Writing Your Life Story, One Magical Memory at a Time
You’re a Boomer. So what? By now, you’re probably retired. Or at the very least, retirement is on your radar. Studies have shown that the average retired person has 7.5 hours of leisure time every day.
This is a beautiful thing, if you’re a golfer or live in a climate where you can putter around in the garden year round. But, for many, so much freedom represents hours of sitcoms to escape the boredom. Is there something more rewarding to occupy that time? Absolutely!
Write Your Life Story
This activity will turn your television into a silent dust collector. More importantly, you’ll remember things you had forgotten and you’ll reconnect with your soul-self, the juicy part of you that knows exactly what she wants.
Those of us born between 1943 and 1960 are fondly referred to as the rebel generation. In our 50-70 plus years on the planet, we’ve lived through unprecedented change. These events are the backdrop for our own stories. They helped to define the people we would become.
As you think about writing down your own story, first take a walk down memory lane. I hope that my own experiences help you when it comes to writing your life story.
A miracle called the telephone was installed in our parents’ living room. We were the first to watch The Wizard of Oz on TV and witness men walking on the moon. Our friends went to Vietnam. Some didn’t come back. Those who did were changed forever.
In school classrooms throughout the United States, heart-stopping news came over the PA system that President Kennedy had been shot. 5 years prior to this, Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Bouffant hair preceded the women’s liberation movement. Wearing tie-dye bell bottoms and halter tops, we preached peace, love, and antidisestablishmentarianism.
“We burned our bras and we burned our dinners,” sings K.T. Oslin in her 1987 tribute to “80’s Ladies”. We pushed boundaries. The edgy new genres of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Motown fed our rebellious souls.
Later We Grew Up, Sort Of
We installed wall-to-wall shag carpeting in burnt orange or avocado and bought appliances to match. The shag matted and flattened, forming well-worn trails to the TV, the kitchen and the front door. As it aged, dog hair and toenail clippings tangled in its fibers.
Enter mauve and blue. Sponge-painted rooms with wallpaper borders of beribboned geese parading nose to tail around the perimeter reassured us that all was calm all was bright in our pastoral, domesticated world.
Our Shared History Left Its Mark
We didn’t emerge unscathed from all this history. In our psyches, there are memories that haven’t been touched for years. These same memories hold silent messages that secretly run the show.
A strong belief system, which may or may not fit who we are today, was formed in the turbulence of those often violent and rapidly changing times.
Personally, I like to know what behind-the-scenes chatter drives my behavior. Self-awareness is high on my “must have” list, and nothing propels me into a deeper understanding of my own subconscious than an honest look at my stories.
Where to Begin?
The task of writing my life felt overwhelming, until I took myself back to the first event that I could recall in detail. I told the story of that experience and the floodgates opened.
There were moments when conjuring up old ghosts left me drained and weeping. It’s tough to revisit those places but that’s where the deepest revelations can yield explosions of joy.
Often, I questioned my truth. Did it really happen that way or is this what I chose to believe about it? Sometimes, I enlisted the help of others: What year did we go to…? Was mom with us at…? Remember when you got sick in the taxi after drinking purple passion that night in…? Or was it was me who got sick? No! Are you sure?
With each recalled episode three more sprang to life. Then, as I wrote them down, a new reality took shape.
When perspective and life experience were brought to bear on those old tales, they looked different. The edges had softened and blurred.
I saw the part I played more clearly as I took ownership of the past and made peace with the darkness there. But, the most important thing I achieved from the journey was a deep compassion for my younger self.
If the task seems daunting, tell yourself, “I don’t have to finish. I only have to start.” Once you begin to excavate your memories, you’ll have no trouble finding the next story… and the next… and the next.
Anne Lamott authored a great little book on writing entitled, Bird by Bird. That’s how it’s done, one life snippet at a time.
What If I Don’t Like To Write?
If you don’t fancy writing, get a family member or close friend involved.
One Christmas, I gave my precious Gram a book entitled, Grandmother Remembers. It asked questions and had great expanses of lined space for answers.
She and her daughter, my mother, worked on it together. The following Christmas, I received a copy of the finished book. Now, her great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren cherish that heirloom and enjoy reading the accounts of her life as a sixteen year old teacher in a one room schoolhouse in northern Minnesota.
Nobody Else Can Tell Your Story
Reading about my grandmother’s life forever changed my impression of her. I always loved the way she smelled, her pretty fingernail polish and the mints she brought when she came to visit.
But, the image of her when she was no more than a child, trudging through snowdrifts in the dark bitter chill of winter mornings to unlock the door of a lonely schoolhouse, shivering while she built a fire in the potbelly stove so the room would be warm when her students arrived, birthed within me huge admiration and fierce respect.
So give it serious thought. You have time – 7.5 hours a day, in fact! What you remember matters!
Has anyone in your family written an account of their life? Did it change the way you perceived them? What’s holding you back from writing your life story? Please join the conversation.