A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why we write our stories: Guest visit from Christine M. Grote


         Today I am honored to have the very talented Christine Grote as my guest.  Christine is a multifaceted memoirist, photographer, and blogger extraordinaire who can often be found at her blog Christine M Grote: Random Thoughts from Midlife.  In this post she explores that age old question of why we write our stories.





          From the earliest recorded history, human beings have written their stories. We can see evidence of this in the Chauvet or Lascaux cave paintings in France. Before that, people undoubtedly spoke or somehow communicated their stories. We are all storytellers. We share our stories big and small with family, friends, and coworkers, whether they are about the tree that fell in our yard during the last storm or the way our mother died.

        Some of us go a step further and write our stories down for others to read.

        I don't know why we choose to tell or write our stories. There are likely a multitude of reasons. Maybe we want to share our experience to help others learn from it, or to shed light on something unique to us that most people know little to nothing about. Perhaps we want to amuse or entertain. Maybe we just want to be heard.

        When I was in college for the second time around as a 40-something-year-old, we were reading Holocaust literature for a class I was taking. This was very heavy, depressing stuff, and I remember asking, "What can I do for these people and their suffering? It all happened a long time ago and there is nothing I can do now. Why should I continue to read it?" I found an answer in the words of Elie Wiesel, concentration camp survivor and author of Night. He wrote somewhere in an introduction or author's note, and I paraphrase, "You can read our stories so that they will be acknowledged and not be forgotten."  That's what I could still do.

       There are a lot of good reasons to tell our stories.

      I told my story about my sister Annie for many years. People were curious. "Annie was born with severe brain damage," I'd say. "She can't walk or talk and requires the care of an infant." If they had questions, I'd answer them. I told my story because people wanted to know.

      In a creative writing class in 2005, while in college for the second time, I wrote a short story about Annie in which I shared memories of what it was like growing up with a severely disabled sibling. "When I was young, I used to pray that I could trade places with Annie. Maybe we could share our lives. One week she could be in the wheelchair, and the next it could be me," I wrote.

      A lot of things came to the forefront of my mind as I wrote Annie's story. Sometimes we write just to understand.

      I finished the short story for my class and put it in a drawer.

      Then in the summer of 2009, Annie became very ill. Our family struggled with fear and uncertainty about what to do as we helplessly watched Annie suffer. We ended up at the ER with Annie, and then back home again under the care of Hospice with the knowledge that Annie's time here was at an end.

      After Annie died, my desire to tell her story turned into a compulsion. I felt like I had to tell her story. I pulled out the short story I had written for class, collected all the emails I had sent out to friends and family during Annie's illness, gathered medical records from her physician and the Hospice nurses, and I wrote Dancing in Heaven.

      Many times I woke up at 4:00 in the morning with the next part of the story in my head. I got up and started typing with a box of tissues beside me. I struggled and cried my way through many parts of writing Annie's story. But I wrote it.

      I wrote it for Annie and I wrote it for me. On an intellectual level, I believed people might benefit from reading about the self-sacrificing love and care my parents gave to Annie. They set a good example of what is possible. I wanted people to know that even those individuals who are the most disabled among us still have purpose and value on this planet. And I wanted to give my sister Annie, who left no footprint behind, a legacy, that her life won't have been, as my father cried out in anguish, "all for nothing."

     When people read Annie's story, her life is acknowledged and she isn't forgotten.

     That's the best I can do for her. That's the only thing I can do for her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You can listen to excerpts and read reviews of Dancing in Heaven—a sister's memoir on my blog. (http://randomthoughtsfrommidlife.wordpress.com/dancing-in-heaven/)

Dancing in Heaven is available at:

Amazon.com (print and Kindle) - (http://ow.ly/b9JRY)
BN.com (print and Nook) - (http://ow.ly/b9K1T)
Createspace (print) - (http://www.createspace.com/3609410)
Smashwords (multiple e-book formats) - (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/93539)





About the Author

Christine M Grote earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1979. After working for three and a half years in product development at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, she became a full-time homemaker as she raised three sons and a daughter. In 1999, she returned to school at the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in English in 2007. Christine lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband Mark and their dog Arthur.

http://randomthoughtsfrommidlife.wordpress.com/dancing-in-heaven/

19 comments:

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Thanks Lee for hosting this wonderful writer, a most enjoyable read.

Yvonne.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lee and Christine - Christine's story about writing her memoir on her blog is also very emotive.

It's excellent to see an overview/summary here which I hadn't realised before .. blog posts are excellent ways to communicate.

Someone mentioned recently that our blog posts are like virtual flowers - they're there to be envisioned and thought about forever .. Annie's Legacy is on your blog and here ...

I'm so pleased you've written Dancing in Heaven ..

Cheers to you both and to Annie in her easier place .. Hilary

Linda Hoye said...

Thank you, Lee for hosting Christine.

Christine, thank you for telling us more about what it was like for you to write your book. The power of story touches both writer and reader. Every time.

crowingcrone said...

Having read Dancing In Heaven and being a follower of Christine's blog, it was a treat to read this and gain more insight into her desire to create a legacy for Annie. And Christine, you have done that in a wonderfully loving and gracious manner.

Peggy Strack said...

I'm sure this is a powerful story told with emotion and love. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Kathy said...

You told this story in such a beautiful way, Christine. It's interesting how you were compelled to write Annie's story. I am sure it has enlightened many people. What a lovely guest blog!

Callie Leuck said...

Christine, I'm looking forward to reading this. My dad's sister had serious brain damage due to a car crash when she was an infant and never progressed past the mental age of a toddler. She passed in her twenties, long before I was born. It's a difficult subject to bring up, and I'm always curious how other people handle it.

Dee said...

Dear Christine, your musing about why we write rang so true for me. I believe that I write so that I can understand just what I think.

But the writing that we feel must be published--like your story of your sister Annie--that I think is written, as written as Wiesel and you said, to honor the divinity of a fellow human being.

Peace.

lbdiamond said...

This is LOVELY!!!!!

Lynn Proctor said...

oh how this strikes at my heart--having had five angels like annie, i too am touched by them beyond words---maybe one day i will write too--thank you for your book

William Kendall said...

Christine, I think your work resonates with people, because even if we don't know someone with Annie's condition, we all come through life having had known someone who's had a life-altering medical condition.

Your mentioning Chauvet Cave reminded me of something I saw this past weekend; a mosaic sculpture in the Croatian embassy that included a panel with animals that were quite similar to the Chauvet Cave art.

CMSmith said...

@Yvonne - Thank you for reading, and for your kind words.

@Hilary - It's good to see you over here Hilary. This is only my second, or maybe third guest post. I think it is fun and interesting to do. Cheers to you too.

@Linda - The power of story is exactly right. Writers, in particular, and avid readers understand that.

@Crowingcrone - Hi Joss. It's good to see you over here. Thank you for your kind words. Time will tell, I suppose whether or not Annie has any sort of legacy. I'm just happy for the hearts her story has touched so far.

@Kathy - Thank you. I think Annie's story has the possibility of enlightening some people, and validating others. Regardless, I needed to tell it and am happy that I did.

@Callie - I'm sorry to hear about your father's sister's injury. I'm sure it is a difficult subject. My parents believed in facing it head-on, and took Annie most places with them. But at the time she was born, many people were hidden away. I hope you will let me know your thoughts about the book after you've read it. I especially love hearing from people who have a personal experience they can relate to.

@Dee - I've always found that to be amazing, that writing can help us understand or make sense of our world. But it is true. I suppose it forces us to organize our thoughts. Publishing is important, but sometimes fraught with sensitivity. Two of my siblings did not want to be included in Dancing in Heaven. So we have to be mindful of who we are writing about and what their privacy standards are. Thanks for stopping buy and leaving a comment.

@lbdiamond - Thank you.

@Lynn - It sounds like you have a story needing to be told. I hope you will let me know if you decide to tell it.

@William - Thanks, William. I agree that many people have something that they can relate to about Annie's story. The hospice experience is becoming universal. That's interesting about the Croatian embassy panel. I wish I knew more about such things.

Trisha said...

Oh dear, I imagine this book would leave me a sobbing mess. This is the best way I can think of to pay tribute to a loved one - by writing their story.

Susan Kane said...

Thank you for sharing Annie's story, Christine. Wow. How much Annie was loved! No doubt about it: Annie is dancing in heaven.

Cherie Reich said...

Thank you, Lee, for featuring Christine. Such a touching story, Christine. :)

Francene Stanley said...

Annie's story must have been written with pure inspiration. It's wonderful when a strong story calls us. A writer can use their emotion and share their pain and hope. I used my grief once. I had reached the part of the story that called for it. I think the sorrow comes through.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Arlee this is a moving guest post.
@Christine. Thank you for sharing your story.
- Maurice Mitchell
The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
@thegeektwins | @mauricem1972

Arlee Bird said...

Christine, I want to offer my sincerest thanks for telling this story at Wrote By Rote. I wish many more sales for your book and the greatest success on your future endeavors.

Thank you to all of the readers who have stopped by to leave a comment.

Lee

CMSmith said...

@Trisha — I'd be lying if I said it won't make you cry. Many readers have told me it made them cry. It made me cry to write it. So there you have it. The thing I've been most happy about, is that readers do not seem to be focused on the sad part. I think it validates Annie's life and I feel good about that.

@Susan — You're welcome. Annie was well loved, by family, friends, and even strangers alike.

@Cherie — Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope you have a chance to read Annie's story someday.

@Fancene — I really like what you wrote about a writer using their emotion to share their pain and hope. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

@Maurice — You're welcome.

@Arlee — Thank you.