ScrapMoir How To #23: Using Political Turmoil in Writing for Scrapbooks and Memoir

by Bettyann Schmidt on January 27, 2011

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #67 – Women’s Memoir Writing, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett


by Bettyann Schmidt

January 9, 2011, our Sunday Tennessean’s bold headlines read “Shooting Puts Focus on Political Anger.”

Then a quote by Pima County Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, followed:

“The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous…”

Inward Turmoil

That weekend, I hadn’t been feeling up to par. In spite of treatment for serious depression that I’ve written about here last year (See “In Sickness and in Health“), I have those days when I feel a little down. The holidays were over, and I tend to work hard for the Christmas celebration–the cooking, cleaning, decorating, making and buying gifts, wrapping. I think there’s always a bit of a letdown when it’s all over and cleaned up.

That Saturday I was mostly laying around and reading. Didn’t watch any TV. But when I powered up my laptop later in the day, I was shocked to see the news of the Tucson shootings. I turned on the TV and began to watch the tragedy unfold. An emotion welled up inside me that Saturday evening I can’t quite explain. Possibly it was that small child, a beloved and beautiful daughter of two parents who would never see her grow up. It might have been the number of injured and dead all at once. Maybe it was a growing feeling inside me over months and months of escalating political slamming and heated debate. I’m not sure.

What I was sure of, however, is that this was not the first political tragedy I’d lived through. I began remembering them, all of those such events I’d written about in my scrapbooks and journals.  John F. Kennedy’s assassination, that of his brother Bobby, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon, 9/11, other senseless shootings at schools and colleges, hurricane Katrina’s victim’s faces begging for help just a few states away from me.

This current one I would write about too. Political upheaval is part of our lives. We live through it, and to say it does not affect us is wrong, because in some way, hidden inside us, these events do have an effect on who we are and how we think. Some say they make us stronger, and that may be so. Obviously, for me, seeing a beautiful, young congresswoman shot in the head in broad daylight affected me almost as much as John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I’m thankful Congresswoman Giffords is still alive.

I’ve journaled about what happened in Tucson and gathered newspaper pictures and articles for my 2011 scrapbook. I’m a witness once again for the next generation.

My passion strengthens daily to quit political turmoil, and retire into the bosom of my family, the only scene of sincere and pure happiness. ~ Thomas Jefferson

I wonder if these tragedies shake my inner security or if they just cause grief. The feeling is a sadness, different than when a family member dies, but a loss perhaps of belief in good. Having been raised in a large Catholic family of Democrats, I am a “bleeding heart.” We were the working class who always hoped for a better life, a fairer life for people even lower on the scale than we were. I think this is part of the way I react to political turmoil.

I remember my Grandma, as she got older, saying she couldn’t let herself watch or read some of what went on around her because it hurt too much. She showed a definite adverse reaction to cruelty of any sort as the years passed. I’m finding this is happening to me too.

The Good Old Days

The Constitution is never tested during times of tranquility; it is during times of tension, turmoil, tragedy, trauma, and terrorism that it is sorely tested. Amaury de Barros Conti

My parents and grandparents did not keep journals or leave anything in writing for me and my siblings. I wish they had. Leaving a personal narrative of world events for your children and grandchildren is a priceless gift. However, I have a good memory–so far.

I learned through conversation what my family’s feelings were on December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I’m sure it was much like our reaction to September 11th, except they didn’t have a running commentary on television sets in homes to actually watch it unfold.


Photograph from a Japanese plane of Battleship Row at the beginning of the attack. The explosion in the center is a torpedo strike on the USS Oklahoma. Two attacking Japanese planes can be seen: one over the USS Neosho and one over the Naval Yard.~From

I heard stories of the the stock market crash, and I think their feelings were like mine when our big banks had to be rescued by the government at the very beginning of President Obama’s term of office.


Crowd gathering on Wall Street after the 1929 crash ~ sourece:

Although I listened to those stories as a young child, I now realize there has always been political turmoil and disruption. 

I remember the fierce opinions expressed at family gatherings, especially in an election year. Of course, JFK’s race for President in 1964 was the most discussed topic in my family, and I recall hearing Dad tell his sisters on the phone he was going to vote for Nixon and “cancel” their votes.

Neither my father nor his brothers talked about the war. Dad never told me he was stationed in Hawaii; I discovered this fact just a few years ago while searching I remember Grandma’s telling me of her great fear for my father because he had suffered, as a child, a nervous condition called “St. Vitus’ Dance,” or Sydenham’s chorea or Chorea minor, a central nervous system disease involving  jerking movements of the body which results from post-Strept A rheumatic fever. The Catholics named the disease after the patron saint of dancing. The results of Dad’s disease were several: his inability to drive a vehicle, a rheumatic heart condition, and extreme mental nervousness. Grandma was shocked and angry that the army took him.

My family–indeed, my whole inner-city community–lovingly talked of FDR’s New Deal, the president who served when I was born, and the only candidate to ever gain not only a third term but also a fourth. Grandma lived on social security when she retired, and she gave credit to Franklin D. Roosevelt for this luxury. It was her only source of income and afforded her the privilege of living in her own apartment instead of with her children. The people in my world also believed it was FDR who pulled them out of the Depression, though some historians differ.

It would be good to know in our present day exactly what caused the Great Depression, but the causes are still argued in the literature.


Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother depicts destitute pea pickers in California, centering on Florence Owens Thompson, age 32, a mother of seven children, in Nipomo, California, March 1936.

Economic History Lessons

Economic progress, in capitalist society, means turmoil. ~Allan Reid

When I was a teenager, my best friend Jackie and I would listen to her father as he gave us history and economy lessons.  One time he told us that the country’s financial status always improved when we went to war and that World War II is what had pulled the U.S. out of depression.

That explanation didn’t seem right to us. How could something as horrible as war, where people were killed, make money? Jackie’s dad then had to explain to us that we were selling lots of supplies to other countries. “Exporting” he told us. He said one of the reasons for the Depression had been that we weren’t exporting enough goods out of the country.

I knew Jackie’s father was, at some level, employed in the defense industry, but he had a classified position and could not talk about it. We knew he was an intelligent man, so we believed what he told us, though Jackie and I lost interest when he started getting too hard to follow. We had more important things on our minds, like most teens.

My family may not have known or understood the causes of the Great Depression, but they knew its symptoms. Stories abounded in my community, among my friends’ families, of complete devastation, wondering where each meal would come from. These were almost unbelievable narratives to me, a child who had never gone to bed hungry or lacked a warm winter coat.

It was during these years, growing up, that I first recognized true wealth and true poverty, and that we were somewhere in the middle.

Uncertainties Prevail

Amidst the confusion of the times, the conflicts of conscience, and the turmoil of daily living, an abiding faith becomes an anchor to our lives. ~Andrew DiPasquale

Like all of the unanswered reasons for some of our past greatest tragedies, today’s tragedies cannot be explained in certain terms. Our President was correct when he said in his Tucson memorial speech, we look for someone to blame when these things happen. We search for answers to tragedy. Political turmoil was blamed for this last event.

Whether that was the instigating factor or not, it was a loss for our country as well as a personal loss for familes of the injured or dead. It caused me to suffer, and I’m proud of that I think. These atrocities that take place in our lives need to be grieved and remembered, and we should chronicle them for those who come after us.

Memoir Journaling and Scrapbook Prompt: How did this latest tragic event, the shootings in Tucson, make you feel? What can you write about this? Do you think anyone in the future would benefit by your narrative? What other political turmoil have you lived through that you can write about? What was the greatest national or international tragedy or turmoil you have witnessed, that affected you the greatest?

Any and all comments welcomed as always.

Bettyann Schmidt
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