ScrapMoir How-To #31: Writing Living Stories for Scrapbooks and Memoir

by Bettyann Schmidt on May 19, 2011

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #97 – Women’s Memoir Writing, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

by Bettyann Schmidt

History must be written of, by and for the survivors.~Anonymous

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, scrapbookingDoesn’t the world today seem to be changing so fast, so much history playing out, that it’s hard to keep track of it all?

We are armchair witnesses to monumental regime overthrows by a new generation armed with technology, who’ve seen their parents trampled by higher-class powers. We are survivors of historical events.

Those of us adults alive at this moment survived 9/11, and we recently witnessed the capture and slaying of one responsible for that tragedy.

Memoir: Balancing Textbooks with Living Stories

Those of us who feel the calling in our hearts to capture the events that take place in our lifetimes know how important our task is.

We know children will learn about history in their school books. I remember some of my history from school, but it was pretty dry stuff compared to my grandmother’s stories. We learned in school how people during the Great Depression were poor and had little food. Grandma told me how she had to make a head of cabbage and a few potatoes feed her family for a week.

School lessons described mass unemployment. My father painted the picture of going to work as a young boy on the city street corners selling newspapers to help pay the rent on a three-room apartment he and his four siblings and mother lived in.

While the textbooks can supply facts and dates, they cannot paint a personal, living picture of what real people lived through.  The required texts can’t substitute for “Living Books,” books about real lives.  Living Books are stories of real people, some of them children, like “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the story of a young Jewish girl’s fear of being found and captured during the Holocaust.

Only you and I can write our personal account and feelings of what happens during our lifetimes.

If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday. ~Pearl Buck

Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward.~Søren Kierkegaard

I remember how surprised some of my younger family members were to read my account of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. They never considered anyone they knew was alive then. It was in school history books, as was the murder of President Abe Lincoln. These textbook tragedies didn’t touch their lives, but it does touch people when they read a true account of how we felt about the big things that happened during our lifetimes. We bring history to life. We leave for them living stories, living books. We leave a legacy.

In Our Own Words

How did I feel a few weeks ago when I watched President Obama announce from the White House that Osama bin Laden had been found and killed? I wasn’t sure at first how I felt. I wasn’t sure I believed what the President said. Like a lot of other American citizens, I wasn’t even sure we were still looking for the man who was responsible for so many innocent lost lives in our country.

Internet Pictures

Then I watched on TV a young girl speak of her father’s last words to her before he died in one of the Twin Towers. What must that be like? It became real to me then.

No school book can duplicate what I and every other American felt at the very moment in history, on 9/11, when we realized what was happening to us on our own soil. People going about their everyday lives with no warning at all of what was to come. Only the survivors can tell the story

The Why and the How

History isn’t really about the past – settling old scores. It’s about defining the present and who we are.~Ken Burns


My feelings about life events, good and bad, define who I am, more importantly who I was on the day the world changed. That’s something important to leave behind.

Now I’ve added another story to my collection about the capture and death of our 9/11 enemy. My story doesn’t contain all of the facts surrounding the killing. This can be learned from textbooks, newspapers, magazines. My story is just that. A story.

People tend to forget that the word “history” contains the word “story”. ~Ken Burns

A story about how you react to an event or a crisis only requires an openness to feel. It’s about allowing yourself to examine your thoughts, your fears, your beliefs. Once you’re in touch with the feelings, the words come.

It helps us in the present to be in touch with our reactions, and it will surely help those in the future who read our words.

I’m interested in your comments, any tips you have for others on how to write our life stories, especially living through world events. 

And be sure, if you haven’t yet, to download a free copy of my e-book here on Women’s Memoirs: ScrapMoir: 7 Steps to Combining Your Photos, Your Memories, Your Stories.

Bettyann Schmidt
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You may also be interested in Bettyann Schmidt’s article on:

Using Political Turmoil in Writing for Scrapbooks and Memoir


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