Sunday, July 16, 2017
This memoir is dedicated to our beloved teacher Emily Aulicino and to all my memoir mates: past, present and future.
In July of 2012, I apprehensively walked into a room at the Woodstock Community Center for my first memoir writing class. I had no idea what to expect or what kind of people I would encounter. The only thing of which I was certain is that it was a class for seniors 55 plus-old people just like me. I have always liked to write, but that was not my primary motivation for seeking out this venue. I was just beginning the process of integrating back into a more active life style after a ten-month forced hiatus spent recovering from a severely fractured femur in my right arm. Due to my prolonged inactivity and isolation from the real word, I had about lost my mind. At this point, I was simply looking for something to do. The original plan was to take an eight-week session and then move on to greener pastures. That obviously did not happen. Five years later, I find myself sitting in the same seat in the same room, with some of the same people I met that very first day. I call this group my Wednesday Family, and what a blessing they have all been!
Throughout the years, I have had the honor of sharing my Wednesday afternoons with an extraordinary group of amazing people that not only have enriched my life, but also helped me evolve into a better version of myself. The compassion, empathy, and acceptance of this group have allowed me to safely navigate the murky waters of the past and re-emerge into the sunshine of the present day. Their unbiased viewpoints and loving support have given me the courage to develop a clearer more realistic positive perspective of past events. My memoir mates’ life experiences and wisdom have empowered me move forward, and I now think beyond the regrets and “what ifs” that plagued my life for so many years. I will always be grateful for their contributions big and small and for touching my life and heart.
Our teacher, mentor, and dear friend Emily is the glue that holds our group together. She is our foundation, our cheerleader, our parent when we get rowdy and need to be refocused on the task, our preposition police, and so much more. For years, she has unselfishly dedicated her time to introducing countless people to the art of memoir writing so that their memories can be preserved and passed on to future generations. What a priceless and precious gift! Emily’s insight, knowledge, life experience, her passion for the process, and guidance inspire us all as writers and people. She is the master gardener of memoir writing class. We could not do it without her. We love and appreciate you Emily and thank you for all you do and for caring enough to keep the group going!
One of the other great benefits of memoir class is the lunches. The morning class meets from 10-12 p.m. and the afternoon group from 1-3 p.m. From 12-1 p.m., both classes congregate at a local establishment to share an afternoon meal. It is great fun, and there are many lively and interesting conversations going on all at the same time, punctuated with constant bursts of laughter. The morning crew is just as diverse and remarkable as the afternoon gang, and it is a joy to be able to spend time with them. Because of these lunches, both groups have morphed into one big extended family. We have all become so much more than just a memoir writing class!
People come to memoir writing class for many different reasons. Each person brings with them their own unique voice, perspective, and agenda. The presentations range from chronological histories to humorous anecdotes that have us laughing nonstop to tear jerking tragedies that break our hearts and humble us as human beings. This class is our safe haven where one can confess their deepest darkest secrets and face their demons surrounded by love and support. You will always be embraced, never judged, nor criticized. This group knows more about me than my own family does. I trust them unconditionally. I can be vulnerable with them, and that is rare for me. An indescribable bond forms between the participants that is irrefutable.
Many times, at the beginning of a new session, Emily asks us all to introduce ourselves and give a brief synopsis of our backgrounds. She also asks us to explain why we are taking the class and what we hope to accomplish. I cannot remember what I said that very first day five years ago, but I hope I did not embarrass myself by saying I was bored and looking for something to do! It may have started out that way, but it has become so much more. Five years later, I am finally able to answer that question. Yes, I like to write, and it gives me the creative outlet I desire. The process stimulates me intellectually, and at my age that is vital to my mental well-being, but those are not the main reasons. I am able to say beyond the shadow of a doubt that for me writing these memoirs is about uncovering and rediscovering my own personal truth. It’s about the process of becoming “unplugged” from certain past events. I am here to free myself so that I can live out my remaining years with a new lease and outlook on life. I am here to make peace and to forgive myself for my mistakes. I am here to re-create my past so that I will be remembered and not be forgotten. I am here to unveil the real me!
I recently read an article by Dr. Terrie W. called, “Where do you live? “Terrie is a career Naval emergency room doctor, an accomplished author, an ultra-marathoner, and my best friend from high school. She recently suffered a series of major health setbacks almost dying three times. This set her on an intense soul-searching mission as she pondered what was holding her back from accepting and embracing her new normal in life after being forced to give up so many of the things she loved to do. She wanted to give up and even contemplated suicide. She had never been a quitter but felt hopeless and defeated. As a child, she had been raised to believe that if things looked bleak then they were worse than you imagined and to expect a bad outcome. Terrie fell into this rabbit hole and could not find her way out. She wrote:
“There are three places we live but you can ping pong between them faster than a ping pong ball. There is the past, present and future. Most people live mostly in the past or future completely by passing the present. “
She goes on to explain that we let past negative experiences and lessons cloud our minds, our judgment, and our decision-making abilities. For many of us, our past is like quicksand dragging us under, repeatedly sabotaging our progress. As a result, for many, the present gets lost. Terrie calls it being “stuck.” For Terrie, her near-death experiences forced her to refocus on positive energy only and getting ‘’unstuck” from the past. She ended her article with a great quote from Lazarus Lake that states, “Each moment in life only happens once.” Terrie follows this with a weighty question, challenging her readers, “You don’t want to miss that moment, do you?’
After writing this article and identifying the albatross around her neck, she started making great progress. Reading her blog was my “aha moment”, and I finally understood the benefits of memoir writing for me personally and for my family pedigree, present and future.
Memoir writing class helps me come to terms with my own personal truth and enables me to relegate the negativity of past to the past where it belongs. I put it on paper, read it to the class, and it frees me to close the book on that chapter of my life. It is a release and allows me to move forward. I have learned to live in the “here and now” and not to be held hostage by my past mistakes and poor decisions. I forgive myself! My memoirs are my gift to future generations. If one person is impacted, then I will have made a difference.
Why do I write? I want future generations to see me for my humor, intelligence, creativeness, and zany multiple personalities. I want to share with them my remarkable journey working with incarcerated youth. I want to send the message that no one should ever judge a book by its cover. Open the book and read it. You might be surprised. It just might be the best book you ever read! I want people to know that I made many mistakes and some horrendous decisions along the way, but eventually I learned my lessons, turned things around, and am a better person because of it. Failure is a great teaching tool and part of life. Without failure, there can be no success. I own my mistakes and make no excuses. The most important message I want to impart is that life isn’t always fair, but that each moment is a precious gift. Find the humor in every situation and turn those lemons into lemonade!
My Wednesday family is a remarkable assemblage of diversity at its best. I am blessed to be part of this amazing group. I wish everyone could be lucky enough to have a Wednesday family like mine.
July 11, 2017
Thank you, Valerie. No doubt you have inspired others to write their stories!