book, The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith, she remembered that Merton’s book had been one of her mentors. Following his example, she began writing down a few memories. Perhaps, she thought, her written stories could be a way of mentoring others. Then, life got in the way—celebrations, lunches out, illness, the beautiful walker, but the damn “Mr. Ugly” new chair that does cushion her bones.

It was a son’s cri de coeur that gave her the audience she needed. Who would she write for? For him. Now would be the time to make a ritual of sitting down to write. To talk to him. What better audience than your son? Melodie Massey is hyped! Quite possibly, by this time next Mother’s Day—when she will be 93—her story will be complete.

Do you know for whom you are writing your memoir? Knowing who your audience is will help clarify what it is you want to say, what it is you have to say. And will get your “ass in chair.”

A few people do write their memoir just to keep track of their lives, or to get things off their chest with no intention of anyone reading it. Indeed, this can be healing, and studies do show that the immune system is enhanced by writing down troubling events, even if the paper is burned afterwards. But many writers of memoir have an audience in mind.

When I asked Cynthia Reyes (www.cynthiasreyes.com) about her audience when writing her memoir, A Good Home, she said this:

My first audience was probably myself! I imagined a fairly well-educated woman over 40 who had been through some big ups and downs in her life. Someone who could empathize with another woman in a similar situation. She was someone I would like to spend an afternoon with.

I imagined she was fairly well-read, had probably done some traveling and would be interested in my childhood experiences in Jamaica. And most of all, I imagined her as someone who had a memory of a special home, and who either wanted to believe in God, or – even if an atheist – could understand my faith struggle.

How it turned out: From the hundreds of letters I’ve received, I’d say that is indeed the majority reader of my book.

Sidney Poitier wrote The Measure of a Man for his granddaughter so that he could be a presence in her life even after he was gone and she was grown. Abigail Carter wrote The Alchemy of Loss for other grieving spouses who had also lost husbands or wives in the Twin Towers during 9/11. Her peer group, support group, was her audience. At 105, Samuel Smith told his story in To Shoot Hard Labour for the new generation so they would remember what early life was like in Antigua. Marina Nemat’s audience for Prisoner of Tehran, was all who would listen. To warn us. I heard her say here in Port Hope that we all need to be on guard, that what happened in Iran could happen in Canada if we are not vigilant.

When I wrote my first book, The Perfect Galley Book, I was talking to other sailors, and anyone interested in the sailing life. It was a continuation of the sharing lifestyle my partner and I led while living aboard the 46′ sailboat we built; it covered a ten-year period of my life. Sailors get together when at anchor to share knowledge and knots, rum and recipes, the lore and lure of the sea, and the writing of my book was more of that. It was pure nautical pleasure to put that book together.

Of course my new book, The Gift of Memoir, has a specific audience: people who want to write the stories of their life. I imagined I was talking to the women and men who have come to my classes. They, and other like-minded people, were my audience.

I’m curious! Who do you want to read your stories? A son or daughter? Descendants as yet unborn? A specific group of people? All of us? An imaginary empathetic friend? I’d like to hear.

Do someone a favour. Leave a bouquet of your stories.

A Bouquet of Stories

A Bouquet of Stories

Advertisements

13 comments on “Who is Your Audience?

  1. This is not an answer to the question you asked, but, while she is still with us, I would like to write the story of my aunt, born in 1926 and raised on a Kansas farm by Austrian immigrants. I would write it for those who are curious about Slovenian culture, and those curious to learn the practices of those who lived without modern conveniences.

    Like

    • Aggie, that’s a wonderful idea. Such a story would be valuable to anyone interested in self reliance, our connection with the earth, and specifically, Austrian/Slovenian culture. I look forward to reading it!

      Like

  2. I wrote MOON REMEMBERED for his family including grandchildren and great grandchildren he never met, for his friends including lacrosse buddies and the future generation of lacrosse players. I hope Melody writes her story.

    Like

    • Donna, your book is a great tribute to your dad! And to the game of lacrosse past and future. Now, grandchildren who never met him can come to know him through these preserved stories. Congratulations!

      Like

  3. Good question Dee … Shortly after I’d returned to the Turks and Caicos, in 1993 – having spent 5 excruciating months in the midst of a Canadian winter dealing with breast cancer – I returned to my Island home, to find what little was left of my island life had fallen to pieces. Not knowing where to turn, and caught in fog of loss and dread, it came to me that I had wandered from my path. One night, thinking of my lost path, I realized the only help I could look for would come from … above ??? beyond ??? … the source that put me on this path ???
    So I wrote to God!!!
    I wrote and wrote for months. My life flowed ahead of me – with very little guidance from my conscious mind – until I had 6 or 7 chapters, and had drained much of the fear that had possessed me.
    Within a week, I was offered a job, and the answers to the questions and insecurities that had built up over the years were coming at me from the most unlikely sources. I understand now that my greatest fear in life has been the feeling of Abandonment.
    This experience has not turned me into a chest-beating, raving Churchgoer, the hysteria of Island religion doesn’t translate into their non-Sunday lives … It has, however, impressed me that I am not alone, and have never, in fact, been alone.
    I have a an influential friend I can turn to at any time.

    Like

    • One other thing, God is a perfect audience. And I really like your last thought “I am not alone, and have never, in fact, been alone. I have an influential friend I can turn to at any time.” I might consider this myself.

      Like

  4. Faye, I didn’t know about your dark Canadian winter. Or that you wrote some chapters. What you have written above would be a brilliant prologue to a book. You have a lot to say, and have an inimitable writing style … have you thought of finishing the book and offering it to others (and God, of course)?

    Like

  5. Lynda Baird
    May 21, 2015
    Dee, my friend, you are a provocateur, kind, loving, supporting, motivating (get your ass in a chair). It is starting to percolate up and when I finish running, I will sit in a
    chair.

    Like

  6. Thanks Lynda! But me thinks thou doth go overboard. Percolating sounds good to me.

    Like

  7. I struggle to identify my audience but I think it is most likely my younger self – way back starting at 2 or 3 and then through to my teenage self. There were some very difficult times and I blamed myself for a lot of things that were not my fault but really just more of life not being fair. Now at 56, I wish I could reach back and provide comfort for that younger me.

    Like

  8. Catherine, you can comfort her, you can. Thank you for this insight. A really lovely audience.

    Like

  9. As I edit and, hopefully, publish David Ford’s memoirs of growing up in the east arctic in the early 1900s I think of myself as the daughter he never had who is here to finish what he started. Next there are family histories and diaries of my husband’s family going back to the 1800s of life here in Canton and Melody Massey’s memoirs, in part, would add to the rich history of this hamlet…..so much to say……ass in chair indeed!!

    Like

  10. David Ford would be proud to have you as his daughter, Marnie. Then diaries that go back to the early days of Canton! I’ll have to put you in touch with Melodie.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: