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.
  2. Please do not use this blog for advertising or propaganda. Please do not include any links in your posts or comments.
  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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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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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…

Posted in Lesson 3 | 2 Comments

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.





-Continually threatened


-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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Who Am I?

My mother chose to raise me after I was born to another. I am not sure it was the right choice for her as she was raised in a family of anger, distance and a myriad of dysfunctional behaviors.

I didn’t learn of my adoption until I was 51 years old. I needed my birth certificate to apply for a passport. She said she would send me a copy. A few days later she called to tell me she had mailed me a packet of information. “I sent you a newspaper article about Kent Hrbeck, my favorite Minnesota Twins player, your birth certificate, ‘You’re adopted you know,’ and a recipe for fish boil.”

I learned the specifics of my birth sandwiched in between a sports figure and a method for preparing fish! My head was reeling, my heart pounding and my hands were wet with perspiration.

It was clear that my adoptive mother felt passionate about keeping this secret from me. I chose to honor her wishes and never spoke of it again while she was alive.

While my mom was difficult, she expressed her love as best she could. She was married to a raging alcoholic who kept her in fear all the time. When my father would come home from a night of drinking, he would always want me near him. She would make me sleep on the floor next to his bed so, when he called out for me in his drunken stupor, I was there to calm him.

In her final years, I had to confine my mother to a nursing home because of advanced dementia and, ultimately, cancer. She became more and more abusive to me, making it clear that her role as my mother was one she had never wanted.

I always fantasized about my birth parents. I wondered if they were good people, did they regret putting me up for adoption? Did they ever think of me and what my future held?

After her death, I needed to find answers. I knew one person who could fill in the holes of my life that were so empty to me. I called her, and she did confirm the circumstances surrounding my adoption. She provided me with my actual adoption papers stating the names of my birth parents. To my surprise and disappointment, learned that I was born to a woman who I only knew as my cousin. Mine was an intrafamily adoption, my mother offering to take me from her unwed niece as her own.

I know these people! I used to babysit their son and twin daughters!
Wait a minute. These are my twin sisters and my brother!
My birth father was a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, serving on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, DC. My birth mother was a meticulously dressed woman who never left her home without full makeup, well-coiffed and nails done. Staunch Catholics, they had a Mass at their wedding; my birth mother beautiful in her virginal white satin wedding gown and lace veil.

Here I am surviving a childhood of fear, exposure to the violence of alcoholism, lack of demonstrable love from both parents and feeling that, if I was going to be anything or have anything, I was going to make it happen on my own.

And I did.

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The Lessons of Adolescence

Looking back at my years in junior high school from the view of a 79-year-old woman is filled with bittersweet memories. I couldn’t wear pants to school despite living in Minnesota. My music teacher used to play the piano at the movies before “talkies” arrived and class consisted of singing the old songs of her time. Learning to stay clear of my homeroom teacher, “Spitting Katie”, who had a space between her front teach which resulted in her spraying on you when speaking. Helping my boyfriend set type for the school newspaper which required setting each letter in a wooden frame that had separations for each column and had to be then tightened by huge handles that kept the letters in place. We then mounted this frame into a machine that resembled a thrashing machine which then individually printed each page by the operator raising and lowering a crank. The most vivid memory of my junior high school last year is being my English teacher’s “teacher’s pet”. He also organized the lunchtime activities in the school gym. My girlfriend and I were invited by this teacher to join him in the audiovisual room above the gym to play records for those dancing in the gym. My girlfriend was far more savvy about the ways of the world, but when the teacher wanted to dance with me I had no idea what his groping my buttocks and his arousal meant or have the courage to confront this authority figure. Being very naive for my age, I was afraid to refuse his continued invitations. Only now do I know the effect those impressionable years had on me.

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