Tag Archives: personal historian

Jerry Sandusky Guilty Verdict Stirs Our Memories of When Justice Has Prevailed and When It Hasn't, Memoir Ghostwriter Notes

While the jury in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse trial was spending all those hours deliberating, I was getting very anxious. I read the judge’s comments in providing the jurors their instructions, and it almost seemed like an invitation to render a not guilty decision. I kept thinking that many of the jurors had direct ties to Penn State, and they sprang from the Happy Valley community that first reacted to the breaking scandal by ralling around Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lion football program. As a former sportswriter in Pennsylvania who once covered Penn State football games during the height of Sandusky’s tenure as top assistant coach to Paterno in the late 1970s, I carried vivid images of just how deep those passionate loyalties ran. Perhaps, I feared, it would require too much courage and clear-mindedness for those 12 jurors to recognize the obvious and slam the guilty gavel down.

But then those Sandusky trial jurors stood up and acted with boldness and clarity. They believed those young men who told of Sandusky’s horrible acts against them as boys. They transformed what could have been another stunning example of injustice where a prominent and powerful person escaped punishment (O.J. Simpson?) into what has been accurately called a landmark day: http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/06/22/12365711-landmark-day-reaction-to-guilty-verdict-in-sandusky-child-sex-abuse-trial?lite 

It’s so gratifying to hear the victims being saluted as heroes mustering deep wells of strength and conviction. I know from contact with another recent sexual abuse victim how difficult it is to bring the abuser to justice. And yet, it can be done. Let’s hope the willingness of these victims, and the jurors, to take a stand for what is right will open the door for other abuse survivors to seek out justice in their lives. And let’s hope that this guilty verdict will serve as a wake-up call for schools, athletic teams, and other institutions that turn a blind eye to such acts.

Have you found yourself having your own feelings stirred by what happened in the Jerry Sandusky trial? Does it prompt memories from your own life, or something that you witnessed, where justice was served…or when it was not? Or maybe the Sandusky trial prompted you to feel a deeper pang about the need to protect our children, and how vulnerable they can at times be.

As a memoir ghostwriter and personal historian who helps ordinary people write their life stories, I consistently urge my life-writing clients and students to pay attention to our emotional reactions to the news of the day, and where those emotions take us. There are stories that may be waiting to be told. Maybe it’s time to sit down and write them, either yourself or with the help of a life story writer. Tell your own story about children, about justice, about the courage to speak up and take a stand. And tell it with conviction and passion.

– Kevin Quirk is the 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.” He is a ghostwriter for memoirs and autobiographies who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"Sondheim on Sondheim" Shows You Can Tell Your Life Story by Focusing on Your Life's Work, Memoir Ghostwriter Says

In my guide, “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time To Write It,” I reassure anyone who wants to write their life story that there are countless approaches they can take in shaping their memoir or autobiography. One example that fits for many women and men is to tell the story of your life’s work as the primary focus of your book.

I was recently reminded of this pathway to writing a life story while watching the play “Sondheim on Sondheim” in Cleveland. If you haven’t heard of this play from its Broadway run, it’s an engaging reflection of Sondheim’s creative work in writing the musical scores or lyrics for dozens of Broadway hits: “West Side Story,” “Sweeney Todd,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Follies,” “Sunday in the Park with George.” The format features interview clips with Sondheim sharing what he did, how he did it, and how he felt about it. As his voice fades out after each interview segment, a cast performs a collection of his popular and less-prominent songs.  Sondheim, then, is the first-person narrator of his professional life, with others helping to illustrate and flesh out his accounts. With the big screen looming high above the stage to project Sondheim’s physical presence in the interview segments, it makes for a different kind of theatrical presentation. Somehow, though, it all blends beautifully.

Of course, even though this is primarily about Sondheim and his music, we also learn a good bit about Sondheim and his personal life: his anger and resentment toward his parents; his struggles with intimacy in close relationships, his void of not having children,  his deep appreciation for his mentor and ally, his life optimism.  As with a written memoir, the ability to zero in on one specific aspect of a life story just naturally opens the door to seeing and knowing a great deal about the person’s full spectrum of life.

Is there a helpful message there for you? If you are writing your life story, or yearn to do so yourself or with the help of a personal historian or ghostwriter, do you have one compelling role or life experience that can form the foundation for your memoir? Is it your life’s work, either your career or in building a successful business or enterprise? Did you accomplish what can often be the most daunting and rewarding life’s work: raising a family with your full heart and soul? Did your persevere through a major challenge or hardship? Did you serve in a war? Did you have an unforgettable experience?

Tell that one story, and tell it with passion and conviction, and trust that you are really presenting the essence of your full life story. From my experience helping dozens of clients and students focus on one life venture or experience, I can assure you that not only will others discover and appreciate a whole lot about you, you will discover something valuable about yourself along the way.

You don’t have to be a famous figure like Stephen Sondheim to narrate your story of what you did and how you did it. After all, when you write your memoir or autobiography, you’re already the star of the show.

– Kevin Quirk, ghostwriter for memoirs and autobiographies, personal historian, and teacher of “Writing Your Life Story” classes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the 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.”

Life Story Ghostwriter and Teacher Invites Us to Remember Back to When We Would Shout, "School's Out for Summer!"

Do you have a child or grandchild who is about to end the school year and launch summer vacation? Can you hear them shouting something like “School’s Out for Summer”? Have you listened to them enthusiastically list all those things they get to do now that summer vacation is beginning – and all those things they won’t have to do?

If you do, chances are that their excitement will bring you back to one of your favorite “school’s out” memories. It almost doesn’t matter what we actually did with our summer vacation, as long as we were able to experience and savor the anticipation of everything we would do. Special trips. Swimming every day. Sleeping late. Reading what we wanted instead of what we were told to read. Staying up extra late. Visiting special family and friends in far-off places. Picnics, fireworks, and late-night movies. Just kicking back and doing nothing.

So thank your young one for rekindling those memories, and if you are already engaged in or planning to write your life story, count this as a particularly fun entry. Just start with this simple Story Spark:

“When school let out for summer, I was always ready to…”

Write for 10 minutes about this, without planning your response. Relive that heightened sense of what was to come. Honor the importance of that feeling for you now, today, as you contrast it to the way you approach your life in summer, winter, spring, and fall. Is there something you can learn from putting yourself in the shoes of those school-bustin’-out kids?

As a life story ghostwriter and teacher, I trust that remembering moments like these will enliven your memoir or autobiography. So why not dive into one of those stories right now, while it’s fresh in your mind. After all, before you know it, school will be starting up again. Don’t let the summer pass you by!

– Kevin Quirk, 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.” A personal historian and ghostwriter of memoirs and autobiographies, he has been helping people tell their life stories for 15 years.

Memoir Ghostwriter Reminds Life Story Writers To Listen To the Book Idea They Feel Called to Write

I’ve been asked the question many times already by those who know me as an author, ghostwriter, editor and advisor who specliaizes in telling the most meaningful, life-changing experiences of our lives:

“When are you going to write your book about going around the world with Semester at Sea?”

I’ve offered varied responses: 1) Not yet, but maybe sometime after I get my feet firmly planted on land again; 2) Oh, I’ll probably start with some blogs (I’ve written one brief one) and see where I may go from there; 3) I’m not sure, but I’ll let you know when I do.

Now, still only a month after returning from 111 days at sea, I’m coming to a new answer: I might not be writing a book about sailing around the world at all, because it just may be that it’s not “my book” to write.

Oh, I’ve got stories I could tell: the cheetah thwarted by pesky birds in his attempt to hunt down some springbok on a South African safari; standing on dried and hardened human feces on a slave castle in Ghana; my mind swirling with Vietnam War images while listening to our boat engine supttering on the Mekong; Chinese men and women gathering spontaneously to sing patritic songs in a Shanghai public park that tourists seldom see; creating a walking routine on our cruise ship’s fifth deck with life boats shading out the glaring sun. But do I feel called to write a book about what I did and saw, how I felt about it, and how it might change me? When I ask that question to myself, the answer I hear is this: not this time.

I’ve heard the calling to write a memoir or life-story account at other times. When my wife Krista and I adopted our son Aibek in Kazakhstan ten years ago, I knew from the start of that experience that I would be writing a book about it all. When I was touched with awe and wonder by the first news accounts of the Miracle on the Hudson plane crash and rescue in 2009, I was sure that somehow I would write a book about the people who lived through it. And I have supported and encouraged hundreds of students and clients in honoring the call that they have heard to tell their entire life story or, as is often the case, the story of something dramatic and unforgettable that they experienced.

In my role as memoir ghostwriter, personal historian, and teacher of “Writing Your Life Story” classes, I assure them that the calling they may hear as only a whisper is quite real. When it comes, honor it. And don’t let anyone or anything get in the way. That’s what I tell them.

Sometimes, though, we have some life experience that we might think we should write a book about, or at least tell it in a detailed story as part of a memoir or autobiography. Often we hear the urging of others who say, “You’ve got to write a book about that!” But for whatever reason, we don’t share the same sense of urgency. It’s not a calling for us. And as I tell my life-writing clients and students, it’s okay to listen to that message too. It’s perfectly natural to sometimes know we could write about something but choose not to. Reasons will vary: timing, discomfort, a general disinterest. It doesn’t matter. It’s usually far more important, and useful, to notice what story you are called to write about and follow that trail. That’s the life story book theme, angle, or focus that will get you motivated to start your memoir or autobiography and provide you the foundation, or mission, to see it through. Let the other life story possibilities go, knowing that once you do heed the call to pursue what you most need to write, you may someday come back to that other idea with a different perspective.

With my Semester at Sea journey, my sense is that this expeience is someone else’s book – maybe many other people. Perhaps it’s the student from India who proudly led a “field trip” for students back to his home and family. Or the energized scholarship student conducting video interviews with people living in most or all of the countries we visited, asking them to share something meaningful that had happened to them. Or the countless students who would tell stories in our post-port reflections about the impact of witnessing poverty they had never imagined, or their gratitude for those who opened their hearts to these strangers traveling from afar. I know these students have had many a blog in them – I bet one or more has a full-fledged book brewing as well. I support them in going for it.

Similarly, I wonder if there might be a book floating around for an adminsitrator who had sailed around the world many times before but discovered something new and vital this time. Or the faculty member who embraced this first-time experience so whole-heartedly that she immediately decided to do it again. In my own household, I wonder if my wife may someday feel the pull to write a memoir about the contrast of sailing around the world as a student in 1979 and again now, a good bit later, as a staff member. And who knows what stories my ten-year-old son may feel called to tell someday, especially since he has already decided that he will sail around the world three more times at least!

If the calling to write a memoir stirs any or all of these Semester at Sea Spring 2012 voyagers I’m thinking about, or others, I sincerely hope they do indeed listen. And I will be eager to see what emerges in their life story accounts.

For me, I’ll keep listening. I’m heading to Cleveland later this week, and while others might suggest that the Clevelands of our daily life don’t carry the same potential for exotic aventure and life-stirring moments as Capetown, Beijing, or Ho Chi Minh City, I would say this: you never know. The calling to tell a compelling life experience in a memoir or autobiography can beckon us when we least expect it.

– Kevin Quirk, memoir ghostwriter, personal historian, teacher of writing your life story classes, 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.”  Kevin is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), the Association of Ghostwriters, and the Association of Personal Historians.   

On My Semester at Sea Journey, I Will Remember When…

Three weeks ago, I returned from spending four months traveling around the world with Semester at Sea. I’ve finally got my land legs back and I’ve cleared most of the foam from my sea-clogged brain, meaning it’s at least more likely that I will keep the time and day of the week straight. Though I’m an author, ghostwriter and editor, and I teach classes and write books about the value of writing our most meaningful life stories, I didn’t write one word about this experience while I was gone.  I can argue that I was too busy keeping up with my primary job on the shipboard community: figuring out how to be a long-term substitute teacher/one-term home schooler for my 10-year-old son. Or I could admit that I simply decided I would wait…until the experience was over.

When I presented a seminar to lifelong learners on the ship, I suggested that they might ease themselves into writing about their own experience by responding to the simple prompt “I will remember when…” So I’ll follow my own advice here.

On this Semester at Sea trip I will remember when…Peterson stopped his cab at the outdoor market and came back with a large bunch of baby bananas and handed them to us in the back seat. It was a kind, uprompted gesture by our private guide for a second day of exploring the Caribbean island that tourism has passed by because of too many mountains and too few sandy beaches. He must have spent 10 minutes finding the bananas that were riope enough to eat in that moment, and I had consumed most of them within an hour.

As it turned out, this was only the first of more than a dozen spontaneous stops Peterson would make in the next three hours as he navigated the rough, mountanous terrain in his rundown taxi. Peterson, a 60-something native who explained to us that Peterson was his first name with a last name we couldn’t pronounce and might as well not try, knew this island from growing up outside the city in those lush and beautiful places where seemingly everything that could be eaten, used for herbs, or admired for its beauty grew in abundance. Peterson was not content to tell us what we were seeing around us. He was often compelled to stop and show us. He would come to a halt right in the narrow road, leaving us to wonder how cars approaching from behind or the opposite direction would avoid ramming us, get out, step confidently into a field, and hustle back with his catch: flowers of all variety, aloe vera, cinnamon, nutmeg.

“Rub it in your fingers,” he would instuct my wife, son, and me. “Tell me what you smell.”

He seemed equally delighted whether we correctly named it on our first try or if he stumped us. His joy emanated from the opportunity to share his world with people who had stopped by and seemed sincere about absorbing it.

For his final touch, he stopped by a field attended by a man he knew. After some discussion, he came back carrying the prize he most wanted to present.

“That is sugarcane,” Peterson said. “Have you ever tasted anything so sweet?”

No. And I could say that for the whole day. I had sampled the sweetness of an island I never would have stumbled upon on my own, served up by someone who lovingly presented it right in my hands.

– Kevin Quirk, personal historian 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”

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