Monthly Archives: May 2013

Watching Your Fifth-Grade Son Compete in the Olympics Will Leave Lasting Memories for Personal Historian and Autobiography Ghostwriter Kevin Quirk

As parents of children attending school, we know that all school performances are not created equal. Some we are apt to remember for awhile, while others will blur with the passing years, and still others we’d like to forget as soon as we leave the scene. Then, every once in awhile, a school program comes along that we just know is going to stick.

I enjoyed one of those more memorable school events this week with my son Aibek, a fifth grader at Charlottesville Waldorf School. His class went to the Olympics! Well, the Waldorf version of the Olympics anyway. The fifth graders had been studying ancient Greek history and culture, and to complement the classroom learning, the school partnered with three other Waldorf fifth grade classes to put together a taste of Olympic competition in the true Greek tradition. So we loaded up the kids in a caravan of parents’ cars and vans and trekked to a summer camp in the woods near Williamsburg. For two days, these young Olympians displayed great effort, athletic prowess, and sportsmanship while trying the long jump, javelin, discus, wrestling, the 40 yard dash, and the relays that climaxed the competition.

True to Greek heritage, the fifth grade classes were not aligned by schools, which meant no “my school is better than your school” pressure and boasting. Instead, students from all four schools were blended into city states: Athens, Corinth, Thebes, and Sparta. After an opening day of warm-ups and practice, the children performed Greek-themed plays and music in the evening. The events also included reciting “The Ode to Zeus” and singing “Glorious Apollo,” not to mention receiving an authentic laurel wreath to wear on their head.

I served as one of the many judges who volunteered from the parent pool. We recorded the top two finishers within each city state at each event, and then selected the students we believed merited the top two places in a separate category of “grace and beauty.” No, we did not judge our own kids. After the competition, we spoke of the achievements of each child.

That’s the rundown of the basic information of these fifth grade Olympics, and I’ll probably remember some of that as my son advances through middle school, and then high school and beyond. But I’m a parent here, so mostly what will leave its mark on my memory banks will be images of my son. First, he had told me before we left that his biggest wish was to be selected for Sparta because he so strongly identified with the Spartans’ way of life. When his name was the first called for Sparta, he screamed in excitement and leaped from his seat. And then the images from the Olympic Games: the perfect form in which he held his javelin, his intense look as he landed in the long jump pit; and especially his initial burst of speed and energy as he launched his leg of the relay, which of course “our” team Sparta won!

When I teach my next “Writing Your Life Story” class to the vibrant senior learning program OLLI at UVA, I suspect I’ll find a way to mention my 2013 Olympic experience. And to my students, and to all of you who may be working on your memoir or autobiography, or simply enjoy writing snippets of your life story, I will offer this suggestion: what is the one school program or event that any of your children performed in that you most vividly recall? As soon as you think of it, write it down!

– Charlottesville, Virginia-based ghostwriter and personal historian Kevin Quirk has been helping men and women of all ages and backgrounds write the most meaningful stories of their lives in memoirs and autobiographies for more than 15 years. He is the 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.”

Preparing for Semester at Sea Voyage, Autobiography Writer Kevin Quirk Is Hungry for a Taste of Stockholm

It sounded like your basic outdoor food and music festival at first. Then I read on, and I began to see that “Smaka pa Stockholm,” or “A Taste of Stockholm” was something a good bit more enticing. Traditional Swedish dishes and exotic food from all over the world served by Stockholm’s top 25 restaurants, with chefs often dueling it out for most popular creation. Musical performances ranging from rock bands to soul to wandering minstrels to opera divas. And the crowds: more than 650,000 from all over Europe! The best news: it will all happen within the short window of time we happen to be in Stockholm in early June.

Okay, that’s one event that gets the big check mark in our family’s planning for our upcoming Semester at Sea Enrichment Voyage. I’m hungry for that Swedish and international food already.

As an author, ghostwriter, and personal historian who helps people write about meaningful and memorable life experiences, I’m fortunate that my wife Krista works for the study abroad program Semester at Sea (www.semesteratsea.org). Sometimes her work pulls her along on voyages to diverse ports of call all over the world, and sometimes my son and I get pulled along with her. Last year we spent four months on a round-the-world voyage that featured extended stops in Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, India, Singapore, China, and Japan. This year’s journey is closer to four weeks than four months, but after embarking in the UK, we still get to squeeze in visits to Oslo, Norway; Copenhagen, Denmark; Riga, Latvia; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Hamburg, Germany, in addition to that eating binge in Stockholm, Sweden.

We won’t have the time or the budget to sample every wondrous place in these European cities and countries. Many of our fellow travelers will head far out from our ports by train or plane to cover lots of ground laid out on on sight-seeing checklists. Our plans will be much more modest, which is totally fine with us. As travelers who have taken field trips to Ghana boating villages, India orphanages, South Africa home-building sites, Mekong River hostels, and a Shanghai public park where tourists seldom venture, we have come to understand that it’s not the names or the fame of the places you visit that matter, it’s the spirit and sensibility you carry with you when you’re there. Sure, we’ll remember walking the Great Wall of China. But we will remember just as vividly the taxi driver who delighted in stopping his beat-up vehicle time and again beside the plentiful fields of his native Dominica so he could slice off samples of the abundant fruits, vegetables, and spices growing there. I can still smell the cinnamon, still taste the sugar cane. And I can even more clearly see the image of pride in our new friend’s face as he showed off his island homeland.

This trip figures to be different; they all are. With only a day or two in most ports, and my wife’s job duties often keeping her on ship, we won’t be taking the same kinds of field trips designed to usher you into the heart and soul of a new land, to glimpse something deeper than what you’ll find in the tourist guidebooks. In fact, we’ve got our guidebooks out for quick reference and short-burst excursions. We’ll no doubt ride our share of city buses and river boats. Still, wherever we go, and whatever we do, I hope to bring that same spirit of discovery, an appreciation for both our differences and our commonality of people, a respect for how people in far-away countries live, and a curiosity for everything around us.

So we won’t be immersing ourselves in these new countries and cultures so much. We will mostly be sampling them…getting a taste. And when I come upon this Taste of Stockholm event, I fully intend to take as big a bite as I possibly can manage!

– Kevin Quirk, author of “Your Life Is a Book and It’s Time to Write It,” assists people of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures in writing meaningful life stories in his work as an author and ghostwriter of memoirs and autobiographies.

For A Different Kind of Mother’s Day Gift, Write a Story About Your Mom and Give It to Her

Looking for a different kind of Mother’s Day gift this year? I’ve got an idea, which may be especially fitting if you happen to be writing your autobiography, memoir, or life story but can be fun and useful for anyone. I have used this exercise often in my classes on Writing Your Life Story and with my clients as personal historian and ghostwriter of autobiographies and memoirs.

Write for ten minutes in response to this Story Spark:

“You would know everything you need to know about my mother if you were around when…”

Try to resist over-thinking about what you will write. Just allow it to flow spontaneously. Don’t worry if it seems too serious, too silly, too maudlin, or too judgmental. Just follow it.

Or, if you would prefer a different angle, write about that one story about your mother that you have found yourself most often repeating both to others who know her and those who do not. You know what that story is. So write about that for ten minutes.

The stories that emerge from these Story Sparks may not capture your mother perfectly and completely – or maybe they will! But even if they don’t get right to the essence of your mother they most likely will get you going, freeing you up to remember and to chronicle countless other reflections and observations that are just waiting for you to record. It doesn’t matter if your mother is still a part of your life or if she passed away years or decades ago.

And if you write something in the next week that you believe your mother might enjoy hearing and she is still with us, perhaps you’ve got yourself that different kind of Mother’s Day gift?

– Kevin Quirk is a personal historian who writes memoirs and autobiographies for women and men of all ages and backgrounds. He is the author of “Your Life Is a Book – And it’s to Write It!”