“Just One of the Guys”

I wrote this essay during my “Write Your Way to a Better Attitude About Money” last winter, in response to a prompt asking ““Have you ever been harassed or bullied on the job?”

By Sarah White

It didn’t occur to me at the time to view it as harassment, but I think being pressured to watch stag films on the job, draw dirty cartoons, and watch my coworker sunbathe naked counts as a “yes.”

it was the summer of 1979 when I got a gig at National Screenprint and began driving out to Stewart Street to the low barracks-like rows of cement-block buildings that housed mostly auto-body workshops. It was rumored one was actually a production studio for porn films–I don’t know why else such leggy, sparkly women would be coming and going from a dingy place like that, so I imagine it was true.

I was hired to help Jana in the art room. On the production floor, the boys (and most really were boys, only Claude and Mark were closer to 30 than 20) stood at stations around lazy-Susan-like silkscreen machines, wiping ink over screens onto t-shirts and sweatshirts and caps. Jobs were clearly gendered here.

I quickly became proficient at creating the art to make the team logos, band names, and corporate messages or customers ordered. I applied my artistic skill to filling requests for Bucky Badger in every conceivable position from picnicking with Betty Badger to more X-rated behavior.

The job was likeable enough, although Jana annoyed me with her insistence on calling her friends “gals.” Considering myself a staunch feminist,* I preferred to claim I was a “woman” but Jana was pushing 30 and getting a little uncomfortable about that.

The boys on the factory floor stopped work every day for lunch and a break out back of the shop. It must have been summertime because Claude would strip naked and sunbathe. The others took off their shirts but even though he preached nudity like a religious zealot, no one went “Full Monty” but Claude. Jana and I enjoyed the show, fully clothed.

Me circa my screenprinting job

There was a lot of semi-profane joshing among the boys, “just locker room talk” you might say. A dumpster out back had a sign on it that read, “Caution: Load in rear.” For some reason the boys thought that was hilarious; one even bribed me to make a stencil of it so they could print it on some t-shirts. I never did puzzle out what was so funny, but just the way they snickered, you knew it had to be dirty.

Claude may have been the one preaching nudity but it was Harv, the boss of the operation and the only one with an office, who instituted the stag film Fridays. He had a VCR in his office and everyone would pile in to watch—Jana and me too, because who wants to be the girl who’s too prudish to let the boys have their fun. It wasn’t fun–where is the turn-on in grainy pump-and-bump in a dingy office at midday surrounded by your coworkers?

By Christmas, like so many situations that were once kind of cool and fun, this job had just become one petty harassment after another, with having all those stag films, having to draw f*cking Buckys, the naked coworkers, and all.

Soon enough I found another job and got out of there, only to face another kind of harassment—religious discrimination disguised as teasing. But that’s a story for another time.

© 2017 Sarah White

*In 1979 you could consider yourself a “staunch feminist” and still not be aware that feminists don’t have to be “just one of the guys” when the guys are objectifying women.

 

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When APH Died, Doves Cried

When the phone rang on Tuesday morning, May 9, I was at my desk, warming up to the day’s work.

The caller was a member of the board of the Association of Personal Historians. I had joined this group in 2002 and served on the board in various roles for more than a decade. I had been president from 2012 to 2015.

She began, “You are one of a handful of people getting calls from the board this morning. Is this a good time to talk?”

I noticed a higher pitch, a shortness of breath, that wasn’t normal for her. “What’s up?”

“You’ll be getting an email this afternoon. It’s going out to all members. God, I’m shaking. Just a minute.”

“Now you’ve got me shaking too,” I said. “What is it?”

I could hear her take a deep gulp of air. Then: “The board of the APH has voted to dissolve the organization.”

The body and mind will disassociate in a moment of shock. Sometimes it feels like floating above the body below. Sometimes it feels like a fog leaching all color from the world. This was like that, and more.

We shared a moment in that limbo where you know something has changed but you don’t know yet how, or who will be affected. Then she went on at a breakneck pace.

After 22 years, financial constraints and membership trends had made dissolution unavoidable. The website would close down soon. Our social media channels were already shuttered. The fall conference would be canceled. Some portion of my registration money would be refunded. All creditors would be treated equally. To compensate members for their lost dues, the marketing and professional development materials APH had created over the years were being moved to a Dropbox—an archive worth much more than our $200 annual dues.

What was due me hadn’t crossed my mind. I was thinking about the people. APH has always and only been about the people—the remarkable collegiality of a group of individuals who care about other people so much they make a profession of helping them preserve and share their life stories.

 

I looked at the phone in my hand: 18 minutes call duration. She was starting to repeat herself. There was nothing more to say. “Thank you for letting me know. I’m sure this has been difficult. Wow. Take care,” I said, and hung up.

Shaking still, I grabbed the dog’s leash and left the house. How was it possible the sky still arced overhead? How was it possible that leaves were still unfurling so fast you could practically see them grow?

The rest of that Tuesday ticked by as minutes and hours must. At 3pm, the official email appeared in my in-box. “Dissolution of APH, Inc. – PLEASE READ.” Then the reaction began—calls, texts, emails. A former board member set up a Facebook page and began inviting us to it, a space to grieve.

As the next days passed as inexorably as those first minutes and hours, I wobbled between trying to do my work and seeking solace in the company of my fellow members. There are scores of people with whom I’ve worked on a committee, or shared a conference, or passionately argued one side or the other of a proposed course of action. In those first few days, we drew close to each other, and in doing so, we made each other more aware of all that we were losing.

I started out feeling like a friend had died, but the death count quickly expanded. I began to say, “I feel like a plane went down with 600 of my closest friends on it.” I knew that was grandiose, but I wanted more. I wanted to say, “For me, this is bigger than 9-11.” This event, unlike that tragedy, affected everyone I knew and called into question the very meaning of the last 15 years of my life. If I wasn’t part of a movement to raise awareness of the importance of life story work, what was I all about? Who were my people?

In terms of my day-to-day life, the board’s decision hadn’t really changed anything all that much. And yet, it changed everything. Almost every time I’ve traveled in the last 15 years, it has been to an APH conference. I’ve couch-surfed with APH members across the USA and England. Almost every person I call a friend is someone I met through APH. Every professional dilemma I faced, I ran to the APH Listserv to ask my colleagues, “What would you do?” All that, gone. I suddenly felt exposed, like those dreams where you are naked in public.

 

Then came Friday night with its standing traditions. I knocked off work and had a quick, stiff martini with a friend. My husband and I headed out to a fish fry at a neighborhood pub. The noise of the patrons, the flashing TV screens, were distracting in a way that felt like relief.

But as we waited for our check—what was that song playing on the jukebox? “Raspberry Beret” by Prince? In a sports bar? The bartender explained, “The Revolution is playing at the Barrymore Theatre.” As in, the band that was going to reunite with Prince just over a year ago, if Prince had not died.

We left the bar. “Wait just a minute, “ I said. I ran down the block to the box office: “Are there any tickets left for The Revolution?” Yes. “One, please.” I would have paid anything for it. I’d found where I needed to be, to move my grief forward. We drove home, I traded car for bicycle, and pedaled back to the theater. I took a seat and began adjusting to the wall of Prince sounds thundering from the speakers.

 

Losing APH was the second business death I’ve experienced. Hearing “Raspberry Beret” in the bar had triggered memories of Karin, the business partner I lost in 1987. She and I had taken over Abraxas Studio in 1984. Both in our mid-20s, we were closer than spouses for three intense years. Karin’s DJ boyfriend kept us supplied with music, and Prince was one of our favorites. When Karin told me she wanted to leave our partnership, doves cried. When I visited her in Minneapolis, she took me to dance at 1st Avenue, Prince’s nightclub.

Ruminating in that amniotic sac of thumping sound, an umbilical cord appeared and connected my two losses separated by 30 years. The band stepped onto the stage. Guitar and piano chords crashed over us and lifted us on that wave.

No one used an inch of seat for the next two hours—not until Wendy Malvoin sat on a stool to play the ballad, “Sometimes It Snows in April,” and we all sat too.

“Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war”…

Like APH. Then the tears came, and I was not the only one crying in that hall, we were all crying, all purging our grief for whatever we’d lost. The last chord of Tracy’s song was still reverberating when Doctor Fink began to intone:

“Dearly beloved / We are gathered here today /
To get through this thing called life”…

As one we grievers rose from our seats, and joined the chorus—

“Are we gonna let the elevator / Bring us down / Oh, no let’s go! / Let’s go crazy / Let’s get nuts!”

 

The house lights came up. Crowded together, we pushed through the narrow lobby out into our lives. I bicycled home as a moon just past full rose, golden and huge on the horizon. I felt different—connected. As if in the dream I was clothed again. In purple.

There are signs of APH members keeping our community alive, without the umbrella of a formal nonprofit association. People have been tapping me, as a past president, to lead the formation of something. For now I am declining—out of respect for the recently dissolved, and for my own rebirth.

It’s a different world, without the trade association formerly known as APH. But the sky still arcs overhead. People still connect. And the soundtrack still tells the stories.

© 2017 Sarah White

 

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Looking for an Encore Career? Start a Personal History Business

by Sarah White

Originally published February 3, 2016 on the Association of Personal Historians blog.

Millions of Baby Boomers are reaching traditional retirement age with an unprecedented bonus of relatively vigorous years ahead. In response, many of us are reaching for an “encore career”—a term that has come to mean applying the seasoned skills and experience of older people for social impact. Starting a personal history practice offers an attractive encore career for Boomers in search of flexible, self-directed work that serves a purpose and feeds a passion while creating a bridge from past employment to full retirement.

Combining purpose, passion and a paycheck

A MetLife study from 2011 estimated that roughly 31 million Americans ages 44 to 70 are interested in encore careers. What are we looking for?

  • Income that will help us postpone claiming Social Security
  • Flexible scheduling that allows us to pursue hobbies and manage our responsibilities
  • Opportunity to meet a community need or social challenge

Many will find the encore career they seek through taking a job with a business or nonprofit organization. But according to that MetLife study, nearly half (48%) say they are interested in becoming entrepreneurs. A follow-up survey  found that among those potential encore entrepreneurs, two in three would consider their ventures worthwhile if they earned less than $60,000 a year. Nearly one in five said earning less than $20,000 would meet their definition of worthwhile.

The social impact of personal history work is easy to imagine and research is beginning to back up that instinct. Improved physical and emotional wellbeing of those who participate in sharing memories is one result; increased resilience in children and adolescents who know their family stories is another. The transfer of core values has preserved family wealth and sustained family businesses through succession to the next generation. Reduced isolation and depression among the elderly is perhaps the most easily observed of these impacts. Anyone who wants to improve the experience of older people in their community will find an opportunity to make a difference in a personal history encore career.

The business of personal history 

So what, exactly, do personal historians do? We help our clients record, preserve, and share their stories. These are often the stories of individuals and families, but we also work with community groups, religious organizations, companies, and institutions. The products of our work take many forms—from printed books to video or audio recordings, or increasingly, digital archives that collect a family’s stories, photos, and other precious mementos online.

Unlike genealogists, personal historians frequently research and write about people who are still alive. We step into our clients’ lives for a time, encouraging them to reminisce about events and experiences, and capture observations and lessons to create a legacy for generations to come.

We typically work alone or with two or three partners or employees. Many of us come from backgrounds in counseling, healthcare, journalism, history, or marketing communications. Some of us have been entrepreneurs in our previous careers, but many of us find that starting a business is another of the skills we need to learn, along with the technical specialties required to deliver high-quality products in our chosen media.

Association of Personal Historians to the rescue

Building a personal history practice can take several years, as it takes time to learn the skills and become known in our communities. But that’s part of what makes it a good fit as an encore career. Boomers frequently make this career transition gradually, winding down prior employment while ramping up a personal history practice.

Many intentionally design their businesses to be part time. A 2014 survey by Encore.org found that “encore careerists” on average work about twenty-one hours a week, and anticipate devoting five to fourteen years to their encore careers.  That is consistent with the experience of APH members, many of whom design part-time businesses they intend to run for a decade or more.

Thanks to a vibrant annual conference, online education program, and engaged membership, APH has become the premier community for sharing best practices and specialized knowledge about personal history.*

There has never been a better time to start your encore career as a personal historian. Not only does the tsunami of retiring Baby Boomers create a rapidly growing market of consumers for our services, but APH offers members marketing aids to get their businesses up and running, including a Personal History Marketing Video.

 

Encores are for everyone

People who are now considering encore careers span the full educational and economic spectrum, the 2014 Encore.org report states. The opportunity to start a personal history business in your life’s next chapter is open to anyone interested in finding satisfying work, self-expression, and a meaningful contribution to society. Diverse populations need their stories preserved and will be likely to choose the services of someone with cultural competency in their particular background.

“I love that I get to be a witness, to watch history come alive as people share their stories!” is a comment typical of personal historians, when asked about their profession. Could this be the encore career for you? Contact me to find out more at sarah.white@firstpersonprod.com.

 ~  ~  ~

*On April 28, 2017 the Board of Directors of the Association of Personal Historians voted to conclude operations. Trends affecting many professional associations, including the ability to network and educate oneself using free and low-cost online platforms, spelled the end of this group, which I had served in numerous volunteer capacities since 2002, including as its president 2012-2015. “APH had served its purpose–to advance the profession of helping individuals, organizations, and communities preserve their stories– many times over,” wrote the Board in its final message to APH members.

Broad recognition of the importance of saving life stories has emerged and is garnering more media attention with every passing month. There is truly no time like the present to start an encore career as a personal historian. But to my great sadness, future “newbies” will no longer find content and community under the welcoming umbrella of APH.

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Don’t forget to write!

The desire for self-expression is hardwired into us humans, it would seem–as this beech tree in southern Indiana bears evidence!

Mostly I tend to complain about growing up in central Indiana (so flat! so conservative!) but every Spring I get the urge to drive south until I find a beech woods and an understory in full ephemeral wildflower glory. (So beautiful! And so much sooner than Wisconsin!)

I am just back from one such pilgrimage, and it left me speechless…. in other words, shy of  a “true story well told” to post this morning. It’s time for self-expression–yours.

Here are the guidelines for submissions to True Stories Well Told.  Throw a story my way–send to sarah.white@firstpersonprod.com.

  • Sarah White
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Hope

by Paul Ketterer

In 1957, my family made one of several spring break trips south, this one to Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was one year after the integration of Little Rock Central High, most of which went right by my awareness in my secure northern culture. Being 11 had something to do with it as well. On this trip, my parents included a tour of the State capitol building in Little Rock, as well as museums and other historical sites. My brother and I both distinctly remember the shock we felt turning a corner and seeing the rest room:

Men

White Men Only

I can’t remember whatever explanation my parents made, only the loss of innocence. There were three African American students in my 20-student 5th grade class, just like the rest of us. I had no previous awareness that the world they encountered was different from mine. In the following year, other “negro” students came to our school as a result of “urban renewal” in central Madison. I was in college before a research project for a social work class taught me of the “Negro removal” nature of that process.

One such student became a close playmate on the playground and in frequent visits to my home. I never wondered why I never was invited to his. I lived across from the school, he almost a mile away, and I guess I just put it down to that. He was an unusually gifted athlete, most unusually because he was thin to the point of appearing emaciated, while being amazingly coordinated and able to jump twice as high as any of the rest of us. We enjoyed basketball together in after school sports and on the playground.

In the eighth grade, I somehow began to overcome a social isolation and get involved at parties and sports with the more popular kids. One in particular had been a best friend, and we played basketball at his place most days after school till dark. One day, “J” joined us and we had a great time. The next day, the host friend told me his mother didn’t want any “darkies” around. I was told I had to inform my friend that he couldn’t join us anymore. Out of my insecurity I did so. I still remember every word said and every expression on his face. Few experiences changed my life more. Incredibly, he remained my friend through high school. I wish I still had contact so I could finally apologize, belatedly and inadequately.

As a freshman at UW-Madison, in 1964, I found myself active in support of the US involvement in the Vietnam conflict and circulated a petition to that effect. At that time, there was not much clarity on the scope of conflict, the corruption of the South Vietnamese government, of the nationalistic nature of the Viet Cong. We were heirs of the McCarthy era, the space race and cold war images of Communism. In my physics class a fellow student, a nun,  spent some calm and considerable time giving me a much belated history lesson, with some excellent theology attached. As I remember, I did not turn the petition in. At the end of the semester, I turned in the Air Force uniform I had been given as a part of Intro to ROTC. (I did get to keep the hat, with which my nephews played.) I did learn to line up the buttons on my shirt with the fly in my pants in that class, which I diligently follow to this day. My pacifism grew with reading of Gandhi and King, and eventual involvement in protests.

In the course of those days, I became involved in a campus religious center, grew deep relationships, and found a growing desire to live “helpfully”. The clergy I encountered seemed to be doing the kinds of things I wished, so I made a tentative commitment to seminary. The first place I applied as a Junior, partially because it was the denominational school, and because pre-enrollment earned me a 4D draft status. I visited a seminary in Boston that Spring break, with a friend considering Harvard for grad school. I also spent a weekend at the University of Chicago Divinity School, which had a high academic rating, and more important, a socially involved curriculum. There were three of four getting the tour and meeting faculty. An option early Saturday morning was to attend a meeting of Operation Breadbasket in the school’s hall, led by a student who never graduated, but was ordained anyway, Jesse Jackson. Being the only white attendee among a couple hundred black activists was humbling and inspiring.

In my first few years in the church, the beginning of the 70s, the new experience of clergywomen brought the issue of language to awareness–and controversy. This one was easy to see: how exclusively male pronouns and references rendered women invisible and powerless. All it took was having it pointed out to me and I changed my speaking as quickly as I could, finding a Bible paraphrase with inclusive language produced by an Episcopal church in Washington, DC.

As I became aware of the bias and violence against LGBT persons, I participated in action within the local church as well as the general church for affirmation and inclusion.

The point of this rambling is that personal and institutional change is possible. Even in the situation our culture faces today. It only requires a capacity for empathy and compassion. I believe this is a trait of most people, the only exception being a few psychopaths. Fear blocks these capacities. Secondly, community is required, so that fear may fade and love increase. Thirdly, truth is required, so that justice may be clear.

Gandhi said that “truth is truth, though I be a minority of one.” Therein is hope, for empathy, community and truth all exist. Sometimes the journey is lonely, sometimes exhausting, sometimes filled with beauty. We are avid fans of Peter, Paul and Mary. My favorite of all their songs: “Sweet Survivor”.

You have asked me why the days fly by so quickly

And why each one feels no different from the last

And you say that you are fearful for the future

And you have grown suspicious of the past

And you wonder if the dreams we shared together

Have abandoned us or we abandoned them

And you cast about and try to find new meaning

So that you can feel that closeness once again.

Carry on my sweet survivor, carry on my lonely friend

Don’t give up on the dream, and don’t you let it end.

Carry on my sweet survivor,

Though you know that something’s gone

For everything that matters carry on.

You remember when you felt each person mattered

When we all had to care or all was lost

But now you see believers turn to cynics

And you wonder was the struggle worth the cost

Then you see someone too young to know the difference

And a veil of isolation in their eyes

And inside you know you’ve got to leave them something

Or the hope for something better slowly dies.

Carry on my sweet survivor, carry on my lonely friend

Don’t give up on the dream, and don’t you let it end.

Carry on my sweet survivor, you’ve carried it so long

So it may come again, carry on

Carry on, carry on.

Addendum:

This is my chosen attitude, with one caveat.

Isaac Asimov wrote a classic trilogy: FOUNDATION. Without pretending to be, it is a treatise on cultural and governmental theory. He later added prequel and sequel volumes. In the books, a mathematical process has been developed to predict history, and to provide direction for intervention to control the future. All goes well for the plan to return civilization and galactic empire after anarchy. Till a mutant leader with mind-control power upsets the plan.

Some of what is going on in our culture is off the course of my systems understanding, and my observation of political behavior. What happens if power is given to insanity?

It’s just not waste effort on what I cannot change, and invest all the love I have on what I can.

 © 2017 Paul Ketterer.

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When the Cash Goes Marching In

By Kelly Sauvage Angel

Tonight, I’m doing a bit of laundry and becoming reacquainted with my cats. After all, I rolled back into town just a couple of hours ago, having spent the weekend at The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. I must admit, I already miss the spontaneous performance of music, the embraces of kind strangers, and the wide smile I carried upon my own face from the time I arrived in The Big Easy to the moment I left.

Beyond the hum of the dryer, my neighborhood is silent. There’s not a spontaneous act of creativity to be had tonight beyond the four walls that I and my cohorts can just barely afford—that is, until our rents increase at the end of our leases, when we’ll have no choice but to leave the neighborhood we once called home. Sure, a windfall for one becomes the displacement of another. I get that. But, it’s the loss of local flavor and the sacrificing of community that I mourn above all else, as well as the new-found air of civility that naturally accompanies gentrification, which sucks the fun—and honesty—out of just about everything, no matter how much money one drops on dinner.

 

My memories from the weekend include more laughter than I can recall in this lifetime. Even when tackling challenging topics, the panels at the conference remained warm, respectful and lively. While stowing our bags prior to check-in, the porter insisted on giving my shoes a quick polish after finding me and my road-brined boots to be nothing less than a “hot mess.” When my girlfriend received an impromptu backrub on the street, she reciprocated in kind.

Over several days, we heard the stories of those with whom we became acquainted through our mutual passion for the written word, advocacy, and an authentic way of being but more so through the serendipity of being at the same place at the same time. Simply breathing the same air was enough of a reason to establish meaningful connection. In fact, each and every moment provided an opportunity for the celebration of our humanity—the sharing of our struggles as well our successes, the indulgence in jokes as well as drinks. Mind you, I won’t be found stumbling down Bourbon Street with a fishbowl-sized Hurricane in my hands, but when on Frenchmen Street or anywhere else in the French Quarter, there’s no denying that I’ll be taking in the local music scene while enjoying a Pimm’s Cup or a well-crafted Cognac Sazerac.

Which brings me to the music. In a city that rings with the sounds of buskers, brass bands, and jazz/blues clubs, how can one possibly remain mired within the myopic fretting for oneself?

While listening to a musician (who likely can’t imagine the luxury of being approved for the mortgage that others wish they didn’t have to pay) pouring the contents of his or her soul into an instrument for the sheer passion of playing, surrounded by the diversity and camaraderie of so many others in the room, we begin to remember what it is to fully engage in shared experience, to enjoy the sensation of goosebumps rising from our skin, and to perceive all that is transpiring around us through a much broader lens.

Just to be clear, it’s not solely about having fun. Good Lord, let us need no reminder as to how resilient the people of New Orleans can be. Rather, those deeply-held values for self-expression and a vibrant community life serve as both a catalyst and a fruit borne of the same.

To name the celebration of life as uncivilized or frivolous when there’s money to be made is to promote the very way of being that has pushed the artists from my neighborhood, silenced the laughter as well as the dialogue, and made “homogenous” synonymous with worthy, correct and upstanding. Sure, it may get a little messy; life has a tendency to do that when it’s well-lived. But, if we turn a deaf ear to the music, how can we possibly hear the voices of others who also have something of import to say?

 

 © 2017 Kelly Sauvage Angel

A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in literature, Kelly Sauvage Angel is the author of Om Namah… (published under Kalyanii), a collection of poetry, two stage plays, dozens of short stories and hundreds of articles. After surrendering to the healing touch of her massage therapist and downing a couple anti-inflammatories after dance class, she most enjoys wiling away her free time manifesting her culinary inspirations and reveling amid the magnificence of nature. 

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How to Give Feedback

“The piece I read to the writing group didn’t receive the response I expected.”

“I gave my memoir to my children and I didn’t hear anything back from them. Not a word.”

I hear these kinds of comments more often than you might think. Today, I decided to reflect on that, and share some advice on how to give feedback to other writers–and how to ask for it, yourself.

We all arrive at moments in our writing process when we want to share our work for feedback. It’s hard to find good readers, hard to give useful feedback, and hard to revise based on feedback that leaves you confused or uncertain what direction to go next.

Asking for feedback–or being asked to give it–raises complicated feelings!

When I review a piece of reminiscence writing, the first thing I do is read it through start to finish, no red pen in hand. I just observe my reactions to it. How does my heart feel? Where do I feel a pulse quickening, where do I feel lost in abstract thought?

Then I go back through it, assessing the clarity of the writing. Could I tell what was happening, moment by moment, scene by scene? Did I know what I needed to know, when I needed to know it? Is there anything about the structure of the piece that is working particularly well, or particularly poorly?

Finally, I go through it one more time, this time reacting at a sentence level. Are there great word choices, active verbs, ones that create scenes in my mind? Which of the writer’s tools has this author used well–like metaphor and simile, or humor, or description, or characterization?

From these musings, I try to distill some helpful critique I can offer. I try to include some pep talk for the person, but mostly, I focus on talking about the work itself. I offer specific observations about what I find good, what is not working for me, and what I would do next if I were the one sitting down to revise the piece.

Here’s the thing about giving feedback, when we’re dealing with true stories well told, the real stuff of life: It is incredibly hard to separate the storyteller from the story. It’s hard to focus on the writing when the subject matter is weird, wonderful, human lives.

But a writer needs to hear “You wrote that well (or poorly),” not “You lived through that–incredible!”

Below is a handout I use in my workshops , to help get a group of writers ready to give each other useful feedback. As for the other, deeper problem of showing your writing to your family and hearing nothing back–You could make it easier for your readers by giving them this handout. After all, the people you’re showing your memoir to probably have zero experience giving writing feedback. Be clear with them about what would be helpful for you to hear.

There’s one more thing I tell my writers… if you share your reminiscence writing with someone and they respond by telling a memory of their own, count it a win. You moved their heart.

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