Thursday, March 25, 2010

Telling Life Stories, by Seymour Eliesen (Guest Blogger)

“Dad, I don’t really know you” began the conversation I had a few years back with Michael, my eldest son. This made me realize that I wanted to tell my children, grandchildren and the rest of my family about my life when I was a toddler, teenager, young adult, maturing parent, and now a senior. I wanted them to know what it was like for me. I needed to jump-start my memory.

I rented a tiny, secluded cabin appropriately named SHALOM, Hebrew for “peace.” The wooden structure was musty, without running water or electricity, and I loved it. My guests were a family of Canada Geese, chattering red squirrels, hummingbirds, blue jays, and a red fox that the owner told me was named Daisy Mae.

So on a warm day in July 2007, a bright sun beaming infrared rays into my body, I set up a folding table and chair in a field surrounded by yellow buttercups with the crystal waters of Aylen Lake on one side and the forest treeline on the other. I opened my coil-bound notebook, remembered to apply number 30 sunscreen, as I’m not stupid, and with pen in hand, I began to write. I wrote and wrote. I had a great time recording every memory I could recall.

In the middle of the afternoon, dark, ominous clouds appeared out of nowhere and within ten minutes a heavy downpour interrupted my writing. The thundershower was brief. To my pleasure, as the clouds moved to the west a beautiful double rainbow appeared. It seemed a sign to go on with my story.

I've continued to write about events I've experienced, people I've known, and what life was like for me "in the olden days." I've developed a real passion for Life Story Writing.

Telling stories has taken a number of forms for me. Some are primarily documentary in nature, recording various details of life and the times for posterity. Others are about aspects of my family background and heritage of which my children and grandchildren are not aware. My writings have become a learning and healing process and before I’m done I’ll write how I have grown from this. Some stories are quite personal, and may not be finished or shared for decades. My favourites, the ones that are the most fun to write, are vignettes of specific times, about the neighbourhood where I grew up, friends, happy occasions, sad ones, when I became a hippie, and then a farmer.

As I write, I'm finding that decorating the stories with photos, a family tree, old documents, recipes and whatever else strikes my fancy brings the level of my storytelling up a notch. I’ve gone to the Internet for some photos and artwork and I’ve researched libraries for other bits of information. I’ve interviewed cousins, former employers, business associates and friends. I had never thought that being involved in this task would give me so much satisfaction and enjoyment. To leave a legacy like this for my family makes me feel very proud of myself. There is an inner artist in me that I wasn't fully aware was there.

People ask if these stories are true. The answer to that question is yes, and the answer is also no. Sometimes my brother reads a story I've written and says, “That's not what happened at all.” I generally grin and reply, "Write your own story!"

These stories represent my memory of what happened and what the events meant to me. Therein lies their truth. In the end, the value of memories is the meaning they hold for us. But these are more than memories, they are stories. Beyond the twists of memory, storytellers learn not to let a few puny facts get in the way of a good tale.


Seymour Eliesen was born and raised in the 1940s in the St. Urbain Street district of Montreal. The first son of working class Jewish immigrants, he went to Baron Byng High School. At 15 he began a successful 52-year career in the apparel industry. He and his second wife, Lydia, were back-to-the-land organic farmers in the 1970s. Seymour is writing his memoirs as a gift to his children and grandchildren for his 75th birthday.

Seymour took part in my workshops at North York Central Library (memoir) and online (dialogue writing), and in February 2010 flew to Santiago, Chile, to participate in the two-week residential writers’ retreat workshops I led there: "Journeys and Discoveries: Writing from Your Life." His ever-present binder already brims with completed stories, drafts of others, photos and more, and the collection continues to evolve. This guest blog is the introduction to those stories.


Carri said...

I have heard many nice things about you Allyson, my father speaks of you with great respect and esteem. I know he has learned so much and I thank you ...

My father's retirement was the source of 'stress' for me as I wondered how a person who had been so active, had worked since he was 14 years old and barely knew what the definition of "rest" meant, would fill up all the hours in his coming days? When he told me of his plans to write his memoirs, I figured that he would churn out 20 odd pages and then file the project away.

Close to 5 years later, what I feel in knowing that I will be able to read of my father's trials and tribulations, of his colored life from the Jewish ghetto of his childhood to the Toronto suburbs of his retirement years, is pure joy and immense pride -- joy in seeing that my father has put so much of who he is into telling his story, and pride that he is willing to share it with those people who love him so dearly ... my hero and inspiration, I love you papa xoxo

Thomas L said...

Seymour, what a wonderful job on the Foreword to your Memoirs. I've never known you to do anything by half measure and the energy and commitment you have applied to the task of writing your Memoirs is no different. It has just occurred to me that the writing your life stories will include the writing of your life story.

With considerable patience I await my next opportunity to read this labour of love in progress. Thanks for the link to this Blog, love ya

evision said...

i have gone through this blog. i found it really interesting fot my job and my future career

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