One of the saddest sentences I know is “I wish I had asked my mother about that.” —William Zinsser, Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past
“Our worst fears about how the family might react [to the airing of family secrets] may come from our child self, fears that are often unfounded in current reality. But only you know your family and their sensitive places. Only you can decide how much to share—but remember, your first loyalty needs to be to yourself, so that you feel free to speak your truths on the page as you write.”
—Linda Joy Myers, PhD, The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story
Society presents a highly idealized image of family life that few, if any, of us experience. Most families are neither perfectly good nor perfectly bad. They cannot be described in black-and-white terms because they function with all the variety and nuances of Technicolor.
—James Birren, Telling the Stories of Life Through Guided Autobiography Groups For Discussion
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
“If you write with balance, honesty, and compassion you won’t hurt anybody. You might open some people’s eyes to the effects of their actions, but what’s wrong with that? The act of making memoir, of crafting narrative from life experience, is about trans‐ forming your life and giving others the tools to do the same. . . . Why not be an agent of change? But do it with grace. Memoir written with a vulnerable understanding of the complexities of what it means to be on this human path rarely hurts those characters who people its pages; instead, such memoir enlightens.” — Lisa Dale Norton, Shimmering Images
These questions are designed to prime or stimulate your memories and thoughts about your life. The questions are not meant to be answered in a literal manner. Read through them and react to the ones that open windows on your past. Each life is unique, and the priming questions do not have the same value to all persons.
Who held the power in your family and made the major decisions? How do you know? Which family members have you felt closest to, and which ones felt most distant? Why? Were or are any family members your models in life? Did you like your family and feel supported and loved? Were there any family members you were afraid of? What were the rules in your family about eating, cleaning up, dressing, and so forth? When you sat down to dinner, where did you sit? Did your family have any hero figures who had stories told about them? Did your family have any odd figures who were ridiculed, such as a miser or a spendthrift, a noisy or talkative person or a silent one? What were the strengths and weaknesses in your family? How did they affect you? Were there any events that made your family stronger or tore it apart? What is the history of your family? What were its origins, and who were its major figures? Did your family have a philosophy about life that was discussed and that you were expected to adopt? What were the “shoulds” and “ought’s” in your family? What favorite sayings illustrate your family’s philosophy of life? Is there anything about your family that seems unusual to you? From Telling the Stories of Life Through Guided Autobiography Groups, James E. Birren & Kathryn N. Cochran
Write about a family photograph. Start by describing what you see in the picture, in detail. Now tell us what's NOT in the picture. Write a story your family would call false, a lie, or not true. Write a story your family would call true but that you think is false. Write a scene about your family that shows its philosophy about life: “We are very close,” “We are not religious,” “We are not prejudiced,” and so forth. What family secret(s) are you supposed to keep? Make a list. Write a story you thought you would never be able to write. My Bring Up A Mother-Daughter Collaboration Many of the personal histories set down in Korongo's writing workshops are based on the kind of feel-good stories told around the dinner table and during family celebrations. My Bring Up, by Shirly Hook, is a case in point. Shirly's collection of family stories is set in Chelsea, Vermont, in the 1950s and illustrated by her daughter Amy Hook-Therrien. Moccasin Tracks (Orca Media) recorded this 2019 book-signing event co-sponsored by Kimball Library, Chandler, and Korongo Books. Above and below: A Texier family gathering at a rented house in the south of France, 2018.