Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Memoir Writing: Is It Worth the Trouble? by Sonia Goodman (Guest Blog)

Last week I had the pleasure of reconnecting over tea in Toronto with five former workshop participants, Bernie, Celine, Margaret, Stan and Sonia. After attending a workshop series I led at North York Central Library in June 2007, these five eagerly banded together to form their own writers group, which they dubbed the WALRUS Club. They had got along well in my workshops and felt that by meeting regularly at one another's homes they could sustain the momentum and encourage one another to continue writing.

They kept in touch with me over the following months and I was interested in their progress. At some point I casually mentioned to Bernie that if they succeeded in keeping the WALRUS Club going for more than a year (an accomplishment, it seemed to me!), I would love to meet with them to hear about their experience in the group and give them some informal feedback on their writing projects. Bernie wasn't about to let me forget my promise -- and I'm glad of that!

Their projects turned out to be more varied than I could have imagined. Most recently, Celine has been working on a children's novella, Stan on a speech introduction, Margaret on her memoirs (she's also developing a children's picture book), Bernie on a film treatment (he's also self-publishing a book of limericks), and Sonia on the moving personal essay she's agreed to allow me to share with you below. All five say that taking the memoir workshop inspired them, though not all have continued with memoir as their chosen form. I say: writing is writing! And it fascinates me that each of these people has gravitated toward different forms of creative written expression. If it's my workshops that inspired them initially, it's their own enthusiasm and dedication to helping one another that's kept them experimenting and evolving as writers.

Sonia's piece is both memoir and a reflection on the importance of memoir, as you'll see.


Memoir Writing: Is It Worth the Trouble?

by Sonia Goodman

In June 2007 I attended a memoir writing workshop at the North Toronto Library. This course was given by Allyson Latta. Apparently many people had telephoned in response to the advert in the paper, and as it was also advertised in "What’s On?" in the library system, we were all told that it was oversubscribed. So I was delighted, after a few weeks, to receive a phone call to tell me that I had been accepted -- and was asked if I was serious about participating. I agreed that I was, and promised to attend regularly.

I enthusiastically showed up and learned so much from the four lectures and exercises. After this, spurred on by Celine, 5 of us, from a class of about 20, decided that we wanted to continue meeting regularly, to try and encourage each other, hopefully to give and receive constructive advice, and presuming that a time frame would keep us working more diligently. Our selection method for this very elite set was a little unorthodox, but we ended up by becoming the group we wanted.

Over the last 18 months it has been so interesting to discover so much about each other, our talents, strengths and weaknesses, and to have formed this tightly-knit quintet -- caring and supportive. It has not always been easy to find a date and a satisfactory time that was mutually suitable, but we somehow muddled along and usually arrived on time, clutching our work -- straight off the press or, literally, the computer!

Over the last few months, however, possibly because my life has been so nomadic and disorganized, I have been seriously questioning whether it was really worth the trouble. No one in my family seemed especially interested in what I was doing, memoir writing, so why knock myself out doing something that was worthless?

On the 2nd of November my husband -- or more correctly my ex-husband -- Sidney, died in Johannesburg, South Africa. He had been in my life from the time I was 16 -- 62 years in fact. We were engaged when I was 18 and married when I was 19. We eventually divorced after 40 years of marriage, but remained very close as friends, parents and grandparents. The last time I spoke to him was on my birthday, 7th of July, when he phoned to give me his good wishes, and when I inquired about his health, he complained of a pain in his hip. I told him to attend to this problem and I would phone him for his birthday on the 20th of July to see how he was. Alas, that was our last conversation, as a couple of days later, he was taken into hospital after falling in the shower, and was in various other hospital systems with many challenging health problems until he died 4 months later.

My son, David, who was in Johannesburg, had the responsibility of looking after him, and he did a valiant task. Both he and Sidney agreed that during that time they were able to grow closer emotionally, so it seems as though everything, however hard, has its reason.

Obviously I was in almost daily touch with David, and when it came time for the service and prayers, David phoned me and said, "Was Dad’s mother also born in Glasgow?" -- Well, she wasn’t, she was born in Adelaide, Australia, and his father was actually born in Russia and only went to Scotland as a young boy. So I corrected these facts. Then David asked me other details -- about Sidney’s life at school, at university and then as a pilot in the Air Force -- and I was able to tell him all the information he needed as well as several anecdotes. I felt so strange that I couldn't be physically there during that time, and so I wrote my personal tribute to Sidney, and so did Anne, my daughter, and they were read out at the service by my niece. Family and friends have either written or called me to say how meaningful they were to them.

Afterwards I asked David to send me his eulogy, and also one written by his daughter, Joanna, who had gone to South Africa, from England, to support her father. When I read David’s very moving contribution, I was amazed to recognize how much of what I had told him recently was included. And I realized then, very strongly, that it was important for me to write down all this information -- as when I go, who will be able to fill in the gaps, and join the dots?

So my question was answered: it IS worth the trouble. And, our WALRUS group, we have a job to do -- and I thank you for helping me on my journey.

No comments: