WHAT'S A MEMOIR?
What Do You Do Again?
Curious, compassionate, grateful people ask me every week, "What's a memoir?"
For twenty-five years, I worked as a data architect for multiple large corporations.
And my family always asked, "What do you do again?"
When I left Information Technology (IT) to pursue my dream to help parents and grandparents save their life stories, I thought my "work" would be obvious.
But you know what?
It wasn't obvious. Even though this is the most rewarding "work" I've ever done in my life, people still have questions.
So if you are still wondering, "What's a memoir?" and you are afraid to ask, please keep reading . . .
A Memoir Is . . .
If I learned one thing in my role as a data architect, it is that Webster is not the only one who has a definition. Ask five people what a memoir is, and you will get five slightly different answers.
I'll let you in on my definition . . .
Simply put, a memoir is one way to save and share your life story—your legacy.
A Memoir is not presented in chronological order like a history book.
More often, a memoir is a set of stories that represents a portion of your life (e.g., a cancer journey, military service, etc.) or that explores a theme (e.g., who was my mom, my thoughts about money, etc.)
Memoirs don't just record the facts. They let us in on who the Storyteller is and how he or she became who he or she is. Memoirs share the author's beliefs, values, life lessons, and wisdom.
Now that's not too scary is it? People have been telling their own stories and their ancestors' stories for thousands of years.
Memoirs answer the questions:
Who am I? Why am I here?
- Michelle Beckman
Not Just for the Rich and Famous
The word memoir used to be reserved for the rich and famous. Self-proclaimed "ordinary" people kept a diary, but they would never be so bold as to write their memoirs, right?
Little did they know that diaries and journals are the best sources for their memoir content.
Where else would you detail your family's timeline or record your thoughts on a topic back then?
Today's self-proclaimed "ordinary" people record their family's timeline and their thoughts on social media using 140 characters, photos, and short posts.
These methods provide lots of ideas for your memoir, but they generally include too many extraneous or repetitive details that if read as written will quickly lull your audience to sleep.
Believe me. I've filled dozens of journals over the last few decades and finding the gems worthy of retelling is not an easy task.
Why Bother Telling Your Stories Anyway?
People tell their stories to entertain, to teach, to inspire, and to connect with their loved ones.
But I can't emphasize my next point enough . . .
Reminiscing about your life also allows you to connect more deeply with yourself. You answer the questions, "Who am I? And why am I here?"
A 5-Minute Memoir™ is a chapter in a book or an
audio recording that the average audience member can
read or listen to within 5-15 minutes.
- Michelle Beckman
If have been following me for a while, you know that I created the concept of 5-Minute Memoirs.
A 5-Minute Memoir is a chapter in a book or an audio recording that the average audience member can read or listen to in 5-15 minutes. All details are contained within the chapter, so readers do not need another chapter as a prerequisite to understanding the stories.
Families are so busy with work, school, extracurricular activities, sports, caregiving, etc. that finding time to read or listen to a loved one's memoir can be challenging. Presenting your memoirs in bite-sized pieces takes some pressure off everyone.
Pulling the Thread
I love helping people write their 5-Minute Memoirs because I get to pull the thread and create something empowering and beautiful for my Storytellers and their families.
As I listen to my Storytellers, I connect the dots between different phases of their lives. When I hear a potential gem, I ask more and more questions—I pull the thread—until a memoir is born. Unless you are extremely introspective, pulling the threads of your own memoir is not easy.
Not sure what I mean by pulling the thread or connecting the dots?
Read this example . . .
I once worked with a Storyteller who told me that hot dogs and beans were his favorite meal.
I thought Hot dogs and beans? Why would anyone choose hot dogs and beans as their favorite meal?
A few sessions later, my Storyteller told me about his job as a twelve-year-old boy. He lived in the outskirts of the city. Every Saturday he took a couple of buses and walked many blocks before he reached a relative by marriage who also served as his boss.
His boss drove him to an affluent community that could afford caretakers and dropped him off at a home to work for the morning. The twelve-year-old would paint and clean and do odd jobs until his boss returned at noon and drove him to the boss's home for lunch.
The boss, his wife, and the twelve-year-old sat together for lunch, often eating hot dogs and beans. The boss and his wife took an interest in the twelve-year-old, talked with him, and got to know him.
They took the time to connect with their young employee.The twelve-year-old did not receive this type of attention at home. Although his father had recently become very ill, he still was not around much; his father usually worked two or three jobs to support the family.
The boy's mother was too overwhelmed with homemaking and bitterness to spend much quality time with her son. So the lunchtime rendezvous became a source of peace and comfort for the boy.
And in the depths of his soul, the boy (and eventually the man) unknowingly relived that peace and comfort every time he ate hot dogs and beans.
My Storyteller could not see the hot-dogs-and-beans thread that weaved through is entire life until we worked together. Now his family understands how a simple (unhealthy and often unappetizing) meal can mean so much to a man in his seventies.
But that's the magic of memoir. It helps us see and feel things that we never knew we were looking for but are so grateful to have found.
I invite you to experience this magic. Try your hand at writing or recording your memoirs yourself or contact us for some help.
Share your stories often. Save your life story forever. I promise . . .You won't regret it.
This publication is based upon personal experience, research, and education. Although the author has made every reasonable attempt to achieve complete accuracy of the content in this article, the author and Sunday Dinner Stories assume no responsibility for errors, omissions, or inaccurate information. For privacy reasons, some names may have been changed or omitted. The content is not intended to replace common sense, legal, medical, or other professional advice; it is meant to encourage, inspire, educate, and inform the reader. That means you should consult with your attorney, doctors, and other professionals if you have any concern about implementing our advice. But we hope you'll consider us your memoir professionals and will consult us for all your storytelling needs!
© 2021 Michelle Beckman, Sunday Dinner Stories, All rights reserved internationally.
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