Tag Archives: memoir

Back to School Time Stirs Our Memories of New Beginnings in Our Lives

My son Aibek went back to school last week, and like many kids preparing for this annual new beginning he wasn’t exactly embracing it. In fact, on the cusp of third grade he came up with a very clear plan for how the world should run. “We should have nine months of summer vacation and three months of school!” he proclaimed.

There’s something about this back-to-school time of year that just naturally stirs not only creative innovations but lots of mixed feelings: excitement, curiosity, sadness, anxiety, disorientation. Gowing up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts in the ’60s, I remember having all of those feelings – sometimes all at once. They would most churn up on Labor Day because we always started school the Wednesday after the holiday. So on Labor Day especially I understood that in one way or another, I was plunging into the unknown.

Sometimes that new beginning can be especially dramatic. My son and I spent the week before back-to-school on board the Semester at Sea ship as it sailed from Norfolk, Virginia to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  My wife Krista was part of the staff training and orientation preparing for the arrival of 650 students about to sail around the world for their Fall 2010 Semester program. “Your life is about to change” was the mantra that students soon would hear.

Isn’t that true to one degree or another for all of us swept up in the back-to-school spirit? Whether we are a student, a parent, a teacher, or just an observer of this late-summer ritual, we feel that sense of sailing off into the unknown. And whether the new beginning ultimately turns out to be fun or scary, or just a small change from what we had known before, we recognize that a new year has truly begun.

That’s why for years after my own school days, and before my son came along, I sitll carried that sense of late August or early Sepetmber as the real passage to the new year. The calendar could try to tell us that January 1 was New Year’s Day, but I was never fooled. The new year began when school started. That’s when the barometer would measure who I was, how I fit (or didn’t), and what I would be undertaking. That’s when we all would measure how one another had changed, whether it be the boy who grew six inches, the girl (or boy!) who sported a drastic new hair style, or the family that had moved out of town. So many of my prominent memories are wrapped around that time of year.

Is it that way for you? Does Labor Day and this back-to-school climate stir your memories of your own new beginnings tied to the school calendar? If you are writing your life story, or telling your life story to someone who is helping you to  preserve your memories in a memoir or autobiography,  you might find that focusing on back-to-school will just naturally bring poignant stories to the forefront. Quick, get them down before the New Year slips away!

– Kevin Quirk, Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historitans and the Association of Ghostwriters

If You're Writing a Book about Your Life Story, Here's Encouraging News: Self-publishing Has Surged Ahead of Traditional Publishing

It used to be, not all that long ago, that if you self-published a book about your life story, or anything else, you were labeled for being a part of the fringe minority of “vanity publishing.” You were scorned: the little guy, dwarfed by the giants of traditional or commercial publishing. But oh how things have changed.

A few months ago R.R. Bowker released a report that revealed that in 2009 self-published books (and other “non-traditional” titles) outnumbered traditional books by about 3-to-1 http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publishing-and-marketing/article/42826-self-published-titles-topped-764-000-in-2009-as-traditional-output-dipped.html. That means that regular people writing and publishing their own books their own way have come to rule the publishing inustry. Along with the trends toward e-books, this news is part of a real revolution in the world of books – and it’s good news for anyone who wants to write and publish their memoir or autobiography alone or with help from a ghostwriter or personal historian like me. As I tell my life-writing students and clients often, there has never been a better time to publish our own books. With new technology, costs are much more affordable than the days of having to warehouse 1,000 of your books in your garage. And now, we’re winning the numbers game too! Publishing a book, far from an exercise in ego, is an empowering act that can help reach people and make a difference in their lives. That’s why more people are doing it every day.

There will always be a place for those commercial or traditional publishers. My own last book, “Brace for Impact: Miracle on the Hudson Survivors Share Their Stories of Near Death and Hope for New Life,” was published by HCI Books (Health Communications, Inc.), publisher of many of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.  I liked wading in those waters again, and I likely will do it again.

But I am equally at home in my role of helping people write their life story as personal historian, ghostwriter, editor, or publishing coach. I love watching the excitement of someone bringing their book into the world. And now, I enjoy it even more in knowing that in the hierarchy of book publishing, we have become the “giants!”

Kevin Quirk, Founder of Life Is a Book, which is dedicated to assisting men and women of all ages in preserving their life stories, and author of the new book “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It: An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story”

If You Build It, She Will Come: How the Keeper of the Field of Dreams Found His Mate

How did you meet your husband or wife? What people or forces brought you together? How soon did you know that you had found your life partner?

When I teach my classes on Writing Your Life Story at the University of Virginia’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and at OLLI of UVA, I always enjoy the stories that emerge from those questions. Sometimes those “how we met” accounts touch all of us in the class. Sometimes they make us laugh. Sometimes they leave us nodding our heads in a knowing way. And sometimes they leave us with a sense of awe or mystery.

I was reminded of that while reading an article about the Field of Dreams – no, not the movie per se, but the physical Field of Dreams where the movie was filmed in Iowa. Don and Becky Lansing own the land and are caretakers of the cornfield-turned-baseball-field that lures thousands of people to pay homage to the site of the filming of the popular Kevin Costner film. The Boston Globe article “Living in a Dream World” was mostly about how the Lansings are selling the property, but that’s not what most caught my eye. The article also painted a picture of what draws people to the Field of Dreams and what happens when they get there. This is where it gets interesting.

You see, Don Lansing was a lifelong bachelor in 1995. Becky was a widow in Colorado. She had a dream – three dreams actually – telling her to go visit the Field of Dreams. She was to eat a hot dog and a root beer and sit in the stands. She didn’t ask why. She just took the trip, even though it was around New Year’s, which in Iowa is not exactly an ideal time to hang out at a baseball field. She called Don Lansing ahead of time and when she arrived he said, “I was waiting for you.” Becky knew that day that he was the one – the reason her dream had guided her to the Field of Dreams. Don says the field really is magic http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/minors/articles/2010/07/20/couple_selling_fabled_field_hopes_its_not_living_in_a_dream_world/.

What sort of magic guided you to your husband or wife? Of course, your version may fall more into the “ordinary magic” category. That’s true for most of us. In my work as personal historian for Memoirs for Life I’ve been interviewing a couple who met on a blind date. They had grown up in the same town but had never known each other, but the real magic for them came in discovering just how much they shared in their common background – discoveries that continued all the way through uncovering startling commonalities while researching their genealogy after decades of married life.

So if you are looking for a good place to start your memoir or autobiography, you might consider writing or telling that story of how you met the love of your life. And what if your story is nothing like Don and Becky Lansing and the Field of Dreams because when you first met your spouse you didn’t even think you’d want to spend five minutes together, let alone 30 or 40 years? Ah, now that sounds like an interesting story…

– Kevin Quirk, Founder of Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historians