Monthly Archives: June 2012

Memoir Ghostwriter Suggests That the Reinstatement of UVA President Sullivan Spurs the Question, When Did You Witness a Time When People Said "This Will Not Stand?"

I just witnessed a refreshingly unusual news development in my community of Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia. A spirited group of UVA faculty, staff, students and alumni strongly objected to the swift, forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan a couple of weeks ago. They organized, spoke up in rallies, wrote passionate letters and emails, held emergency meetings, charged into social media, and basically searched for any and every way to say: “This will not stand!”

And then it didn’t. Initially the rector defended the Board’s actions. An interim president was quickly ushered into place. The backers of the dumping of the president waited for the firestorm to blow over. Only it didn’t. It just kept consuming the media and the community. Finally, the Board stared into the picture of reality and took the only action left: reverse course, admit defeat, reinstate President Sullivan. Cheers erupted on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s university. The people had spoken; the pendulum of power had shifted.

Wow! This dramatic and spontaneous three-act play got me thinking: How often does this happen in our country? Regular people object to an unpopular decision and stunning move engineered and facilitated by those holding the seats of power. The seats of power crumble in the dust, the people seize the throne, and then hand it back to their chosen one.

I teach Autobiographical Writing at UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, as well as Writing Your Life Story at OLLI at UVA. In my role as life-writing teacher and in my work ghostwriting memoirs and autobiographies, I often advise life story writers of all ages and backgrounds to reflect on such high-charged events of the day and comb their memories for comparable moments. So if you have any interest in writing your life story, you can certainly use this as grist for the mill. Have you ever witnessed such a scenario as the reinstatement of University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan? Or, perhaps you once had occasion to wish for such an act to emerge when you felt the sting of something that made you want to scream: “This will not stand!”      

Tell that story. What happened that made you angry? What about the act seemed especially contradictory to your values, your beliefs, and your sense of how things should be conducted, or how people should be treated? Who spoke up against it? Who was silent? Where did you fit? Did anything change as the result of the objections of those stirred to action? If not, how did that leave you feeling? Can you imagine today how it would have been if that unwanted move actually had been overturned?

Allow yourself to play with these emotionally infused stories. Let me know if you’ve got one you just have to share!

– Kevin Quirk, author of “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time To Write It!” has been assisting people all over the U.S. and beyond in writing the most important stories of their lives for 15 years.

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: 

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.

Visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Reminds Life Story Ghostwriter How Our Favorite Music Can Shed Light on Who We Are and How We've Lived

So there I was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, bouncing foot loose  between videos of a Grateful Dead concert, a montage of live Rolling Stones shows, and an exploration into the makings of all the Beatles albums. I watched the entire movie that honors the Rock Hall inductees.  Before I left, I spent a few minutes (Okay, maybe it was an hour and a half) selecting albums and songs at one of the personal, headphones-listening jukebox stations. I’m sure I baffled the teenager beside me when I sang along to every word of such cuts as “Dangling Conversation” and “April Comes She Will” by Simon & Garfunkel and “Songs to Aging Children” and “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell.

Excuse me, but my own adolesence and young adulthood were talking to me. I had to listen, and talk back.

In my work helping ordinary people write their life stories in a memoir or autobiography, I suggest that they consider devoting some time and attention remembering back to the music that has shaped their lives. There are memories and meanings in there, I tell them. Go find them.

So that’s what I did indoors for six hours instead of grazing on a sunny afternoon, as the Kinks once sang. I sang along to some memories. I remember inheriting dozens of rock albums from my older brothers and sisters: the Beatles, the Stones, the Moody Blues, Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane. They had gone before me and knew how the music of “now” could stir your soul or pull you through, and they were generous enough to pass them along to me at a time of need and receptivity to the fun and meaning of rock.

So I blasted those albums in my bedroom, and then discovered WBCN in Boston back when the term “alternative rock FM” meant something. I had discovered a lifeline. I had found an ally for troubling questions, disturbing feelings, and a passionate hope for tomorrow. With its messages of definance, vulnerability, love, mystery, and independence, the rock music of my choice helped usher me across the threshold into a tenuous adulthood.

At the Rock Hall, I felt a deeper appreciation for this loud and vibrant gift. Rock music came of age just when I was trying to. We made it together. Though I grew up in the 60s, I didn’t do drugs. It was rock that took me on a wild ride into other dimensions of thought, feeling, experience, and connection to the sense of community for which I yearned. It comforted and reassured me, sure, but it also elevated me, as Bruce Springsteen often explains today, into an elevated place of living and experiencing.

Once I was old enough to get out to see rock and roll live, it also established an arena for vivid memories. I remember watching Jethro Tull in a Hampton, New Hampshire inside venue with no seats while watching cops violently hold off kids trying to crash the gate to get inside. I remember watching the Kinks perform their Tommy-like rock opera, Preservation, in Boston’s Music Hall, where I also got tickets to back-to-back shows for Neil Young in his solo days. At that same venue, I remember watching the curtain come up to Bob Dylan in a Harvard T-shirt and Joan Baez in a Boston University T-shirt as they sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” together.  I remember watching Poco live at Boston Garden during one of those nights of teen mischief that could have cost me dearly but fortunately didn’t.

I let go of those albums, allowing my mother decades ago to sell them at her yard sale where the lucky purchaser praised my taste in music. They had served their purpose for me, and looking back today I can see how the rock groups and individual songs framed the changing states of my relationships with my parents, my distant older brother, my best friend in high school, and my first girl friend who became my first wife. At the Rock Hall, I had a bunch of those moments when one song was triggering what could have been pages of writing about my life story. You’ve had those too, right? Preserve those memories about your music; they may be all that’s left for you.

I had my ticket stubs for awhile. Wish I had kept them, especially when I paused at the exhibits of concert posters beckoning you to come see the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and more…for $5.50.  Even with an adjustment for the passing of 40-plus years and inflation and all that, wouldn’t it be nice to see a ticket price like that pop up for one of Bruce Springsteen’s stadium shows these days? But as Mick would say, you can’t always get what you want.

Those rock-inspired memories are still reverberating in my mind. I’m thankful to have them. And I can’t wait for the next opportunity to invite one of my life story ghostwriting clients to “Tell me about the music you loved when you were young….”

– Kevin Quirk, who still wonders if John Lennon was trying to make us believe that “I buried Paul,” helps women and men of all ages write the most meaningful stories of their lives. 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.”

"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.