2015 A to Z

Elements of Memoir

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? And what is memoir anyway? During the 2015 A to Z Challenge I will be answering some of your questions as well as offering some possible ideas you might consider in writing your own memoir story. I'd also like to hear some of your ideas about memoir in the comment section. Let's talk about memoir.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Betty Rose and Minnie (Part Two)

         This is the second part of a story that I began in my previous post.  If you missed part one then you might want to go back to read that before continuing on with today's post.   This story about cruelty and bullying was inspired by a post that originally appeared at Robin's Your Daily Dose blog.

          While Betty Rose was generally considered to be the ugliest girl in school, Minnie might have been the fattest.  The name Minnie was actually her birth name rather than some descriptive moniker bestowed upon her by other classmates as was the case of one of the bigger boys who had been known as "Tiny" for as long as anyone could remember.  Tiny wasn't so much fat as he was really big and he good-naturedly accepted this given name as his mark of distinction that set him apart from the other boys.

          Minnie also seemed pleased with her name and appeared to carry her sizable frame with a sense of pride.  She had a pleasant demeanor with a continually cheerful countenance.   Some might have said she had  a "pretty face" though it was decidedly a very round face tinged with a rosy hue in cheeks that looked as though they could have been storing food for later in the day.

          Perhaps it was Minnie's obesity that attracted the small cadre of homely girls who gathered around her.  They might have been long time friends from grade school or maybe the neighborhood where they lived.  Rumor had it that they all came from the Five Points area at the bottom of the hill where the school was located.   I knew where the intersection known as Five Points was, but I was always somewhat unclear as to what exactly comprised the Five Points neighborhood.  To my understanding Five Points was one of the "bad neighborhoods" like Parham Hill or Home Avenue.  Those were the places were the lower class folks lived--the tougher rougher kids who were of low reputation and were undoubtedly headed for bad futures.

         At least that's what some people said.  I didn't know for sure where any of those girls came from or what kind of families they had.  For that matter I didn't know anything about any of them including most of their names.  And now after so many years the only names I remember are Minnie and Betty Rose.

        Each morning as I bided my time with my group of acquaintances, I would see that group of female outcasts on the opposite side of the auditorium on the front row near the stage gathered as though plotting their revenge on the mean students.  Or maybe they were just gossiping, commiserating, or dreaming about a better life away from the school society that had seemed to be rejecting them.  On the whole they didn't appear to be too displeased about their lives or their situations.  More than likely I was reading my own interpretations based on what I imagined about those girls.

          Sometimes, drawing the attention of everyone in the auditorium, Minnie would burst out into a fit of gleeful laughter evoking titters from the assemblage around her.  I almost envied them because they seemed so happy.   Happy about something.  Or amused.   Maybe they were laughing at the rest of us.  None of us knew because none of us associated with those girls.

           In fact, once the school day started I don't recall ever seeing Minnie for the remainder of the day.  Sometimes I might see Betty Rose passing alone through the hallways, ignoring the mean comments from the boys she passed.  She was like a silent specter disappearing into the crowds between classes.   In the mornings she seemed to be a part of a group, but the rest of the day she appeared to be on her own without a friend anywhere.

         Those girls were all in grades below me so that might have been one reason I never encountered any of them during the course of the school day.  Then again, maybe they passed or were there in plain sight and I didn't see them.  After all these were not the in-crowd girls or even the girls that any of us might want to get to know.   I would have never said anything mean to any of them, but there were the students that didn't think twice about hurling insults or making what they thought were funny remarks to show off in front of the other students.  For my part, Betty Rose, Minnie, and all of their circle of friends were the morning crew who for the rest of the day were people I tried not to think about.

         After I graduated, at the end of the following year,  my sister, who was in the grade below me--the same one as Betty Rose and Minnie--brought home the graduation edition of the school paper.   The tradition for this edition was for the departing seniors to publish their "wills" to the incoming seniors of the year to come.  Each graduating senior would will some funny item, give some words of advice, or have some bit of wisdom to offer to the those who would be the next crop of seniors.

            As I perused those words of the graduating class members I came to what Betty Rose had to say.   After so many years I cannot recall her exact words, but she said something to this effect:
"My wish is for all students to have consideration for each other and not to say hurtful things."
I'm pretty sure she worded it more eloquently, but whatever her words were, my heart stopped for a moment and tears came to my eyes.

         How much meanness had she patiently had to endure in her years of high school?   What kind of life had she faced?   I thought of Minnie and her cheerfulness on the outside.  What kind of pain had she felt?   Those other girls who I now don't remember.   They were all part of the club of exiles, rejected by peers, but clinging together in whatever it was they had in common.  What had happened to all of them?

         Some forty years later I got a copy of a school alumni directory. This is one of those directories where the compilers make an attempt to contact every alumnus of the school to collect data about their spouse, number of kids, occupation, and so on.  Having lost touch after so many years I was curious about those with whom I had attended high school.   I guess a good many others were equally curious.

          After I received my directory in the mail, I spent a good bit of time looking up those folks from my past to see where they were now and how their lives compared to mine.  When I came to Minnie's name there was no indication that she had ever been married or had any children.  She still lived in the area and for occupation the listing indicated that she was a care provider for the elderly.

          Betty Rose was not listed in the main part of the directory.   Looking in the index where all students were listed by graduation year I found Betty Rose's name listed.  She was among those few designated as "Address Unconfirmed".   This meant that she had either not filled out the information request that had been sent to her or she had never received one.

          Another pang of sadness welled within me.   Had high school been so painful for her that she had tried to run away or forget it after so many years?   What had happened to her after graduation and had the experience of high school scarred her in later life?   I suppose I'll never know.   I don't know if anyone else cares whether they know or not.    Betty Rose might even prefer that no one ever knows what happened to her.   I hope things turned out well for her.

         Do you remember any of the outcast students in your school?   Do you know what happened to any of those students?    Did you ever befriend any students who were treated poorly by others?  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Betty Rose and Minnie (Part One)

Everett High School Auditorium

        Recently over at Robin's Your Daily Dose blog, she's been doing some life reflecting with a Soundtrack of My Life series.  I've done similar posts over the years on this blog as well as on Tossing It Out on topics related to music and how it has connected with certain parts of my life. This is a fun way to prompt memories to inspire life writing.  If you're interested in doing some of your own Soundtrack posts go over Robin's blog to let her know so she can add your link to the list that she's compiling of others who are doing the same.

        In one of Robin's posts she discussed bullying and the cruelty that kids burden other students with during those fragile-to-the-ego times of middle and high schools.   Reading her post took me back to my school days. I never had much trouble with being harassed or bullied when I was younger.   I was quiet and mostly kept to myself. My physical stature was not such that it emanated any sense of ferocity, but I apparently came across to any of the tougher guys as someone who might be one they wouldn't want to put to the test.  Never once in my life have I been involved in any physical altercation that anyone could label as being "a fight".

       During my high school years in Tennessee, my daily schedule consisted of being dropped off at the school by my father about a half hour prior to first class.  Usually I'd go into the auditorium with its wooden floors worn from the decades of the feet of students that had preceded me.  The cavernous space reeked of history and must.  My chosen place to which I would retreat nearly every morning of the three years during which I attended this school was in the middle of the section on the left side of the auditorium.   Fewer students sat in this area which made it more attractive to me.

        Over the years a certain clique of guys like me chose this middle left area as our place to sit while waiting for school to start.  We were somewhat nerdy I suppose, but mostly we were the isolated guys who didn't congregate in the smoking area outside behind the auditorium or in one of the other areas where the more popular kids were engaged in the happening social scene or the business of high school activity.   The guys I associated with when I wasn't reading, studying for a test, or catching up with homework were those who seemed to chatter aimlessly about topics I now forget.  Sometimes one of them might have a joke to tell but I don't remember those either.  We mostly just talked to avoid the silence, but never really got to know each other very well.  There were few that I could really call friends, but we were just guys who happened to be thrown together in the same place at the same time with the same sense of wanting to belong somewhere.

        If I didn't have my focus on something I was reading or listening to one of the other guys ramble with idle talk, my eyes would peruse the rest of the auditorium.  Throughout there were clusters of other students who like those in my part of the seating seemed to be in the same places most of the days.  Some I knew from the classes I had with them though they were students I didn't really know to the extent that I ever talked to them.   Others were students that I'd seen but had no idea about their names or anything about them.   We were an assemblage, disparate, yet thrust together in this awkward circumstance of institutional education.   The friendship potential was always there, but rarely sought.

        My attentions would be variously drawn to different groups at different times depending on whatever activity was occurring that might catch my eyes.   It may have been a burst of laughter or some notable noise.   Perhaps the movement of bodies gravitating towards some particular spot in the room would cause me to turn and follow them to whatever group they would join.  There were people that I might have liked to have known better, but my insecurities kept me from reaching out to them.

        That was the auditorium in the morning.  Students in their clusters of safety.  Refuge from those social circles that might possibly reject anyone from the outside if they tried to become close to them.  Eyes stole occasional furtive glances to the other groups with equal parts suspicion and curiosity.  Who was talking about whom or even ostracizing those in the groups across the room?   Perhaps no malice was ever intended or even felt by any in the other groups, however the paranoia of being a social pariah was ever in the backs of many minds.

         And then there was that odd little group of girls at the right front of the auditorium.   Sitting at the center of the group like the queen was Minnie.  Nearby was Betty Rose, generally acknowledged to be the ugliest girl in our school.   This strange assemblage of outcast females was the group that perhaps intrigued me the most...

(To be continued next Saturday May 23rd)

        When you were in high school did you have a special place where students would wait before classes began?    Did you have a special group with whom you would hang out most of the time?     How many close friends did you have in high school?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A to Z Reflections for Wrote By Rote

What I Did In April

        As a participant in the 2015 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge I'm joining in with others who are offering their reflections on this sixth edition of the annual event.  The Reflections posts have been a tradition from the first Challenge in 2010.   To see the entire list of bloggers with Reflection posts visit the A to Z Challenge Blog.   The Linky List will open on Monday May 4th.

         Wrote By Rote is one of four blogs that I had entered in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge of 2015.   This year to make things somewhat easier for me in posting content I took the approach of using a common theme on all four blogs.  My theme for April was Elements of... which in the case of this current blog was Elements of Memoir.  

         In essence I explored what memoir is and what type of content it might contain.  My aim in presenting this particular content was to provide some ideas to those who have considered writing memoir or  who have some sort of interest in the literary genre of memoir writing.  My posts looked at the components that make up memoir, the approaches to writing memoir, and some memoir topics that can be used by someone writing about their life experience.

 Audience Response

       This year had a much lower response on this blog that last year.   One explanation that I can think of was that I didn't promote my posts as much as I did last year as I focused primarily on directing readers to my main blog Tossing It Out.  Also my duties as a Challenge co-host kept me preoccupied to some extent with matters aside from my blogs.

        Another factor that may have attributed to a lower rate of following is that my posts this year were focused on the mechanics of writing rather than the personal stories that I presented in the Challenge of 2014.  I think that readers found the stories more appealing than the somewhat dry technical posts.

       Hopefully readers weren't bored by the posts and the comments seemed to indicate some interest in my topic.  Also most of the posts were kept very short, a factor which probably had little affect on the visits my posts received.   There were few to no new visitors on my memoir posts this year with my comments coming from loyal readers who regularly visit Wrote By Rote.    My thanks to all of you who faithfully visit this blog and leave comments.

My Reaction

        This blog did acquire some new followers as a result of the 2015 Challenge.  I didn't keep track, but there were probably 10 to 20 new followers added to my Friend Connect since the A to Z sign-ups opened in January.   Under the circumstances I don't consider that to be bad at all.

         Only one post received over 100 visits and that was the post for "A".   All of the other posts received about 60 visits on the average..  Comments were light for the most part but they were good comments.

        Since I was not on any strong mission of promoting this blog this year I am not disappointed in my results during April.   I added what I feel is some fairly decent content to this site and to me that is a worthy achievement.  If some of these posts add to any search engine credibility for Wrote By Rote then the time compiling this series was not wasted.  

        Again I thank my regular readers for your support.  If you are here for the first time or have only visited occasionally I hope you will continue to return and interact with my posts.   If you are interested in guest posting with a memoir related topic then please let me know.   It's been a while since I've had a guest post on this site and it's about time for some more of them.

        If you're interested in guest posting please let me know in the comment section.  Or just leave me a comment with any observations you might have about my A to Z strategy this year, the blog in general, or what you think about the A to Z Challenge.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Zorro (Elements of Memoir) #AtoZChallenge

       When I was a child one of my favorite programs on television was the Disney produced Zorro series.  I seem to remember it being shown in fifteen minute segments that appeared as part of the Mickey Mouse Club, but according to Wikipedia it was actually a series itself that was associated at times with the Mickey Mouse Club.   Whichever the case, the Zorro story was an exciting one that inspired and intrigued me when I was young.

        One of Zorro's memorable characteristics was the "Z" that he would slash into places he had been.   Zorro would leave the "Z" calling card to let his adversaries know that he was the one who had visited and this became his trademark so to speak.

        For a writer, voice is like Zorro's "Z".    Instead of the sword the writer uses the pen--or their favorite tool of writing--to slash the words that will let the reader know who it was that visited.  The focus of the writer's interests, the subject matter, unique uses of metaphors and phrasing are the calling cards of the writer that essentially says "this was written by me."  

         We may not have a voice that is so dramatically unique that we are indistinguishable from others who write in a way similar to ours, but our voice should be as clear as it can be to give the reader a greater sense of familiarity of who they are reading.

        When you slash your pages with your real or figurative pen, leave a bold "Z" to let the readers know who it is behind the words on the pages that you have created.

      Do you consciously strive to develop your own unique writing voice?   Are there certain authors whose writing you immediately recognize when you read it?    How do you think voice in writing is reflected in the writing style?

This is it for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge letter posts.  However there is one more A to Z event coming up.  Be watching for the A to Z Reflections Linky list which will appear on Monday May 4th at a-to-zchallenge.com.   My reflections post for Wrote By Rote will be posted on Saturday May 2nd as I return to my regular posting schedule.  Join me then!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

You (Elements of Memoir) #AtoZChallenge

       A memoir is a story about you.  The memoir is not your entire life story, but an illumination of some corner of your life that can act as a reflection on who you were and who you are now.   While other people will populate the your personal individual story, you are the focus of that story and your memoir should never lose site of the importance of that story.

       You are unique in many ways and your story needs to extract the unique qualities to put them in the forefront of the reader's mind.   At the same time you as memoirist need to find that common bond that helps the reader better identify with your life and you as another citizen of history.

        When looking at your life as the topic of a memoir, also look at other lives to see what you have in common with them as well as how your life is different.   The story of you should be unique, but not so unfathomable to others that they cannot clearly understand the experiences you've been through.   The goal of the memoir writer is to draw readers into the life experience and not leave them scratching their heads and walking away in disinterest.

       You need to be you, but you also need to be at least a little bit of us.

        Have you ever encountered a story in which there was absolutely nothing to which you could relate and perhaps even stopped reading because of that?    What are some things that you as a memoir writer might focus on to connect with your readers?    Would you prefer reading stories about people who are completely unlike you in every way?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X (Elements of Memoir) #AtoZChallenge

         The memoir story within you can be like a buried treasure.  The riches are there for you to dig up, but first you have to find them.   You have the treasure map in your mind and X marks the spot where you need to start excavating.   Gather your tools and dig in.

          If only it were so easy.   Sometimes that map is old and faded.  You might even need to piece it back together.  The past can be like a complex mystery that you have to solve before you can write down that story treasure.

           Perhaps if you're lucky you can assemble your crew of treasure hunters from friends and family members.   Your "maps" might include diaries, journals, and assorted reference books.   It's rarely a good idea to just wander without having any idea where to look.  The closer to X that you can begin, the easier your treasure hunt will be.

         Using the life-as-a-journey analogy, we can look back to remember the buried treasures along the route we've traveled.  When it's time to dig those treasures back up to tell the memoir story,  we need to remember where we've marked each "X" on the map of our mind and start excavating for the riches of our memories.   We aren't the pirates of the past, but the adventurer treasure seekers.

          How do you have treasured memories "marked" so you'll remember them?    What "maps" do you use to find the buried treasures of past memories?   How has the journey analogy applied to your own life?


Monday, April 27, 2015

Who (Elements of Memoir) #AtoZChallenge

       The question of "who?" is one of the main parts of the memoir.  We start with who we were and are and who were our influences, who were the ones who were our biggest obstacles, and who were the people who lent helping hands to us along our life journey.   Memoir is a human story and therefore it is important to know all we can about the players in that story to understand the deeper meaning of it all.

        When starting into memoir planning we should look closely at ourselves in order to decide who it is we want to portray in our life story.  We might be a victim, a victor, or both.  Our persona might be a mighty hero or the unassuming next door neighbor.   The story we tell can include struggle, pain, and sadness alongside uplifting times of extreme joy.  We have lived our experiences, but what do we understand about who exactly we are?

        Your memoir is a sharing experience that to be truthful will require opening up your true self to others.  If you don't do that then you are writing fiction and not an honest account of your life.   Know thyself and tell the story the you yourself can truly believe in.

        Do you sometimes feel like a stranger to yourself?  Are you hesitant to open up to others when telling stories about your life?    Have you ever read a memoir account that seemed insincere to the point where you could not trust it?