Not all of us have happy memories to write about. There are those of us who have painful secrets and keep them buried deep down so the thistles and thorns won’t poke through our skin. One of my clients though, is facing her past, demons and all, in her memoir.
The client has committed to reliving a tumultuous and damaging childhood by putting words down on a page. She has had the courage to write her story and she’s come a long way since being forced to be an adult at a young age. Her next big step is to tell her family about the book, her biggest hurdle as an author.
I wrote a couple of things to my client, which she liked. She put my words on a photo and sent it to me. I’m happy to share the image below. When she is done her book, I’ll be sure to post a link to it. You’ll want to read it.
Cold night. Black night. A bright moon. Its light slants between skinny, stark trees. Pale and naked. Bare of leaves. These are aspens. We speed past them in our car and the trees become barcodes found on packages you buy in the store.
The trees are up for sale too. To anyone who can afford to buy them. But they won’t be showcased or their beauty shared. Left in place for everyone to see. No. The aspens will be cut down. Razed to their roots. And big, ugly, soulless houses put in the once living green space.
For the past four weeks I’ve been spending some time at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre teaching a memoir writing workshop. Every Wednesday morning for about an hour a few people write around a table in the midst of a busy room buzzing with conversation and movement and a movie blaring on the TV in the corner. It’s not hard to block out the distractions: my participants are keen on learning how to craft their stories and ask a lot of questions.
The workshop is offered through This is My City (TMC). TMC is a non-profit society that brings art and people together no matter their income bracket or social status. As a TMC volunteer I’ve been offering my four-week memoir session to homeless and detox shelters for about two years now. Last week was my last trip to the Drop-In this fall.
We talked about using description, show: don’t tell, in our stories. For example: Janice was very angry. That’s telling. Janice was waving her fists in the air and her face was very red. That’s showing. Description paints the scene for the reader by proving details that appeal to the senses using the senses. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? How do you feel? These bring a world to life in your story instead of just telling a reader what he or she should be experiencing.
I asked my Drop-In participants to describe something. One man decided to illustrate himself with words. Here is his piece:
I am a large teddy bear on steroids with long curly hair, a weathered looking face with an unwanted belly that travels in front, defying my efforts at reduction. This belly laughs at me, “Hah, hah!” it says. “Try and lose me, my friend.”
“I will lose you,” I retort, “one day.”
When I am in decent shape I dress “gangsta.” I dress in Ray-Ban, True Religion, FUBU. I look good, sexy. I’ve been taught to do that. I like the look.