In earlier years, I worked as a Medical Lab Tech in Montreal, then as a French and Physical Education teacher in Ontario secondary schools. I left those careers when my partner and I began working fulltime building a 46′ sailboat in a barn. Six years later, we sailed south, chartered the boat to support the life style, and settled in the Turks and Caicos Islands. There I worked as an algologist, growing algae to feed baby conch, and as an organic gardener for a non-profit group.
I started writing during the sailing years because life on the ocean and in the islands was so fresh and immediate I felt an urgent need to record it so as to not forget it, to re-experience it in words, and to communicate it to others in various sailing magazines. A book resulted: The Perfect Galley Book. I discovered that writing was another way of educating. I became passionate about creating words in notebooks, journals, blank pieces of paper in a typewriter, on a computer screen.
Eventually returning to Toronto, I first worked as a seamstress at Ulmer Sails and as a book seller at the Nautical Mind Bookstore. Then, upgrading my teaching certificate to include English as a Second language (ESL) enabled me to teach ESL in Scarborough secondary schools and Seneca College until the late nineties.
In the seventies, oral histories caught my attention and at the first opportunity, I recorded my father’s stories of his early life, going back even further to his parent’s life in Ireland. It was such fun and so rewarding for both of us that I designed a course to show others how to record their own stories. The course grew and grew and eventually became a book: The Gift of Memoir: Show Up, Open Up, Write and it was published in 2015. Researching and writing it took four years of reading memoirs, writing chapters, reading chapter to a writers group, and editing, editing, editing.
I continue to write, compose life stories for elders, give my course, renovate this 1850 house, and have lunch with friends at Crawford’s Café on Lake Ontario in Port Hope.
“Memory is the scribe of the soul” – Aristotle
“Powerlessness and silence go together.” – Margaret Atwood
“The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” – Thomas King
The Gift of Memoir
The Gift of Memoir is for anyone who wants to leave a written legacy, be it for family or a wider audience. Every life has meaning and majesty, tragedy and comedy. Everyone has good stories to tell, write down, and save.
A memoir is a window on another’s reality. When we read a memoir, we begin to understand what moves its writer, someone who may be very different from us. Understanding increases empathy, and empathy reduces stereotyping, racism and xenophobia, and this in turn reduces violence, and that makes the world a better place.
If I were to compress all of the memoir-writing information in the following pages to three simple messages, it would be these:
- Show up.
- Open up.
Show up. Writing is a commitment, and it takes time. Can you commit to an hour a day? Half an hour? If you make the time for it, the pages will accumulate, and the stories will move beyond your mind to the paper on your desk or screen in front of you. A woman in one of my classes wrote four hours a day, and by the end of our six classes, which stretched over six weeks, she had finished her story, from birth through the war years living in Ontario to her wedding in Alaska. She made the time, and soon her story was visible on paper. Showing up for writing is like showing up for practice, be it football or violin or yoga. The more frequently we write, the better we get.
Open up. I mean open your heart and let what is there out into the air. People who have troubled you, events that have fulfilled you, a dog who loved you unconditionally, a train you missed. Love and beauty are closely related. With your heart wide open, write with love and truth, even when you’re trying to figure out how to write about terrible things. The result will be a source of beauty and light for you and others.
Write. Write and write and write until you have said it all.
Show up. Open up. Write. Easier said than done! But, the following pages contain concrete ideas and suggestions that will help.