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August, 2020

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A Secret Goodbye to Life Changed to a Memoir

August 24, 2020

Before I Leave You by Robert Imbeault  memoirRobert Imbeault never intended to write a memoir. Strange when you consider he always fancied himself a writer. What eventually became his memoir actually started as a secret goodbye to his life. He'd decided to end it all when he found it too difficult to deal with his life trauma and addiction issues.

But a strange thing happened as he began to write about it. The goodbye note expanded, grew and became something like therapy. It shows once again that "nothing listens like paper".

It was apparently a long process and there were tears and despair. I am glad Robert chose to work with a therapist as he continued his writing. It is dangerous sometimes to go it alone. He states in his article about writing this memoir, "Sharing in words the worst parts of my life both in what was done to me and who I’d become because of it sank me deeper into despair, but resolute, I pushed forward."

Something else he said, "Only the pages knew my words, only the words knew my feelings", is revealing. Often in journaling I know I am speaking to myself. At some point, however, we can choose to reveal parts of our emotional journey.

Robert was encouraged to share his story. It could help others. He discoverd the truth of that when another man in his men's group told him he couldn't have found the courage to share his struggles if it hadn't been for Robert's book (Before I Leave You: A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction and Healing).

That is affirmation for the power of our stories. You write it for yourself and you write it for others, even people you may not yet know who will be helped by your story.

First Days, First Things

August 18, 2020

The first days of school are always very busy for teachers, students, staff, parents and the rest of the families. This year it seems to have gone to a whole new level.

This is my tenth year as a full-time teacher and my ninth teaching fifth graders. It is a great age. Ten and eleven year olds are still full of wonder and curiosity, but they definitely have some independence and sense of self asserting itself. One of my big jobs is to teach them to be more organized and responsible.  You can imagine how challenging that is this year with our distance learning and the pandemic. Everything is remote teaching for now, but we do have plans to go to a hybrid model with some students coming on alternating weeks while the rest of the class continues with the remote lessons.

I am finding so many competing priorities for me in these first days of the new school year. And that is not too different from the start of organizing a life story project. When you begin the work of a memoir, autobiography or personal history project there is a lot to consider. You need to create a memory list of the main topics or areas to cover in your story. There is a lot of reminiscing and that can be exhausting as you dig up memories.

Finding photographs, old letters, diaries and journals, family recipes and even previous writing can create a huge amount of materials.  Reflections on this material is important. And there is the hard work of the writing. No wonder so many people turn to professionals like writers and writing coaches or personal historians.

Remember that you have to take it a bit at a time. Firsts things first. Just like the beginning of a school year as we create and teach procedures and routines. It is a good idea to develop a schedule and some routines as you tackle your life story. Commit to a certain amount of time for reminiscing, using notes or someone who can interview you and help you process your memories. You should mark out time to do research, going through old photographs, yearbooks, maybe doing some genealogy work.

First days of any big project, be it a new school year or a life story project, takes thoughtful planning. But you can do it one step at a time.

Reflection and Responsibility

August 15, 2020

As a school teacher the past two weeks have been a flurry of activity. We've been ramping up for our new school year. You know, the one that everyone is trying to figure out how to do. Distance versus in person instruction. Remote or face to face.

It's a very complicated scenario. Or maybe not so much. I have found that trying to calmy pull back and see the big picture reveals that what is most important is keeping our kids and teachers safe. The last thing I or anyone I work with wants is for anyone to get sick, or worse die, because of a COVID 19 infection transmitted through school.

We started our remote teaching a few days ago. It is a lot of work. Right now we are focusing mainly on teaching the students and families how we are doing this distance learning. How to navigate Google Classroom. How to set up a good study space. How to take responsibility for our efforts.

Taking responsibility for our efforts, for our actions, is something good for any of us to do. Especially in these strange days of the pandemic. Reflecting on responsibility is healthy and effective in helping us assess how we are doing in our daily living. I do this a lot. I reflect. I journal. I think about my life and my days. It is a time consuming job working as a teacher. I am suddenly back into the time demands each school day brings. Sometimes that can be brutal.  Often I am having to prioritize and decide what to do next between competing priorities. It can be exhausting.

But this is why I need to take time for reflection. If I just go about my work, caught up in the busyness, I am afraid I will lose sight of the purpose. As I see it, the purpose of educating young people is to help them become the best version of themselves. There is indeed a lot of responsibility (there's that word again) on their part to study, learn, explore and persevere. Learning can be hard. It can be frustrating. And ultimately it can be very rewarding.

I ask my students, just as I suggest to my life story clients, to reflect on their responsibilities and to write about their experiences. I truly believe "nothing listens like paper" and there is a real benefit in this self-reflection.

Despite all the anxiety and fears and challenges of teaching this year I still really love it. It is great to see the wonder in a student's eyes. It is a gift to see them discover and cultivate their interests. Even better when their interests help them nurture their talents and share them (their gifts) with us.

That is my responsibility as a teacher. And that is cetainly worthy of reflection.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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