How to use the blog

Welcome to the Essentials of Memoir Writing course blog!

If you are enrolled in the Essentials of Memoir Writing course, you can use this blog to publish your class assignments and other creative writing.

If you are not part of the course, you can find out more on Creative Writing Now’s online writing courses page.

Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to use the blog.

Just a few rules to keep in mind:

  1. Only post your own original work. You may publish your course exercises or your other creative writing. Please only post work that has not been previously published.
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  3. We reserve the right to remove or edit anything posted here. Please keep a backup copy of your posts.

Happy writing!

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Music-based memoir:

It’s after-lunch recess, 1972, fourth grade, the year we all got yoyos. You could bring your yoyo to school but not take out during class, and even at recess you could only use it on a designated section of the playground, a rough yellow square some teacher has chalked onto the blacktop to keep yoyo-fixated children from bashing their heads on tetherballs or swings. This is also the year we all got transistor radios, brightly-colored plastic ones that toggle from AM to FM and suck AAA batteries dry in a single afternoon.

On this particular day, Bruce Craven has propped his transistor up against his lunchbox while he and I and our classmates Tom and Heidi yoyo within the safety of the yellow chalk square. The Archies are singing“Sugar, Sugar” while I walk-the-dog and sleeper the clunky off-brand yoyo my dad got free with a fill-up at Arco. Bruce and Tom and Heidi all have Duncans, the expensive kind. This will become a theme throughout my childhood – I have shitty offbrand versions of the nicer things my classmates have – but that’s not what this story is about, so let’s not go there.

Bruce and Tom are both lanky and athletic, or at least they will be. As fourth graders they are just learning to use their bodies to compete with other boys. Before yoyos were a thing, Bruce and Tom played basketball at recess, as they will do again when yoyos and even recess are no longer things. And while Heidi and I are also athletic and even competitive in our own way, I am noticing that boys compete differently than girls do. Today, I notice that although Heidi and Tom and Bruce are all far better yoyo-ers than I am, Bruce is the best of the three, and while Heidi and I are trying to get better by copying what Bruce is doing, Tom’s eyes narrow and darken when Bruce executes a hard move well.

To our left, at a safe distance from the yoyo square, a gang of sixth-grade boys is playing kickball, or whatever you call it when the point is to kick the ball as far as you can and make your friends run to get it. It’s a game that seems to be fun if you’re the kicker but loses appeal quickly if you’re not. So when the song on Bruce’s radio changes, the non-kicking boys are quick to invent a new game to fit the song.

The new song is about being dizzy: “I’m so dizzy, my head is spinning/Like a whirlpool it never ends/And it’s you, girl, making me spin/I’m so dizzy …” One of the sixth-grade boys, a kid with freckles and jug ears, dances to the tinny music while spinning around in circles to make himself dizzy. The game begins when another boy suddenly grabs the spinning freckled boy around the middle, Heimlich-style, knocking the wind out of him. The other boys all laugh and cheer as the freckled boy crumples, panting, to his knees. Suddenly all the sixth-grade boys are spinning and shouting about whose turn it is to be Heimlich-ed next.

The sixth-grade boys are loud and their new game looks fun, so Bruce and Tom and Heidi and I pocket our yoyos and leave the yellow-chalked yoyo area to give this new spinning game a try.

Heidi and I spin slowly, to see how it feels. But as the dizzy songs speeds up, Bruce shoots Tom a watch this look and begins to spin hard and fast.. Tom stands still, watching, his arms folded, his eyes very narrow and very dark. Bruce’s head is titled up and he’s laughing as he spins. His Chuck Taylors slap the ground as he turns, and he looks like a whirling Dervish, or would if I’d known in the fourth grade what a whirling Dervish was.
When Bruce starts to tire and begins to slow, Tom suddenly charges him, locks both arms around his stomach, and pulls in hard. Unlike the freckled sixth-grade boy, though, Bruce doesn’t crumple hilariously to his knees, but instead topples straight forward, slamming face-first into the pavement like a downed tree. Once down, he doesn’t get up, doesn’t move or make a sound. Blood oozes out into a pool around his planted face.

Tom and Heidi and the sixth-grade boys freeze. Nobody knows what to do.

Somehow, I do not freeze, and I do know what to do. I race to the office to get the school nurse, Mrs. Weinman, whose youngest son Carl is in our class and plays basketball with Bruce and Tom. I’m sure that Mrs. Weinman, who has four older sons, knows about the things boys do when their eyes get narrow and dark.

I tell her we were playing Dizzy, Tom hurt Bruce, and Bruce fell.

Mrs. Weinman grabs her first-aid kit and runs faster than I can back to where Bruce lies. Kneeling, she turns him over gently and cradles his head in her lap. Bruce’s nose is caved in and bleeding and there are pieces of his teeth stuck in the blacktop, but he’s breathing. He moans softly as Mrs. Weinman presses gauze pads to his broken lip and nose.

Mrs. Weinman looks Tom in the eye and says, firmly, “Never again.”

Forty years later, Bruce is fine, a handsome man with no visible scars. He and Tom remain friends; if there was an again, I was not privy to it.

But I am scarred, musically speaking. I can’t hear either “Sugar, Sugar” or “Dizzy” without flashing back to a bloody playground and the acrid stench of testosterone.

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A Trip I Took

The first time I ever went to Williamsburg, VA was at the age of 20. It was a band trip with the Union City Elks Fife and Drum Corp. that I belonged to. It was a competition and muster with mostly colonial and other bands from around the nation. In addition to the competition, it was also a celebration of our country’s 200 year anniversary.

            The first day we got there, we participated in a parade down the Duke of Gloucester Street ending up on the grounds of the Armory where we had to stand at attention and be judged. I remember it being so hot and seeing several people passing out in the heat.  Our instructor and band parents kept coming around giving us water to stay hydrated and make sure we were okay.

            There was a particular band that did something that I thought was quite entertaining and a lot of fun.  As we all stood around watching everyone playing their songs after the competition was completed, someone in the crowd shouted something. (I don’t remember what) and a group dressed in civil war uniforms came running out of the crowd from different directions and gathered in the center of the crown and began playing the music from the old TV show F Troop. It was really fun and exciting to watch.

            After the competition and parades were over, we were allowed to explore the sites. We did a tour of the Governor’s Palace, which was very impressive. They even took us down to the kitchen and showed us how the food was prepared and brought to the main hall for the many extravagant dances, parties, and celebrations that were held at the palace. It was very interesting.

            We explored all the historical buildings and participated with the interpreters as they told the story of the person they were portraying. It truly felt like we were back in the 18th century. I learned a lot on that trip and it really put me on the path of enjoying history as I had never done in school.

            At the end of our weekend trip, we were taken to the banks of the Potomac River opposite the Lincoln (or Jefferson) memorial (Can’t remember which) where they had a wonderful show with movies of historical events and a laser light show, complete with colonial-era music and we even got to see the Old Guard. This is the group that was started as Marines back in the days of George Washington and today is still active, especially in National Ceremonies. They are the official guard to the president and partake in many activities around the country dressed in period costume of the revolutionary wartime. They are very precision-oriented and play authentic fife and drum music that was played during the Revolutionary Era. They are truly a joy to watch. 

            This trip had made me into a history buff.

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Lesson One – remembering the scenario around listening to a piece of music

Saturday morning, Phoebe Snow’s Poetry Man playing on a turntable as I sing along and clean the NYC apartment I still dream about almost 50 years later. A rent subsidised tenement in the upper east side, so old the wooden floors tilted downward. A bathtub in the kitchen. A neighbor I never saw whose maniacal laugh could often be heard in the hallway. A graceful mantle in the parlor; my grass green colored rug, my books, and my plants. The satisfaction I felt after everything was put in order.

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Half Sheets scene

The dormitory was an old business building. The hallway lights always seemed dim. The washers and dryers were running loudly as he came walking down the stairs from the second floor. I was carrying several books, my purse and backpack. I had been studying in the library. He kept repeating my name as he walked down the concrete steps. He was carrying a bottle of liquor and was consistently saying my name. He had just received word that I achieved a higher test score on an exam, and he was done with me.

The R.A. came out of her room and told me to lock the door as I entered mine. He told the R.A. to get away from my door. He told the R.A. he was going to handle this his way. He asked the R.A. if she was going to be part of the lynch mob. The R.A. said no and reminded him that he was drunk. The R.A. told him to go back to his room and sleep it off. He refused and rammed his body against my door. I reached for my pepper spray and aimed it at the door. The R.A. called for a couple of others to help him to his room and assured me it was safe. The R.A. called one of the administrators to talk to him and he was reminded what he needed to concentrate on. He was never reprimanded. He never apologized. The administration did not do anything to protect me from physical harm. I was never reassured, and I carried pepper spray with me at all times. I never walked anywhere alone after that night.

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Conflicts

Internal conflict

-What would Jesus do?

-I am an adult. How do I respond like one?

-Struggle with do I stay or do I leave?

External conflict

-Pressure to leave

-half sheets

-Financial issues

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“You are in the wrong place!”

One of the first conversations I had with one of my colleagues in seminary started with the words, “You are in the wrong place!” This woman came running up to me from the opposite side of the grounds half out of breath to inform me that the housekeeping meeting had been moved from one building to another and she assumed I was a member of the housekeeping staff because as I discovered later, I was not white. When she finally caught her breath and was able to say: “The housekeeping meeting was moved to the other building.” I said, “I’m not here for the housekeeping meeting. I am here for orientation. This is my first day. I am a new seminarian.” Her response was, “Impossible.” She ran ahead of me to gather others and tell them I was to be their colleague…

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Half Sheets (part 2)

For Lesson 2:

Moving from Chicago, IL to Alexandria, VA

-segregation in 2003

-Did the Civil War end?

-Race, theology, immigration, integration

-If you are a member of a minority, you must work in a kitchen or a hotel.

Perceptions

-Overlooked

-Dishonored

-Mistreated

-Continually threatened

Fear

-Pepper spray

-Adam sleeping outside my door

-Blocking my dorm room door with a chair.

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Half Sheets

I wanted to write a memoir about the first time I experienced racism. It was my first time away from the Chicagoland area. I moved to northern Virginia to attend seminary. I thought I would be spending time with like-minded theology students who were preparing themselves for lives in ministry. In many ways, I was mistaken. This has been a very emotional process for me as I remember how much I was rejected by my peers. One of them told me he did not know what to do with me. He said that because I did not look black, he couldn’t call me a nigger. He said on the other hand that I didn’t look white either. I had long dark brown hair and eyes to match with light olive skin. In my mind, I always looked Spanish and I could not understand why it mattered so much to this fellow student. From him, I found out why I was outcast, overlooked by professors and administrators alike for two and a half years.

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The weekend was I can remember

The weekend was very eventful for me, That weekend like I am going to short courses  in Sydney and I got up early in the morning, Life will never be the same. I used to wake up bit late and that weekend I have to wake up at three am like Frist train after three am. After that  I take train to go to the Sydney central station, then I went to the bus stop to go to the hotel. On the bus it was long journey but air-condition was good like bus journey was good. Then I go to the hotel and rest little bit then I went to shopping centre to buy some food and I went back to the hotel.  I have dinner at night and food was delicious.

Next day I went to the class all day it was good and my exam was afternoon and I get less numbers then pass mark due to language difficulties or I should read  books month before I think but I just read few hours . Then I got back to the hotel to have a rest  then I went to the bus stop and took the bus to catch the train to get back home.

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City to Farm Girl

All of my early memories were of living in a town or city. My mother drove us for visits to her sister's farm in Cartwright, Manitoba, Canada...just across the line from Devils Lake, Noth Dakota where we lived. The road was unpaved with huge ruts in it. Getting stuck wasn't unusual. At her farm, my Aunt Gertie had wonderful food for us to eat and we played outside getting into mischief at times. Once I took a basket and gathered eggs. I brought them to the house and proudly displayed them, but my Uncle Roy was very displeased that I had taken eggs he was planning to have hatched. Later we saw where in his anger he had thrown the eggs against an inside barn wall. We slid down piles of hay and found out that wasn't a good idea either. My Aunt, had to work very hard on their farm and I decided that being a farm wife wouldn't be my lives ambition. There was a big plow horse called Bruce and it was fun to take rides on him. They were short rides with everyone watching we city kids trying to hold on. I think Uncle Roy was probably happy when we left their farm. The visit lasted two weeks and is one of my favorite memories.
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