November 25, 2009

Messages From the Future

Classic Little People

A few weeks ago I had a dream about my posterity. I don't remember much but the image of them all in a group, maybe 40 or 50 people of different ages and they were all looking up intently at me. (I'm not sure where I was--maybe in the sky or on a ladder.)

In the morning I tried to look up "posterity" in my dream dictionary to no avail. In pondering it's significance over the last few weeks, I have come up with several things, and it seems clear to me now that the future is trying to send me a message. They are reminding me that they exist. (Right now I only have one daughter, but hey, look at Abraham.)

That they were looking at me intently does not then surprise me--they are keenly interested in what I will do next. Maybe it was a reminder to be good, or to use my time wisely. But I think it also had to do with them wanting to know me. Sadly, too many of us know only shallow details about our relatives two generations back and beyond. This people lived fill lives, yet all we know are the birth, marriage and death date and maybe a few stories that could be categorized as folklore.

I go around giving speeches about the benefits of knowing your legacy, and also, therefore of leaving one. My posterity, whether they like it or not, will have more than a timeline. They will will also know what I thought and felt. I would pay anything to know these things about my mother. She died when I was 11.

I guess what I am trying to get across is, if you think your story doesn't matter, you are wrong. Maybe your kids won't care, but your grandkids will. Do it for them. And if you understand exponents, you know that these people who will be looking intently at you--or your story--will quickly number in the hundreds.

Stories have great power. They make us see what is possible, the help us to feel connected, teach us and can even heal us. So start writing, or if you have a parent who is not ever going to do it, get them to start talking. Memoirs Ink has classes and coaching available to help writers of any level and we have skilled life-history interviewers all over the country. Don't wait till it is too late. It is hard to fill these holes in our hearts and in the universe. Email us or call us today: info at memoirsink dot com or 888-486-3664.

November 24, 2009


Felice wants me to blog. Thinks it will be a good outlet for me. Ugh. I can't fault her for pushing me to trust in my creative side at little more. That's what she does with everyone. But I am much more of a bookworm than I am writer. She says "no pressure, just freewrite," but I am not about to post the uncensored wanderings of my Scorpio brain. If you didn't know, Scorpios tend to be morbid, at least in their thoughts. Luckily I'm tempered with a much more mellow rising sigh. Whew.

Astrology was not what I set out to write about though, it is about energy. Felice and Christina have been working on this book proposal for about--well for about a year it has been theoretical, but they have finally be cranking on it for about a month. It's fun to see them work. I have worked with Felice for a long time, but Christina has only been around for a year. Honestly, I didn't expect her to last long. I've seen interns come and go. Most of them go because Felice inspires them to follow their true passion which eventually leads them elsewhere... (I still miss you Emily!) It took a while for me to crack the mystery that is Christina, but I now love her.

But anyway, here is a little description of what it looks like, from my perspective. Felice is a crazy cyclone of energy at times. She has a million ideas a day and sometimes I joke that my job is to help her sort the good ones from the dumb ones. (So that makes me the genius, right?) Then there is Christina, who runs her fingers slowly through her long, thick, black hair and sometimes takes longer than the normal conversational pause to respond. I used to think that she wasn't listening. But no. Wait for it. She is just processing perhaps on a much different level of consciousness than I am. So to see them working together is funny to me. To see them under that kind of extreme sort of concentration--that is what I like to watch. Every now and then, they will run something by me and then mid-sentence they will stop and go back to mumbling or pacing around or laughing. Incidentally, Christina has a laugh that is sort of an event. My grandmother used to have a laugh like that. It made everyone else join in but at the same time stare in awe, wondering if she might die.

I just nod and try to keep things running while they neglect everything else around here.

Oh, and she wants me to post a picture, because people are totally visual. So here is a picture of my dog Ralls. He likes Jane Austen movies.

November 18, 2009

Smelly Pants

Today I went to lunch with my writer friend. She told me the following story. I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants. I told her she should write about it, but she didn't seem to see the value in it. She told me I could have it. So here it is. I have assigned her to write one of my stories for me, without telling me which. Here is her story. By me.

Smelly Pants

When I was a Freshman, I was getting ready for my English class, and I found a pair of pants in my washer. I remembered that they had been sitting there for three days. I threw them in the dryer, and then I put them on and rushed to class. After class, I stayed to talk with one of my friends. It started to rain. I asked him if he needed a ride to his car.

“Yeah,” he said. While we were walking to my car, something smelled really bad. I looked at him like, “what’s the matter with you? You stink really badly.”

We got inside my car and he said, “your car smells funny,” and I looked at him like, “yeah, uh huh. It’s you.” Because it wasn’t me. I was just in my car. It didn’t stink. He stinks. I couldn’t wait to get him out of my car. The smell was so disgusting. Like, rotten cheese. I was excited when he got out. “Finally,” I thought.

Then, I realized that the smell was still there. Wait. I thought the smell was coming from him. I sniffed around my car and got really close to my legs. The smell was coming from my pants. It was me. The pants sat in the washer and they had mildew. When I stuck them in the dryer, I couldn’t smell them. But, when it started to rain, the smell came back.

Years later, I saw that guy again. I went up to him.

“Hi, how are you?” I asked.

“I remember you. You gave me a ride to my car that one time,” he said.

Yeah, I knew what he was thinking, “you’re that chick that stinks.” I bet he went to all of his friends and told them a story about how some girl gave him a ride to his car, and she totally stunk.

I thought about explaining the story to him. What would I say? “Remember that one time you got in my car and you thought it smelled really bad? Yea, well, it was my pants.”

November 16, 2009

The LA Storytelling Fesitval

David O'Shea defines "fringe" at the storytelling festival.

Last Saturday was the LA storytelling festival and Jill and I graced them with our presence. It was great to see some faces we knew, like Ellen Switkes (Cornucopia) and David O'Shea and meet some new people. The festival was a combination of concerts (people performing their stories) and workshops about storytelling. I saw some great storytellers perform including Kathleen Zundell, who died in May of this year--through the miracle of technology she lives on. I also enjoyed Richard Marsh--Irish guy, nice beard. When he's not here touring festivals, his "real job" back in Ireland is to lead tour groups around and tell stories that happened in those places. Not a bad gig. If you have a chance to listen to him in person or on CD, do it.

Storytelling, I learned, includes not just personal narratives, but also fairy tales, folklore, myth, and anything else that one can tell that will keep people listening. Some tellers, as they are called, are captivating using only subtle gestures and movement--like Jonathan Solomon and Gordon Henderson. Others are big on performance and even use props, like Kristina Wong did in her story (she auctioned off items from her past that contained baggage in exchange for real and symbolic bids--it was a cool idea, though the audience didn't get it as well as she'd have liked.)

Overall, I think the festival struggled a little. I heard that there were a couple hundred people there, and none of the workshops or concerts were empty, but it felt oddly deserted or depressed. The catering was by Mort's hot dogs, and true, he did have veggie dogs, but come on--this is Los Angeles. This is a festival. Where is the movable feast? Also, the intermix of workshops and concerts felt schizophrenic. Either make it all stories and call it a festival or all workshops and call it a conference. But I digress. All in all, it was a great experience and maybe all it needs next year is about 200 more people to go and sit in the back row laughing their guts out.

I was just glad to see David, who I could listen to for hours, and Ellen, who looks duchess as all get out in dark sunglasses. I would tell you about David and his obsession with recording Veteran's stories, but I have asked him to write a guest post, so you will have the pleasure soon.

November 12, 2009

Success Stories

Memoirs Ink wants to announce and congratulate Abby Sher, one of our previous contest winners for the release and success of her novel, Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl who Couldn't Stop Praying (Among Other Things).

We also mentioned Melissa Petro, in last month's newsletter, but will do it again here. A version of her winning story, Mexico, has been published in the anthology Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex.

We love to hear about the success of our previous winners, students and clients. Please keep us up to date on your successes or interesting flops. Feel free to send us review copies and if we like it, we'll review it.

Oh dear. I just realized that I juxtaposed a book about praying too much and hookers. I think that is perhaps a great statement about how wide and varied the genre if memoir is-- and why we like it so much.

My Feelings Are None Of My Business

A couple of months ago, I took a writing and performance class with Amy Friedman and Laurel Ollstein. Our class put on a spoken word show. I invited my family. I did not know just how much of a mistake that was, but I do now. I have a very large, overly involved Egyptian family. Many of them drive me insane. I forgot about how many of them there are, and how overbearing they can be, because I moved out of the house for college. I am back. They have not changed.

I was hesitant to invite my family to the show. My teachers said I must; it was my turn to let my family know how I feel.

I shared stories with my family and the audience about life post grad. I talked about how different my life is, now that I moved back home. My best friends and I are scattered in three different cities. I can no longer walk to their apartments. There are no hot guys running around in my hallway.

I talked about premarital sex, same sex marriage, and just how little I identify with the Egyptian culture. My family, sitting out in the audience, was not amused. My father had a stern look on his face; his lips were pursed together, his eyes glaring right at me. He did not smile. My mom was more forgiving. She did smile. She even laughed.

The show ended and people approached me to tell me how much they enjoyed my essay. My family did not. After the show (the same day) and since then, I have had to listen to my family tell me how inappropriate and disrespectful I am. My cousins, who I grew up with, went on to tell the adults in the family just how much they disagreed with my essay. They have yet to say anything to me directly.

When I first started the class with Amy and Laurel, they told us that while we are writing, we must say to ourselves that our feelings are none of our business. So, when I think a piece I am working on is great, or when I think it is lousy, I say, over and over again, “my feelings are none of my business.”

By the same token, my family’s reaction to my piece is also none of my business. I cannot write how I feel, what I am experiencing, my hopes and dreams, while bearing their emotions, or anyone else’s in mind.

As I am preparing to take my next writing class, I am answering questions that my teacher sent out. One of which is, “What is emerging?” I thought about this.

What is emerging.

There is one thing, that I know for certain, and that is, my story.

November 9, 2009

Tell Me a Story - More Please

This weekend I went to a book launch party for the 3rd Tell Me a Story collection. Tell Me a Story started out as a children's newspaper column for a small paper in Ontario Canada. It is now syndicated and appears in over 150 newspapers around the country featuring multicultural myths and folktales from around the world. After 15 years of writing this column, Amy Friedman, the writer, got the bright idea that she should produce them into audiobooks. She has engaged some of the stage and screen's best actors to read them, and the music (by Laura Hall - Whose Line is it Anyway?) is amazing. They are truly magical. They have all won Parent's Choice awards as well as NAPPA Gold awards. And let me tell you, they deserved them. If you have kids age 5+, these CDs are like crack. They can't stop listening, and neither could I. (Long car ride heaven.) And I have a low tolerance for most things in CD format aimed at kids (Eeeek!). But I found myself being moved and healed and transformed while listening.

But besides the entertainment value, if you (or your kids) want to learn a thing or two about storytelling, you should listen to great storytelling. And this is it.

I think you can buy all three for a discount on CD Baby. You can also download them. Do it. I get nothing for saying this by the way. I'm just a huge fan.

November 6, 2009

Not Laughing Out Loud

When we moved to Blogger, this post did not come with, so I thought I should post it again. The other day, a former boyfriend tried to lol me and given that he knows how I feel about it, I equated it with calling me a bad name. I asked if this was his intention and he just responded with lots of exclamation points. Joker. Here's the post:

I have said it before. I will say it again. I hate lol. When I read lol, it doesn't make me think of laughing out loud. The symmetry of the letters is disturbing. It looks like an equation, or like the absolute value of zero. Also, the sounds of the letters don't flow. Lol sounds slow. It makes me think of lolling about, lallygagging, or logarithms--nothing funny about those. If there must be an alternative, "Ha!" is great, and contains just as few characters. It sounds sharp, like a chuckle. Lol sounds insincere. I don't buy it.

But why do we need so many acronyms and emoticons? So we don't have body language over email, so what? We didn't have body language when we used to write letters, either. What's changed? Why pretend like we do now? Why emote? Why not trust that our language will convey our meaning? There is the argument, which has been around since the letter, that one never knows in what tone a letter/email will be read. But this is true of face to face conversation as well. Despite the extra ingredient of body language, people misunderstand each other every day. It's the same with art. You can't control interpretation of it once you put it out there. An artist knows this. Yet believes enough it it's worthwhile-ness to put it out there. Without explanation. Without apology. Without emoticons next to it.

Why is it we don't trust language anymore? Or is that we don't understand it well enough to be able to use it? On Myspace blogs you can select what mood you are in while writing your blog. Give me a break. You don't see novelists writing their mood at the beginning of each chapter. It is part of the art of writing to be able to convey a mood by choosing the correct arrangement of words. Novelists also don't use capital letters to convey shouting. Nor do they use an excess of exclamation points. (I'll save this rant for another day.)

Let's not forget that even in an email, writing is not conversation. It is writing. It is communication. In fact, it should be easier to convey your feelings in an email, because you are not bound by the "show don't tell" rule. In fact, telling is required for effective communication. Let's see, can you guess how I'm feeling?

I can't wait to see you.
Where the hell are you? I'm worried.
I can't tell you how relieved I am.
I'm laughing so hard I just drooled ice cream sandwich on my keyboard.
I'm beginning to wonder if anyone cares.
Fool! You will regret this.

I'm pretty sure my meaning was clear in all of the above. And I accomplished it all with no emoticons, acronyms, and only one (correctly used) exclamation point.

November 5, 2009

Cat Memoirs?

A week or two ago, I told a friend that Memoirs Ink is now writing Child Memoirs. I actually called them Kiddie Memoirs, and she thought I said Kitty Memoirs. Ha! I laughed and laughed, and then I stopped and thought, "Could I?"

"You never know with people in L.A." she said, as if reading my thoughts. I shook my head. There aren't many animals about which you could entice me to write a serious memoir--except maybe this one:

Did you know that Hello Kitty is 35 this year? I only know this because I just (today) went to the Hello Kitty exhibit and art show at the Royal T in Culver City. I have never seen so much Hello Kitty stuff in my life. And the art She has inspired was quite magnificent, from gothic looking sculptures to Hello Kitty Elvis painted on velvet. It was already sold. Damn. I'm sure they have an on-staff historian, but it would be a fun memoir.


November 4, 2009


Danika reaching to pet the orphan lambs.

I made this image in Montana in 2004. I made it with a real camera, loaded with real film. Then I processed it with chemicals in my darkened bathroom; I enlarged and printed it in a darkroom at Santa Monica College. Now I have scanned it, and much of the magic of it is lost and the rest will depend on your computer screen, and the angle of your chair. Sigh.

I am as much a fan of the instant digital age as anyone. But there is something about silver gelatin prints vs pixels and ink. Sigh.

Some days I do a lot of sighing about days gone by. Today is one of them.

November 2, 2009


Today I read some contest entries who wanted feedback. I just have to say, in general, the feeling that I have after reading personal essays is: it is amazing what people survive. Really. Brain aneurysms, abusive parents, molesters, crazy marriages, electrocution. Then there are the people who seem to witness everything. What happens to them is that no one can keep from telling them anything. They always seem to be the third wheel along on the awkward camp-out or stuck between the bathroom and the outer door when the boss is firing someone or doing something inappropriate in the hallway. Then there are people who write about the bushes over their back fence.

I must say, I will read anything if it is well written. I happened to like the story about the bushes quite a lot. And I can handle stories about molesters and abusive parents, but most people who are writing a big story like that are too raw and close to it to understand that is through understatement that readers will feel it deepest. I think that the best way to learn about this is through poetry.

I can think of a million examples, but not one perfect one. But here is one from Linda Pastan:

To a Daughter Leaving Home

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

It is only the last line and the title that let us know that this is about a more serious and sad moment of seeing a daughter go. But Pastan chooses to tell the whole big tale in a small moment from long ago.

Another poem I am reading now by Raymond Carver is about missing a person who died of cancer, but he focuses on the face he is making in a photograph to tell the whole story. It is lovely and sad and nagging and all without being sentimental.

More on this another time.