Why Write a Memoir?


Outtakes 184

Why Write a Memoir?

By Cait Collins

 

The quick answer to the question is, why not? We all have something to say about our lives or periods of our lives. That said, a memoir can be an effective communication tool. Sometimes we might want to just tell a story, but some memoirs have a distinct purpose. The reasons to write a memoir include: to inspire, to inform, and to persuade.

Everyone has experienced tragedy or challenges. How did you overcome the problem?

Did you fall into a deep depression? What made you decide to work your way back? Have you ever watched a child struggle to excel despite learning disabilities? What made the effort so memorable and what affect did it have on you? Mapping the journey from tragedy to triumph may inspire someone else to find a path to recovery. Your words may be the spark for one person to determine to overcome the problems in his life. We all need inspiration to smooth out the rough edges of our experiences. I wrote First Love; Forever Love as a means to let others know there is hope.

“What kind of computer games did you play when you were a kid?” This question came from a student in my Sunday morning Bible class. “My childhood was long before the computer age. I didn’t touch a computer until I was in my 30’s.” His eyes bulged. “No computers? What did you do for fun?”Obviously my young friend did not know it was possible to enjoy life without staring at a computer screen. Tables, a work in progress, tells of growing up a military brat in the 50’s and 60’s. We had a blast back then. Kids today don’t know what they missed, but I hope they will learn from the stories.

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, uses reminences of growing up in the South to portray life in the heartland or the “fly-over zone.” His commentary offers a contrast in the culture between the .east and west coasts and Middle America. God, Guns, Grits and Gravy explains how and why we are so different. Sweetened with humor, spiced with down-home sayings, and peppered with sarcasm, Governor Huckabee makes a strong case for the simpler way of life. He has convinced me my momma and daddy and his parents must have known each other well, because my folks didn’t tolerate disrespect and disobedience any more the Governor’s did. I normally speed read a book, but I’m slowing down so that I can savor the narrative. It is a good read and very persuasive.

Memoirs should not be relegated to the lives of the rich and famous. History is not just the deeds of great men and women; it is also the stories of everyday folks who lived their lives quietly, doing their best to make a living, raise their children, and get along with their fellow man. The stories of all races, nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds weave the fabric of the human experience. All stories are necessary to complete the pattern of history. So why write a memoir?

Why not write a memoir?

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ETHICS


ETHICS

by Sharon Stevens

While reading the story about Anne Frank recently I came across mention that she and her sister died and were buried in an unmarked grave. No one knows where her spirit ceased here on this earth. Doesn’t matter to me. I can always read about where she lived and breathed and what brought her joy among the horrific pain of her life.

With so much in the news lately about Don Carthel and WTAMU I have been doing a great deal of soul searching within myself. I know without a doubt that Carthel is facing an injustice of the highest or lowest order according to how you look at it. He is a good, GOOD man as are his players. He was fired not because of his “ethical behavior” but because he represents something the college has to get rid of to hide their own “unethical” pursuits. But that’s my own opinion and I stand strong in those beliefs. And I have the right of the Freedom of speech under the Constitution to express my views. Just as Pattilou Dawkins did about Judge Ted Wood about the cost overruns of the Randall County Jail.

Tonight represents the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In researching I read where it is celebrated in 2013 from sundown September 4, to nightfall September 6. and that “Though Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year”, the holiday actually takes place on the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishre, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. This because Rosh Hashanah, one of the first new years in the Jewish year is considered the new year of the people, animals, and legal contracts. In the Jewish oral tradition, Rosh Hashanah makes the completion of the creation of the world…The Mishneh refers to Rosh Hashanah as the “Day of Judgment” and it is believed that God opens the Book of Life on this day and begins to decide who shall live and who shall die.”

Our son-in-law, William Keller is Jewish and he has been so wonderful to share his heritage with our family. And as a chef  we are doubly blessed. I will always remember when he made the sweet bread with honey for us as he told the story behind its meaning. What a true treasure!

As writers we always have to struggle with ethics whether we know it or not. When our stories are written we worry about what will it really convey, who will it inspire, who will it harm? What do we really mean when we write the words and will it come across that way or will it fall flat on its face. Or will it be debated in a court of law if we crossed the line we truly never meant to cross. So many doubts.

When we were out riding with friends of ours Hamblen Drive through Palo Duro Canyon we stopped at the overlook and sat under the awning over the picnic table. I glanced beside me and someone had written in black magic marker in huge letters the word “UNCONDITIONAL”.

This was a message to me that everything I write and everything I do needs to be unconditional. Inside my heart I know I have an ethical compass and that I would never cross the line intentionally. My heart is always burdened with who I will hurt if they take what I say and do the wrong way. I need to spend the rest of my life unconditional, not worrying so much or hiding in the shadows. If something is wrong or unjust I need to follow it through, without question.

Likewise if something is tremendous I need to shout it from the rooftops no matter who is listening.

I came across a book written by Elie Wiesel in 1970. “A Beggar in Jerusalem”. I have never read a more powerful but beautiful book in my life.

“The tale the beggar tells must be told from the beginning. But the beginning has its own tale. Its own secret. That’s how it is, and that’s how it has always been. there is nothing man can do about it. Death itself has no power over the beginning. The beggar who tells you this knows what he is talking about….Meanwhile don’t be afraid to come closer. the beggar will do you no harm, he will cast no spell over you. Do come nearer. Do his eyes disturb you? They are not his, and he doesn’t know it. His lips? They move-yes-as though repeating tales heard or lived a day before, a century before: he no longer remembers. for him, you see, time has no meaning.”

THIS is my celebration of the New Year and how I can celebrate the heritage of ancient traditions. I can do no less. As for Anne Frank, even though she lives in an unmarked grave with her number branded on her arm, I am sure that with “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” the ink is no longer visible, long gone from her body and that of her sister. Now as far as Hitler or his SS, HE will carry HIS stain through eternity. It will never fade. His ethics are burned in HIS soul. Look what good it did for him.

Oh, and my favorite quote about ethics…”Emphasizes the needs of a larger community. What is good for the community is good for the individual by being good for the community.”

“TEXAS”


“TEXAS”

“Some people find themselves closer to God in church,

but some people find themselves closer to God telling stories,

and I’m one of these people.”

Julian Arrendondo IV

Amarillo Magazine April 2012

photo

PATCHWORK

by Sharon Stevens

So many years ago when I was a little girl my parents bought us a set of “The Children’s Hour” books. I loved to read and pored over these time after time. One of the most treasured was “Favorite Fairy Tales” and one of the stories within was “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde.

Sunday evening I remembered this story but wasn’t sure which book it was in. I googled the one phrase that came to mind which had to do with plucking out the jewel in the statue’s eye and sharing it with another who was poor. It didn’t take me long to locate the book and then to find the pages and then to read the words out loud that Wilde had written so very long ago. I wept with the beauty and the memory as my heart was so full.

On Monday morning I was looking through some old magazines and came across the Amarillo Magazine with the cover story of the Lone Star Ballet titled, “FULL CIRCLE” and I wept with joy of all these kids. How was I to know?

I wept again when I heard of the tragedy of the loss and destruction of the wonderful kids of the “TEXAS” cast and crew! I had just attended “TEXAS ORIGINALS” and saw these kids perform. In fact I congratulated Eric Harrison as he made his way up the aisle after receiving his scholarship that night. And to think that I witnessed these kids who choreographed and performed with Tim Johnson, Clint Diaz, Amanda Starz, Andrew Duncan, Julian Arrendondo IV. I also can’t tell you the number of performances I witnessed at the Branding Iron Theater under the direction of Royal R.Brantley and Stephen Crandall. “Anatomy of Grey” will always be one of my favorites.

For those of you who have read my Wordsmith six blog over the past year know that I hold a precious place in my heart for memories of “TEXAS”. There are so many wonderful people to numerous to name, but my thoughts and prayers are with all of you not only in the cast and crew this year, but since the beginning of time that this dream began. The Dowlen’s, Gene Murray, Lois Hull, HR and Thelma Fulton, Claudia and Mike Wilson, the entire Brantley, Raillard, Moore, family..the list goes on and on and I remember each and every one.

And the canyons themselves. I hear the echos, and see the flashes, celebrating the music that resounds against the walls and through our hearts. I marvel each time I go to see a performance at the names engraved in stone in the front wall of the Phebe Warner’s and those on the back wall of all those who gave their time and their very soul to this endeavor.

And Jerry Williams. Kris Miller does an awesome job, always, but I still miss Jerry and always will.

Jerry and Ruth Holladay performed together as “Patchwork” storytellers. Jerry wore a silk patchwork top hat and Ruth wore a patchwork vest with pockets. In fact the last time I saw Jerry was at “TEXAS” when he would walk up and down the line of visitors waiting to buy tickets and visit and share stories. You could always see his colorful top hat as he moved from one guest to the next. Ruth never knew what story she would tell until she got on stage. She would put her hand in her pocket and pull out an item and what ever she held in her hand would be the story she would share.

There are no words for the grief we all share together! How can the Kunherts and the Hernandez and the Bertrands families bear it? And Christie Spring, how many lives have touched hers as these kids came through. I know Vickie McLean has an ache deep in her heart. And David Yirak, what a tremendous man to feel such loss!

I know Timothy Johnson will carry the pain forever, but I wish for him such peace. And Theron McSay…I pray has comfort for him and his family and friends as he heals from his injuries.

After the death of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana I wrote a letter to the editor of the Canyon News that there were so many wonderful people among us that didn’t make great speeches or hold office but they touched our lives just the same. I wrote of David Schutte who rode the Canyon rim night after night with the Texas flag unfurled. I will always miss David.

Our thoughts and prayers also go out to Harry Haines and their family as they mourn the loss of wife Shirley. She will be missed as well. Shirley was the one who invited me to join the Friends of the Fine Arts Club as she knew I so loved the fine arts. She was very precious to me. So much loss for our community.

The final words of “The Happy Prince” are so simple, but so touching and I hope that sharing these will bring a tinge of comfort to anyone who reads them.

“What a strange thing!” said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry. “This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away.” So they threw it on a dustheap where the dead Swallow was also lying.

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird. “You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing forevermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince will praise me.”

I have no doubt in my mind that these kids are singing and dancing forevermore on the streets of the city of gold, and they will always have the best seats in the house. Break a leg to all! The performances you will all have to give in the coming years on the world stage will be the hardest to bear.

“TEXAS”


“TEXAS”

“Some people find themselves closer to God in church,

but some people find themselves closer to God telling stories,

and I’m one of these people.”

Julian Arrendondo IV

Amarillo Magazine April 2012

photo

PATCHWORK

by Sharon Stevens

So many years ago when I was a little girl my parents bought us a set of “The Children’s Hour” books. I loved to read and pored over these time after time. One of the most treasured was “Favorite Fairy Tales” and one of the stories within was “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde.

Sunday evening I remembered this story but wasn’t sure which book it was in. I googled the one phrase that came to mind which had to do with plucking out the jewel in the statue’s eye and sharing it with another who was poor. It didn’t take me long to locate the book and then to find the pages and then to read the words out loud that Wilde had written so very long ago. I wept with the beauty and the memory as my heart was so full.

On Monday morning I was looking through some old magazines and came across the Amarillo Magazine with the cover story of the Lone Star Ballet titled, “FULL CIRCLE” and I wept with joy of all these kids. How was I to know?

I wept again when I heard of the tragedy of the loss and destruction of the wonderful kids of the “TEXAS” cast and crew! I had just attended “TEXAS ORIGINALS” and saw these kids perform. In fact I congratulated Eric Harrison as he made his way up the aisle after receiving his scholarship that night. And to think that I witnessed these kids who choreographed and performed with Tim Johnson, Clint Diaz, Amanda Starz, Andrew Duncan, Julian Arrendondo IV. I also can’t tell you the number of performances I witnessed at the Branding Iron Theater under the direction of Royal R.Brantley and Stephen Crandall. “Anatomy of Grey” will always be one of my favorites.

For those of you who have read my Wordsmith six blog over the past year know that I hold a precious place in my heart for memories of “TEXAS”. There are so many wonderful people to numerous to name, but my thoughts and prayers are with all of you not only in the cast and crew this year, but since the beginning of time that this dream began. The Dowlen’s, Gene Murray, Lois Hull, HR and Thelma Fulton, Claudia and Mike Wilson, the entire Brantley, Raillard, Moore, family..the list goes on and on and I remember each and every one.

And the canyons themselves. I hear the echos, and see the flashes, celebrating the music that resounds against the walls and through our hearts. I marvel each time I go to see a performance at the names engraved in stone in the front wall of the Phebe Warner’s and those on the back wall of all those who gave their time and their very soul to this endeavor.

And Jerry Williams. Kris Miller does an awesome job, always, but I still miss Jerry and always will.

Jerry and Ruth Holladay performed together as “Patchwork” storytellers. Jerry wore a silk patchwork top hat and Ruth wore a patchwork vest with pockets. In fact the last time I saw Jerry was at “TEXAS” when he would walk up and down the line of visitors waiting to buy tickets and visit and share stories. You could always see his colorful top hat as he moved from one guest to the next. Ruth never knew what story she would tell until she got on stage. She would put her hand in her pocket and pull out an item and what ever she held in her hand would be the story she would share.

There are no words for the grief we all share together! How can the Kunherts and the Hernandez and the Bertrands families bear it? And Christie Spring, how many lives have touched hers as these kids came through. I know Vickie McLean has an ache deep in her heart. And David Yirak, what a tremendous man to feel such loss!

I know Timothy Johnson will carry the pain forever, but I wish for him such peace. And Theron McSay…I pray has comfort for him and his family and friends as he heals from his injuries.

After the death of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana I wrote a letter to the editor of the Canyon News that there were so many wonderful people among us that didn’t make great speeches or hold office but they touched our lives just the same. I wrote of David Schutte who rode the Canyon rim night after night with the Texas flag unfurled. I will always miss David.

Our thoughts and prayers also go out to Harry Haines and their family as they mourn the loss of wife Shirley. She will be missed as well. Shirley was the one who invited me to join the Friends of the Fine Arts Club as she knew I so loved the fine arts. She was very precious to me. So much loss for our community.

The final words of “The Happy Prince” are so simple, but so touching and I hope that sharing these will bring a tinge of comfort to anyone who reads them.

“What a strange thing!” said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry. “This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away.” So they threw it on a dustheap where the dead Swallow was also lying.

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird. “You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing forevermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince will praise me.”

I have no doubt in my mind that these kids are singing and dancing forevermore on the streets of the city of gold, and they will always have the best seats in the house. Break a leg to all! The performances you will all have to give in the coming years on the world stage will be the hardest to bear.

EEK!


EEK!

by Sharon Stevens

In memory of Ray and Pat Miller

Don’t get me wrong.

I know spiders have their rightful place in the overall balance of the universe. There’s Halloween for example, and the great outdoors, and in stories (think “Charlotte’s Web). And then there’s…well I can’t think of any other place they belong. They are one of God’s creatures, right? How did it come to pass again that they survived the rising waters to make it on board the Ark two by two? Who made that Executive decision? Or was it that they just snuck aboard under the cover of darkness to find a black place hiding in the shadows among the coveted animals.

As I said before, I know spiders have their place. But nowhere in MY book of life does it say they can inhabit my bathroom sink, especially when I have just risen sleepy eyed from a warm bed and peaceful dreams. Turning on the light and seeing thousands of legs and hundreds of pairs of eyes do not start my day off right. Okay, so there was only one, and it sported the requisite number of appendages and whatever else they sport, but in that instant it was hard to tell. I didn’t think this sight was necessarily evil, but in that split second I didn’t think sunflowers and rainbows either.

After the initial eyeball to eyeball, and the flailing that followed to get away from the monster in the bathroom, I returned with the biggest and closest weapon at hand, which happened to be my husband’s boot. But lo and behold when I returned I found she or he had disappeared in some dark recess I didn’t want to know existed. I am sure my shrieks had got their heart to pumping, and they probably ran as fast as their spindly legs could carry them away to what- ever hidey hole they could find.

As I said I know they have their place. Another example-We were spending the weekend out at Camp Kiwanis with the Girl Scout troop. Our daughter, Andrea Keller, was a member. We had the standard hobo supper cooked in the campfire followed by the requisite “S’mores”. Then we visited the latrines, and with the stars lighting our way we made our way back to our cabins. While we were gone a spider had formed an intricate web in the corner of the porch railing, and the light we had left on sparkled through the lines of its creation.

About that time Ray Miller, the camp ranger came by to check on us. Some of the girls were shrieking, and I’m sure he must have heard the commotion clear across the camp. He stood for a moment underneath and looked at our troop leader, Nancy Huntington and asked what he wanted her to do. He said he could either take the spider away to another campsite or leave her be. (How the heck do you know whether its a he or a she anyway?) The decision was up to our troop. By this time, the girls had calmed down somewhat. They knew a brave man was among their midst that would protect them against the marauders. No harm could befall them this night. Our leader said that to keep the peace he probably needed to remove the offending ugly, evil one. As he reached up to capture the arachnid, one of the girls who had screamed the loudest said to wait. The more she looked at the detail in the design of the web she could see how it shimmered in the light. Then she became intrigued, or maybe she just didn’t want to be the one responsible for having one of God’s creatures destroyed. She said that maybe it would be all right for this one spider to stay a little longer or at least until they went to bed, as long as she didn’t leave that corner. To this day I wonder, just how did she think a creature of this sort would observe boundaries?

Nonetheless, Ray went his merry way and the next morning the web was hanging in tatters and the spider was gone.

As writers, we have a true gift. We can weave a tale and follow whatever direction it leads. Halloween can be about evil and witches, or about sweet memories of trick or treating as a child. I am sure there are countless kids that remember my grandmother’s homemade popcorn balls back in the day when she could share these treats with neighborhood families.

Any time of the year, we can take a simple thought and connect it further. We can celebrate and elaborate. There are no boundaries that limit our creation or imagination. This is one of the reasons I love writing. Whatever hits your brain can become a story if you just take the time and make the effort to make it tangible from your thoughts to print or social media.

As I am completing this blog, the wind is howling outside. They predict a hard freeze and maybe even snow. But in remembering spiders my thoughts go back to a moment in summer and a memory of sunflowers.

I was photographing the brightness of these colorful summertime beauties when I witnessed a yellow spider camouflaged among the petals. I zoomed my camera, and it promptly scurried to the other side of the flower. When I moved to the other side to get a better view, it moved back around. We played this game together countless times before I tired and left this spider in peace. But I will never forget the contrast in colors, or how blue the sky, or the scent of the summer earth, or the sweet breeze causing the stalks to gently sway.

At that precise moment this spider was where he belonged and all was write with the world.

But in getting back to my original conclusion…I’m sorry. I draw the line at finding creatures in my bathroom sink. After all, a snake by any other name….

*****************************************************************************

Don’t forget two very wonderful events this coming weekend. The Friends of the Amarillo Public Library are hosting the second annual “Open Book Festival and Breakfast with the Authors” on Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-12:20. The festival is a celebration of books and reading that raises funds for Friends support of Education Services such as Adult Reading Skills tutoring and ESL Classes offered by the Amarillo Public Library. Meet local and regional authors—with more than 30 participating authors along with stories, games and activities for kids!

$15.00 per person-children 10 and under free with paying adult and going to a good cause.

At 11 a.m. New York Times Bestselling Author JODI THOMAS will be speaking-“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Book Signing. Breakfast catered by the Ambassador Inn. Call 378-4245 to reserve tickets.

Also Canyon High School Choir is presenting “Sound of Music” on stage at Canyon High School.

Neither of these events have any connection to spiders unless you count Nazi’s as evil, or to count your “favorite things” that don’t make you feel so bad.

STOP


STOP 

By Sharon Stevens

This last weekend my husband and I decided to take off for a long weekend. Even though we needed to get away, with the price of gas we knew we couldn’t go too far. So yet again we chose the same old journey that has provided refuge for our family over the years. Even though we didn’t think we would be doing much fishing we packed the tackle box and fishing gear just the same. Monument Lake Colorado here we come.

Our excitement continued to build as we got closer to our destination. The colors began to change the farther we traveled. The air was lighter, and so was our hearts. The road wound through the familiar countryside. Oh, if only our children, our families, and our friends had been with us. So many times they had come along to keep us company in years past, and filled our soul with the kind of memories that kept us warm however cold a winter’s night. Actually my husband and I were sort of lonely, with just the two of us along for the ride. How would we keep each other company over the next three days?

But after we got to the lake, and once my husband threw his line into the water it didn’t take long for us to go our separate ways. Forget any kind of relationship bonding. We both knew we needed to refresh ourselves. To each his own.

As usual while he fished, I wandered. I wondered and marveled and rejoiced to see all the beautiful creation that welcomed me. I smelled leaves, and grass. I heard birds twittering and elk calling. I felt the breeze brush my face. The last of the wildflowers and the ever green pines filled my head with the scents of autumn, the last before blizzards buried the smell till the coming spring.

And the colors! How could anyone describe the colors? There were no words for every shade of red, orange, green, yellow and every hue in between. I turned my camera this way and that and took pictures from every angle, with every light and shadow I could fathom.

And this brings me to my thoughts as a writer. Everywhere I go I take a picture of a sign. This may be a STOP sign, or a yield sign, or a directional sign, or one advising of speed limits, or a twist or a turn. These metal fixtures are there in my camera as a constant reminder…a reminder of what?

Once they are downloaded they are in my computer forever. Later when I come across them as a slide show I can relive them again and again, in my heart and in my soul, and with every fiber of my being. I never know when these may help me to STOP for just a moment, and reflect on what I am really trying to say. Or maybe it’s my character’s way of saying not to go down that path, but to choose another. Or it could be my psyche’s way of reminding me I need to take a break for myself or my story, to stave off getting too bogged down with the nitty-gritty. Or it could be God’s way of saying to take a minute and remember HIS Creation. Every sign may have the same word, but the message may carry a different meaning.

And as a final thought, when this symbol comes across, it could be a sign that I need to get up from my laptop, go find my husband, and tell him how much I love him. If I follow the direction printed on the sign, I can remind him how much he is appreciated. With love I can thank him for taking me for a weekend getaway, driving hundreds of miles, burning expensive fuel, spending his (our) hard earned money for a night’s stay in a hotel, and blowing our food budget by eating out again and again. Even though I did let him fish, how wonderful it was that he would drive all that way just so I could STOP for the briefest of moments, and capture countless pictures of every STOP sign at every intersection.

After all, he ever so gently reminds me, each one says the same thing.