Jul 192011

A month ago in early June I gave a talk at the UCSF Cancer Resource Center’s Art in Recovery Program. This program is a creative outlet for people who have received diagnoses of cancer. I spoke to them for two hours and found them among the most committed  that I have ever experienced. Committed to writing their life stories. And one can see why. A diagnosis of cancer focuses the mind wonderfully.

Two from that group have joined me for my current workshop, Forever Remembered, taking place at the the Fior d’Italia restaurant.

Among the other participants is a friend of mine; another is a member of Women in Consulting who got my publicity through the membership’s e-mail. One is a marketing consultant I asked to come just to observe my performance and teaching skills.

The marketing consultant said in class, “when I was driving here I was thinking I had nothing to write about. But since I’ve been in class I’ve thought of about 14 different subjects I could write on.” Later on she told me how much she appreciated my skill in teaching.

It is deeply fulfilling to me that my students enjoy and seem to be learning from Forever Remembered.

 Posted by at 10:30 am
Jul 192011

I have recently launched my workshop, Forever Remembered, for the second time at the Fior d’Italia restaurant.

For six Saturday afternoons, five participants join me for my support in launching their life story project at the Fior d’Italia restaurant in North Beach. It seems different workshops draw different people. In my previous iteration of Forever Remembered, three participants were writing about their mothers. Two were writing about their family history.

But in my workshop just started July 9, three of the participants have already crafted large portions of their autobiographies. Two of them had the same query: how do I structure it?

This past class on July 16 focused on writing techniques. My students had two major concerns: how to structure their manuscripts and how to handle flashbacks.

I tried to make the distinction between the experience of writing the document and its final form. I urged them to consider there is no single rule about how to structure such a document. They could approach it chronologically or they could start with those passages in their lives that were most salient, most emotional or meaningful to them.

“You might find it easier to write it chronologically and change it once the whole manuscript is written. You don’t have to stick with that structure if you find another one that is more effective,” I said.

People who are inexperienced or insecure about their writing may think there are hidden rules about the way things should be done. I hope I relieved them of this misconception. The only thing to strive for is what is most effective.

Insofar as dealing with flashbacks is concerned, I reviewed two techniques that should be helpful to them. One is dealing with the past tense of verbs. A shift from present perfect to past perfect should be enough to signal to the reader that a shift in time has occurred.

Also they could use a device such as Proust made famous: choosing an experience in the present that calls to mind a past event.

For instance when a friend of mine on Thursday gave me a branch of rosemary from her garden, the perfume of the herb transported me to my childhood and my grandmother’s garden where she grew herbs, lettuces and flowers.

 Posted by at 10:26 am
Jul 132011

This morning I was listening to NPR as their broadcasters took turns reading sections of the complete Declaration of Independence. It was very moving, hearing all of the complaints the colonists lodged against George III in that document.

But at the same time the colonists were lambasting their king for inhumane treatment, they were killing the people who already lived here.

Why doesn’t anybody ever mention that on Independence Day? The hypocrisy of it makes me sick.

 Posted by at 2:52 pm
Jul 102011

A three-year-old boy stands alone under a tree atop a knoll overlooking a valley. A storm gathers overhead, its gray clouds lower, thrashing the valley with rain, wind and noise. The little boy is transfixed. The panorama of movement, din and rain capture him.

But his ecstasy doesn’t last long for here come his parents to, as they think, rescue him. What a disappointment to have his rapture stolen from him, one that he remembers decades later. He relives all the sensations of that scene when it comes to mind.

On Thursday, July 7, I addressed the men’s club known as Il Cenacolo which meets every Thursday at the Fior d’Italia restaurant in North Beach.

Its members are all men who are interested and devoted to  Italian culture. “Il Cenacolo” (pronounced eel chenAHcolo) means supper club or “The Last Supper”, the name given to Michelangelo’s painting in Milan.

I was speaking to them about the value of writing one’s life story and giving them tips about how to proceed.

In the course of my talk I elicited from my audience their earliest memories that appealed to their senses. “Think of your senses,” I said. “If you focus on your ears, your sense of taste, your sense of touch etc. What memories do they evoke for you?”

Among the recollections that the audience members shared was that of David Litwin who fondly recalled the brief moments the storm’s passage below him enthralled him. He said his parents were frightened for him but he had no fear at all. Rather he felt safe and privileged to view such a scene.

His sharing that slice of life was one of those experiences that makes what I do so rewarding.

 Posted by at 3:00 pm