Monthly Archives: August 2011

In Writing Your Life Story, Ask This Question: If You Could Go Back and Relive One Moment from Childhood, What Would It Be?

My 9 year old son Aibek and I had just come away from the dazzling laser, light, and water show “Fantasma” as part of the Hollywood Studios theme park at Disneyworld. It was well after dark, we had not even had dinner, and, due to air travel complications the night before, we had been up since 5 a.m. But I knew he was not ready to call it a night. Neither was I.

 “Okay, we really should be getting back to the hotel and going to bed now,” I began, seeing if he would believe me but doubting he would. “But if we could go back to any of the rides we have been on today before it closes, what would it would be?” 

“Star Tours!” he exclaimed.

“Well then, let’s do it!” I said. “Who cares about the time?”

“Really?!” he asked. “Awesome.”

So, with his new, custom-made light saber in hand, we rushed toward the Star Tours exhibit, smiled when we noticed it had only a 15-minute wait, and took our place in line. As CP3O narrated us through our second harrowing space journey, Aibek took special delight in seeing that the ride was a little different from our first go-round five hours earlier. At 10:30 p.m., as he munched on his dinner of a personal pizza and carrot sticks, he flashed his thoughtful look.

“Dad,” he said, “I want to come back and do this again next year. And then the year after that. Then I want to get a job at Disneyworld so I can go on Star Tours all the time.”

 Well, of course he did. He had just experienced one of those moments from childhood that he yearned to relive, to recapture, to hold onto and squeeze as tight as he had ever held his Honey Bear. And whether we ever actually come back to Disneyworld or not (I was amazed how many people we met who have come several times!), I hoped that he would never lose that feeling, that desire. We all need that sense of wanting, yearning to go back and relive something special and meaningful. And from my experience as ghostwriter of life story books and teacher of Writing Your Life Story classes, I believe we’ve all had it.

If you are writing your life story, or expect to begin telling the stories of your life sometime soon, this is something I invite you to consider. Ask yourself this question:

If you could go back and relive one moment from your childhood, what would it be?

Did you have one or more of those peak, off-the-charts experiences that made you say “I’ve got to do this again?” Maybe you did get to go back and repeat the same or similar experience. But even if you didn’t, you have the opportunity now, through writing your life story, to feel that sense of excitement, joy, and wonder again. You can go back in your mind’s eye and recreate the event that stirred something magical in you, that made you want to “go on the ride” again. And again.

 Do you know what that moment is right now? Do you have more than one special experience in mind? Quick, write them down. Tell the story. Flesh out the details. Feel the sensations. Go to warp speed and take it as fast and as far as it will go. The day, or the night, is still young.

– Kevin Quirk, Personal Historian, memoir ghostwriter and author of “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story” (www.yourlifeisabook.com).

The Maid Aibileen's Words from the Movie "The Help" Remind Us Why Telling Our Life Story Can Empower and Uplift Us

“No one ever asked me what it felt like to be me.”

Those are the words of Aibileen, one of the maids who agree to tell their compelling personal stories for the eye-opening, courageous book that emerges within the plot of the new movie “The Help.” I have not read the novel yet, but I saw the movie last night. It’s a compelling slice of life capturing the emerging Civil Rights spirit of the early 1960s. I thoroughly enjoyed and was moved by the movie in that regard. As a personal historian and memoir ghostwriter at Life Is a Book who interviews women and men from all walks of life to write their life story, I also came away from seeing “The Help” with a reminder of how empowering and uplifting it is for anyone to have the opportunity to share their stories with someone who really wants to know.

Often it feels as if the greatest gift I offer my life-story clients is simply to show up and, like Skeeter in “The Help,” demonstrate a curiosity and a healthy respect for what the other person has lived through, how it has shaped them, and what they really have to tell others about it all. Sometimes that life experience is dramatic, both personally and within the context of a major historical event such as a war. Sometimes it has the rawness, pain, or vulnerability conveyed by those maids. But the impact of having a witness to a part of their life story is evident even when my clients are telling me something not so headline-grabbing dramatic: a decision to leave home at 18; where they went on their first date with their spouse; what they learned the first time they got in trouble, etc. Often they inform me after our interview that a story they just recounted in great detail to me was something they hadn’t thought about for years because “no one ever asked me about it.” And now that I asked, they discovered they had a great deal to tell! Through the telling, they uncovered thoughts, feelings, and insights that made them feel somehow better about themselves. More complete. More understanding. More alive.

So if you have already seen “The Help” or plan to do so soon, I invite you to consider this as one of many valuable take-aways. Are you yearning to tell your story? Is it time to call upon a personal historian or memoir ghostwriter to ask you those questions about what it’s like to be you? Or is there someone in your family, or someone else you care about, who may be uplifted and empowered by you sitting down with them to ask them to share the stories of their lives? The rewards of being in the seat of Aibileen or Skeeter in the life-story interview process can be equally as rich and rewarding.

– Kevin Quirk, personal historian, memoir ghostwriter and author of “Life Is a Book – And it’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story” (www.yourlifeisabook.com)

When You Write About a Dramatic Life Story, You Can Promote Healing Both for Yourself and for Your Audience

In my work in helping people tell the most important stories of their lives, I recently began advising a woman writing a memoir about a painful and dramatic experience from her adolescence. I was instantly impressed by her vivid descriptions, her use of details, and her ability to convey her feelings in a real and raw manner. I have no doubt that her book will ultimately reach many people who can benefit from her honest and open recounting of what happened to her and what she did about it. That’s a major part of her mission. I am also confident that the act of writing this part of her life story will have a profound impact on my client. She is tapping the inherent healing power of telling and writing about the most dramatic stories of our lives.

This healing power is potentially available to anyone who chooses to write about any trauma, painful event, or sad memories from the past. I’m always encouraged and gratified when I witness or hear evidence that confirms this truth. As a recent example, NPR’s The Story featured a segment about Iraq war vteran Mike Kim working with novelist Matt Sharpe to help heal combat veterans through writing: http://thestory.org/archive/the_story_070711_full_show.mp3/view

Their connection emerged from Mike’s participation with the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue, which presents facilitated meetings between those who served and those who have been impacted by war at home: http://www.intersectionsinternational.org/our-work/veterans-war

I have not attended any of those meetings but in my Writing Your Life Story classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Virginia I often get to listen to refreshingly diverse reflections on the experience of war.  I remember one class in which four students were writing about their World War II memoiries, and two of those students were bringing to life their stories about being on “the other side” (Germany and Italy). As I looked around the room cloaked in respect and compassion, I was convinced that everyone there was enriched by hearing both our differences and our commonality in being shaped by war.  That’s a part of the healing power of telling our dramatic stories: our ability to extend the net of compassion and understanding that can bring us together.

Do you have a story from your life that holds a healing power just waiting to be tapped?

– Kevin Quirk, Personal Historian, Memoir Ghostwriter, and author of “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story” (www.yourlifeisabook.com)