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By Blog Master
Posted: 03/01/2022

Memoir Groups

Have you ever thought of writing down your life story? Perhaps to share with your kids, grandkids, or other loved ones? Has something held you back from doing so? If so, you may find that Pasadena Village's newest Affinity Group, “Writing Your Story”, is just what you are looking for.  This group can help you record your significant and memorable family stories, and share that legacy with your loved ones. The group can also help keep you motivated. And it can give you the opportunity to share stories with other members of the group as you develop those stories together.   

“Writing Your Story” is the third memoir group offered by the Village. The first such group (Group I) began years ago under the leadership of Norma Pratt, a Village member and trained facilitator. Group I met once a week for six weeks. At each session, Norma suggested a topic for the members to write about in preparation for the following session. The topics were only suggestions; the members were free to write about whatever they wanted. The initial topics were specific but not personal; they were intended just to get the group to start writing. (Some of the members had done little writing since their school years.)  The group then began each session by reading what they had written. At first, some of the members were self-conscious about their writing. But their confidence grew with time under Norma's leadership. Norma refused to let anyone begin reading with “This isn’t very good, but. . .”

As the weeks progressed, the members of Group I became more and more comfortable with each other. At the end of the six-week session, the group had become so close that they decided to continue meeting, even though they were now without a leader. Group member Linda Stowitts says, “We had begun to write more personal pieces, and the sharing with each other has led to meaningful conversations and strong friendships. We are still together after eight years.”

Linda continues: “One of us is writing with an eye to publication. One has written more-or-less a chronology of his life. One of us is unable to write and read anymore but can tell a story orally. We all seem to be writing as a way to explore events of our lives and some of us are hoping the next generation will get to know some of our stories.”

As more members of the Village became interested in memoir writing, BJ Ledyard, a member of the Village, asked that a second group be formed. Group II started in June of 2019. Once again Norma Pratt graciously agreed to lead it. As for Group I, Norma suggested weekly topics for the members to write about. The members then read their writings in class. Group member LuCinda Haagenson describes Norma's style this way: “She didn’t criticize our writings, but gave them a nod of approval.”

Following in the footsteps of Group I, this group also continued to meet after Norma's departure.  

LuCinda took on the role of coming up with weekly topics. She gleaned some of them from Michelle Obama's book, Becoming.  

As the group evolved, its members began choosing their own topics. The goals of the group varied, from writing a family history, to exploring memories, to just exercising their writing skills. Once again, the group became quite close with time. LuCinda says, “Our group is very attached to the friendships formed over the sharing of our personal life stories. We are all each other’s best friends and no one wants to miss a meeting.” Group II continues to meet weekly via Zoom.   

Opening a second group allowed for each group to remain small (6 to 8 members). Small groups allow time for each member to share what they've written and receive feedback at each meeting. Also, adding new members to an existing group can feel awkward, since the existing members have a history unfamiliar to newcomers.

Recently, the Village added a third group, “Writing Your Story”. BJ offered to lead, because, as she says, “I had such a good experience with Norma”. On her overall experience with the memoir groups, BJ lists some advantages: “Belonging to a memoirs group jogs one's memories. It enables getting to know people. Writing about painful things makes them less painful.” Finally, she adds: “For me, the group prompted a search for old letters temporarily lost over the years.”

Village member Ed Rinderle describes his experience writing his memoirs several years ago as follows:  

 “My primary goal was to provide information for my children on what it was like for me growing up in New Orleans in the 1950's. I enjoyed the process so much that I extended my writing to include my experiences in high school, college, moving to California, and working at JPL and PCC. The 'final' version turned out to be just over 40 pages. Since then, I have added a few paragraphs at the end of each year to bring the work up to date.”

Ed continues: “Writing my memoirs turned out to be quite revealing. I learned that I was writing not only to my kids, but also to myself. I found myself dealing with issues from my past in ways I had never done before. Soon after I completed my memoir, I began writing works of fiction based on actual events from my past. By doing so I was able to deal with my past in ways that helped my mental state. Composing this fictional account was a major turning point in my life – and it all started with writing my memoir. I am so glad that I took on that task.”  

So, what do you think?  Is memoir writing for you? If so, Group III will welcome you into their midst. And who knows . . . soon there may even be a Group IV.

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