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Writing the Story of My Life

Holding the Pen—Writing the Story of My Life

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When writing the story of my life, I didn’t let anyone else hold the pen For the past eight months, I have been writing my lifestory. As a professional personal historian, I believe in practicing what I preach to those in my lifestory writing workshops. I have even gone as far as hiring an editor […]

When writing the story of my life, I didn’t let anyone else hold the pen For the past eight months, I have been writing my lifestory. As a professional personal historian, I believe in practicing what I preach to those in my lifestory writing workshops. I have even gone as far as hiring an editor to help me. There is nothing quite like being accountable to another person. I firmly believe that everyone has a story worth telling. I’d like to share with you my motivation and exactly why I decided to get busy preserving my own story.

A valuable resource to remember the past more accurately when writing the story of my life

I possess 523 personal and heartfelt letters that were written over a span of thirty-nine years – precious letters written between my grandmother and myself. My dear grandmother was more like my mother and our relationship was a very close one. As I thought more about writing my lifestory, I wondered “how can I use these insightful letters to help me tell my story.” It seemed to me as if each one of these 523 letters were calling out to me. (Writing the story of my life, I found these proved invaluable.) A great many of the letters were written during the time I lived overseas with my husband, an Information Officer working for the Central Intelligence Agency. Together, we lived in six foreign countries from 1976 through 1992 making eighteen moves during that time.

While living in such far-flung places as Vienna, Amman, or Bangkok, I accumulated interesting stories taken from our crazy nomadic lifestyle (minus the camels, of course!). Believe it or not, when I began to write I wasn’t sure that I had much to say. But as I sat at my computer keyboard punching the keys, and reading the contents of my letters, I saw stories that not only my adult children and grandchildren would like to read but I also received pleasure and satisfaction as I saw the pages fill up with my stories with the world as my backdrop.

Some of my memoir’s highlights

  • Memories of riding a rambunctious camel in Cairo (Ah, yes, there was a camel in my story!)
  • Visiting Moscow immediately after communism fell apart in 1991
  • Accidentally finding ourselves walking in the midst of an anti-American demonstration in Damascus, Syria in 1981
  • Giving birth to our first daughter in a Palestinian hospital in Amman, Jordan in 1980
  • Volunteering in Thai refugee camps during particularly tumultuous times in 1978 through 1979
  • Learning to speak three new languages
  • Taking counter-terrorism training classes in Cyprus in 1989. (Learning that a bomb the size of a coke can is capable of inflicting much damage!)

A new appreciation for what I have done by writing the story of my life

As I re-read my old letters, I observed my personal growth and development taking place over the years through the letters and saw how experiences affected me. My weaknesses and my developing strengths all came through my words. Living as a nomad has its advantages. I learned to travel light and to savor my relationships and the special and unique moments in my life.

The number of stories I sent to my grandmother grows with each move and tour of duty. There are problems with living a nomadic life style. Sometimes the shower water pressure can be depressingly low. Sometimes there is no electricity and difficult language barriers. Sometimes there is no mail coming from home or worse yet not even having a proper mailbox to put the mail in! Sometimes we lived uncomfortably near to critters such as cigar-sized millipedes, fist-sized snails or translucent-colored, ceiling sticking lizards. After the initial shock of seeing these creatures in and around our living space, we accepted them as members of our overseas “family”. It was a matter of why fight ‘em, join ‘em!

Why preserve my stories? Why write my memoir?

I write my stories because I want to be remembered. I write because I don’t want to forget and because I value my own life experiences and what I have learned from them. I write also because I want my descendants to know about me. I can see more clearly now. My large piles of letters clearly show how my perspective about life has changed. I’ve matured. I’ve grown. I’ve learned a lot. If you told me thirty plus years ago that I would be the person I am today, I would have said you were crazy. Now at 62, I can see through my writing that I used to get upset about a lot of little things. Now those “little” things now don’t cause me any concern. My priorities have changed, and I have more joy in life.

You may not have letters or a diary to re-read as I did when writing the story of my life, but you can begin to write some of the stories of your life. Think about a significant event, sit down and recall those memories. Don’t worry about punctuation. You can shine it up later. Just begin. You and your family will be glad that you did. Happy writing!

The Memoir Network

Lin Joyce at work.

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