Gratitude is about making the past continue to the present.
~ Margaret Visser

PROFILE

Dr. Maya Angelou, age 83, excels in many genres of writing, including memoir, poetry, plays, composing, and film.  After her friend Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, she dealt with her personal grief (and a nation’s) by writing her first of six memoirs – the best-selling I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Bill Clinton invited Angelou to recite her poem On the Pulse of Morning at his 1993 presidential inauguration.  Recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees, she has been Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina for 20 years. She continues to maintain a schedule of more than 80 public appearances a year – touching lives with words and her vibrant voice.

At the age of seventy, Maya Angelou was the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture, Down in the Delta. This film includes one of my favourite aging scenes, in which a minister responds creatively when a parishioner with dementia stands up to sing in the midst of his sermon.  He asks everyone to rise to sing the hymn, after which he calmly resumes speaking. You can imagine how heartfelt the thanks when the husband shakes hands with his minister after the service.

Maya Angelou quotations:

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.

The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.

Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.

Poems by Maya Angelou

Still I Rise
Alone

Phenomenal Woman

REVIEW OF RESOURCE FOR REMINISCING

LifeTimes The Game Of Reminiscence · 1950s Edition

Carol and Mary Jane McPhee      Available via the website:  lifetimesthegame

Two sisters developed this reminiscing game after learning that their mother, in the early stages of dementia, was happiest when talking about her early life and the years of their young family.  Retired teachers, Carol and Mary Jane McPhee have fashioned an attractive box of 125 cards with 500 questions and prompts in five categories.  Printed on good card stock in an engaging, readable style,  each 8″ x 3.5″ card has two nostalgic family photos and five memory questions/prompts.

The game was designed especially for reminiscing conversations, either for family members with shared memories or for people with different family experiences.  An individual can also enjoy selecting a few appealing cards to revisit fond memories.  In using the cards with my family, I have learned about my older brother being allowed to drive the family car to the backyard for washing at age 15 and about my husband’s earliest baseball experiences.  My own memories, too, came suddenly to the fore while thinking of my earliest years and checking them with my brother.

The set of cards can be very useful as writing prompts for an individual or for a writing group.  One can pass around the box and ask members to choose six cards. The simplest task would be to find a theme or a memory prompt for writing. More complicated applications could include working something from each of the cards into the writing about one of the themes. Taking advantage of serendipity in card combinations can take one down memory lane with a creative difference.

The authors are planning to develop other versions of the game – for example, the 40s or the 60s.  The current 50s version has some categories of broad interest: family life, leisure, love and romance. The two other categories would appeal mainly to certain women: food/recipes and fashion.  Men, and women too, would appreciate more emphasis on work life, sports, and current events. Writers can, of course, join in the game of writing new memory prompts for new categories.

BOOKS ON WRITING MEMOIR

Goldberg, N. (2007). Old friend from far away: The practice of writing memoir. New York: Free Press.

Thomas, A. (2008). Thinking about memoir: Everyone has a story to tell. New York: AARP/Sterling.

Thomas, F. P. (1984). How to write the story of your life. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati OH.

TO READ MORE >> Books on Writing Memoir

WEBSITES ON MEMOIR

Storylines
Guided Autobiography
National Association of Memoir Writers
The Legacy Project
LifeBio

StoryCatcher

International Institute for Reminiscence and Life Review

The Association of Personal Historians

Memoir Projects  – Boston

QUOTATIONS – Writing Memoir

Looking back, I see how the writer of a memoir is a kind of weaver. And I remember how, before I left for China, a bolt of cloth grew in my hands, strand by strand by patient strand, each pass of the bobbin a small advancement of the pattern, the finished cloth not unlike a story one might tell – the combination of the warp and weft of different threads.
~ Julie Checkoway

What’s difficult and exhausting about writing as honest a memoir as you can, I think, is going back as a historian and, instead of just weltering in all those emotions, trying to think, “Why did it happen that way? What was really going on?” All the things you took as a given when you were a child you now have to reconstruct and experience from the point of view of many other people.
~ Jill Ker Conway

The interior life is in constant vertical motion; consciousness runs up and down the scales every hour like a slide trombone. It dreams down below; it notices up above; and it notices itself, too, and its own alertness. The vertical motion of consciousness, from inside to outside, interests me.
~ Annie Dillard

When pestered with questions, memory is like an onion that wishes to be peeled so we can read what is laid bare letter by letter.  It is seldom unambiguous and often in mirror-writing… Beneath its dry crackly outer skin, we find another, more moist layer… and each skin sweats words too long muffled.
~  Gunter Grass

Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded.
~ Virginia Woolf

Memoir is how we try to make sense of who we are, who we once were, and what values and heritage shaped us. If a writer seriously embarks on that quest, readers will be nourished by the journey, bringing along many associations with quests of their own.
~ William Zensser

Until next time and with best wishes for the holidays, I will say Adieu with one of my shadow photos,

Ellen