I just got back from the National Storytelling Network Conference. It was a coney island in my mind complete with inspiration, entertainment, pathos and humor. Stories shape the world and live in our hearts. When I die, my tombstone will say “Tried Many Things, Finished Some” Storytelling is a back to the future experience for me, I was totally into it a few years ago, I abandon it and just returned. I have been embedded in a variety of avocational activities over the years including lessons on the mandolin, tin whistle, djembe, bodhran and oboe. I am horrible and the dogs bark and howl when I play-especially the tin whistle. I also tried my hand at knitting, crocheting, needlepoint and quilting. After buying 1/2 of the yarn produced in a variety of countries and starting many projects, I gave up. I did finish several scarves. I made a sweater that I can wear as a burial shroud or donate to an elephant. I have a major collection of yarn, needles and patterns in the basement along with my musical instruments. Now I am focused on writing, I have taken a bunch of classes, joined writing groups, attended workshops and started this blog. I am also looping back into storytelling and want to do a standup show in character as Lillian Wold, the founder of the New York Visiting Nurses Society. I have been doing some research about her life and gotten a pattern to have a turn of the century costume made. Will anyone want to hear this? I am not sure, but I am having fun exploring this. It combines writing the script, and then telling the story as a performance. Do I have ADHD or what? In any hobby or interest, the first thing to do is buy the equipment and resources -top of the line. Join every group and website related to the issue or activity-pay for lessons and books, and then maybe, just maybe-DO IT. Stay cool on this very hot day.
I had wonderful plans for Memorial Day, then I woke up and remembered that I have a medical test to “study for” today and it is too gruesome for words. I decided to start the day on a good note anyway and instill some eye drops in my aching scratchy eyes. The pollen count in Chicago must be up today so I woke up with itchy eyes. I reached into the medicine chest and took out the little white bottle and let the drip fall right into the center of my left eye. OUCH! &X$! what had I done! Yoza -My eye was on fire and I was shaking from the pain and shock. I looked at the bottle and realized that I had just instilled a drop of under the toenail anti fungus goo into my eye. This is what happens when you are old and can not see the label to anything with out reading glasses. Actually the dreaded product was called RELIEF of all things. My husband John came to my rescue and we flushed my eye with water, medicated eye drops and warm towels. We read the anti fungus label and it said not to get the stuff into contact with your eyes. NO KIDDING -well at least it did not say to poke your eye out or that death was eminent. The directions did recommend flushing your eye with water. I had already figured out that remedy on my own. My eye is now back to relative normal -just slightly blood shot and a bit sore. Do I really have to have that other dumb test tomorrow? This will go own in memory as one of my least favorite holidays. A memorable memorial day. For the wrong reasons.
So, you want to write a memoir but struggling to get it going. Maybe you have already started to write some of your story but don’t know where to begin and end the piece. You may want to write, but frankly, you are blocked and looking for ideas on how to get unstuck, and start writing. Here are some suggestions I have learned along the way and want to share with you. I hope the ideas work and get your pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Create A Lifeline/Timeline
Take a piece of paper and on the left hand side write down the years starting with the year you were born to the current year. Since I am old, I have lots of years in this column, 60 to be exact! Next to the year, list your age for each calendar year. For example, I was born in 1951 and was one in 1952. Now comes the fun part. Next to the year/ age of your life timeline, write down major life events or milestones that happened in that year. So for me, I got married in 1980. I moved to Detroit in 1976. My daughter was adopted in 1995. JFK was assassinated in 1963 when I was 12. Plotting the major events that happened in your life along with the major world or national events may spark an idea for a great piece of writing. Save the list and add to it as you recall different milestones in your life.
A Little Life Music
This is a fun writing exercise for memoirists. Write down the names of songs that you love or that you associate with a memory or time in your life. Try to come up with at least 3 songs. Now, select one of the songs and write a short piece about this song or the song lyrics and what it means to you. What memories do you associate with the song or the lyrics. Where were you when you listened to the song and what was happening to you at the time. I remember the song “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic. I was in college and I remember a romantic interlude with an old boyfriend while the song was playing. A candle melted onto my turntable while the song was playing. The memory and story came back to me as I started writing.
Make Some Lists
Sometimes when I sit down to write, I am at a loss to get my self into the flow of a story. When this block is in my way, I remove it and jog my writing by making a list. Last week I made a list of all of the houses and apartments I have ever lived in. I also made a list of all the jobs I’ve had since I was in high school and then a list of my favorite coworkers and memorable people from each job. These lists primed me to start writing some short pieces about these people, places and things. I write the lists in my journal so I can go back and recall other ideas to write about. Stock Pieces Another suggestion for writing is to use stock life experiences, like FIRSTS, that could be your first kiss, your first crush, your first boss, your first time getting into trouble or first whatever. Another stock item could be HOLIDAYS and favorite gifts you received or best gifts you’ve given. My in-laws and their holiday oppression on our yearly dysfunctional family Christmas visits have been an endless source of short pieces for me. Vacations, business trips, times you got lost or stuck in traffic or bad weather may also be an inspiration for writing.
We all have Stories to Tell !
The good news is that writers love to write. We are all creative, we are all geniuses and we all have stories to tell. I hope that some of my suggestions can inspire your writing and prime the pump. If you have other ideas –send me a note and share them with all of us.
Today I realized that I am drowning in stuff. I am not ready to be featured on Horders, but just give me a few years and a few more piles of books and magazines and I could be. I have several “collections” including old dolls, native american fetishes, rocks/gemstones, games, hand puppets ( a whole tree of them) journal books, tarot card decks, amber jewelry, and lots and lots of books and records. I also have equipment and supplies for every craft and art project that you can imagine. My closets are stuffed to the gills and every drawer in my house is hard to close because of accumulated objects. I also have several dozen large plastic tubs full of various odds and ends. I am a modern-day bag lady. I am finally ready to do something to say goodbye to some of this stuff and send it out into the universe where it can be used or recycled or be incinerated as needed. I have a gap between jobs coming up and I am going to use the time to sort, pitch, give away and maybe do a garage sale. Last time we had a garage sale my daughter sold my husband’s wedding ring, her old American Girl doll and everything that wasn’t nailed down when she saw cash money coming across her palm. This seems like a lot of work so I am going to break the whole thing into chunks and say goodbye to some of this stuff bit by bit, just as I accumulated it to begin with. What was I thinking?
Some days the irony of life experiences is a reward for the less memorable moments. We catch the spark in small pieces of living.
It was Monday morning and I had arrived for work early to get a jump start on the day. I was the director at Elmhurst Hospital Home Health Care. I was hoping to work undisturbed before the office opened at 8 AM when I realized that Dawn Langston the hospice supervisor, was already in her office. I heard her come to my door.
“Tom Langston is such a complete jerk asshole!”
Dawn walked in and sat down across from me at my desk. Monday mornings following his weekend with the children always meant the day would start with a “Tom Langston bashing “ and an update. Dawn was a tall lanky blond. She was a divorced mother of two school aged children and I had just promoted her from a staff nurse job to being the supervisor of our hospice program.
“He never thinks about anything but himself and his money. For Christ’s sake, he deducted $50.00 from my child support check for their school supplies-what a cheap bastard! ”
I listened intently and remembered the file in my desk drawer; I was waiting for a good time to spring it on her.
“What the hell happens to make someone such an ego maniac?” she asked.
I had the answer.
“Dawn, I think I know what makes Tom click, see what you think about this” I said. I reached in and pulled out a .pdf file that I had downloaded and printed from the internet. Having worked with Dawn for over a year, I felt as if I knew Tom Langston, warts, girlfriends, condescending remarks, lavish spending on himself and all. I handed her the paper and waited with anticipation as she glanced over it.
“Diann, this is classic – you have found the diagnosis and it fits him to a tee!”
NARCICISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER. It’s perfect!”
I found a simple diagnostic profile of the leading characteristics for this psychiatric disorder and copied it for her. We sat together and ran it down. All of the classic signs and symptoms were listed and Dawn read them out loud.
- “Overwhelming and distorted ego,
- Disregard for others and lack of empathy,
- An Aggrandized sense of self-worth,
- View of others as a means to an end,
- Lack of conscience and moral development,”
“Boy, this is my DOCTOR ex -husband to perfection. Can I have this thing? I want to show it to my sister tonight; she will get a kick out of it. Diann, you are a true friend and a great boss. Thanks so much for understanding what I am going through. The hard part is realizing that he will be in my life forever –he is the kid’s father. Unless someone shoots him, we are stuck. “
Dawn walked out and crossed back into her office. It was Monday -so now that the Tom Langston report was over, I could get down to some phone calls and work. Mondays in the home health nursing were hectic. Lots of patients were discharged over the weekend. I usually had to juggle to make sure that I assigned nurses to visit all of the patients at home. The nurses were crabby because we were busy. I was always happy when the day ended. I was tied up most of that day in meetings, phone calls and interruptions . It was 4:00 pm when Dawn came back into my office for a chat.
Just as she sat down, she got an overhead page in the office. “Hey just take the call in here” I said, putting her on my speaker phone.
“Dawn, this is Eudine Murray” We both rolled our eyes. Eudine was an old nurse and a fuss budget. Dawn and I both hoped she would retire and put us out of our misery sometime this year. Every home visit she made was a trip. She hated admitting new patients-especially on Mondays. “Hi Eudine, what’s up? asked Dawn.
“Well Dawn, I am at that home you sent me to across town. You remember, the 89 year old stroke patient – Hattie Brown?” And things aren’t going so well” I am going to need some help I think” whined Eudine. Dawn and I shot looks at each other.
“So what’s the problem Eudine?” Dawn asked.
“ Well, I took the referral information that you gave me in the office this morning and I have been interviewing Hattie for over an hour. She won’t admit it though. I have tried everything.”
“Admit what?” asked Dawn.
“Her problem with Narcissistic Personality Disorder of course! Hattie denies ever being told that this was the reason she was hospitalized. In fact, she made me some tea and asked ME about MY family. I don’t get it, should I call the doctor or keep at her? Eudine asked. “I guess she is in denial. “
“ Dawn, I went through that entire list you gave me of the symptoms of that Narcissistic Disorder thing that you gave me. It was attached to the referral sheet. She didn’t seem to understand any of this stuff. She tried to deny that she had the problem. “ Eudine said.
Dawn and I both realized the mistake. Somehow the Tom Langman report had gotten mixed up with the Hattie Brown referral. Goofy Eudine was badgering poor old Hattie about the disorder and trying to take a history of the problem.
“Never mind Eudine, just finish up and come back to the office” I said
So much for a mixed up Monday. Dawn went back to her office, and I chalked it up to another slice of life.
Daddy’s Little Girl-Podcast
This is a link to a Chapter from my memoir, read by ME ! it is about the adoption of our daughter at age 6. She is now 24 and all of us have survived. I am a new podcaster and you can not even imagine the hoopla involved in creating this….
Click on the words above and you will hear me reading a short piece about an adventure in the city by the bay. Enjoy, Diann