ScrapMoir How-To #34: When You Have Something to Say: For Memoir and Scrapbook Stories

by Bettyann Schmidt on July 28, 2011

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #112 – Women’s Memoir Writing, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

by Bettyann Schmidt

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.~Dr. Seuss

Memoir Writing and Journaling: Mightier Than the Sword

I’ve finally figured out why I write. I have something to say.

When I was a child, like a lot of other children, grown-ups didn’t always pay attention to what I wanted to say. I remember once being blamed in school for something I hadn’t done, and the nuns wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to tell them I was innocent. I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong kid.

As I grew older, I found that writing in diaries and notebooks to get things off my chest worked a lot better than trying to tell people how I felt in person. In writing, you have control over what you can say without someone interrupting with their own opinions. You get a chance to “explain” your feelings.

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. ~Arthur Polotnik

Additionally, you get to clean up your words before allowing anyone to read what you’ve expressed.

Have you ever had something important you wanted to tell someone, and you rehearsed what you were going to say over and over? And then when the time came to state your case, you completely went off the planned path and blubbered all over yourself and felt like an idiot? Been there, done that.

I think one of the greatest losses in modern times is letter writing. Now, with the onslaught of technology in all its various forms, everything now “instant,” we’ve lost the ability to think about what we want to say, choosing the most effective language to get our point across. I also believe a lot of misunderstandings and outright hostilities arise because of thoughtless language. Relationships are destroyed for lack of careful choice of words.

Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Like Other Memoir Writers: I Have Something to Say

As I’ve been writing my family stories over the past several years, every memory has brought me closer to what I was meant to discover.

The oldest of six children, I grew up in a dysfunctional setting. At least at the beginning. Life settled into a near normalcy as the babies continued to come into the world. For me, however, along with my younger sister Phyllis, we witnessed scenes that children ought not to be exposed to. We heard words adults need to speak in private.

Despite both my parents loving us children deeply, their personal relationship was a nightmare, especially during the early years. My father came home nearly every single night from a bar or saloon drunk. Night after night, Phyllis and I lay in a roll-away bed in the only bedroom in our home listening to our parents emotionally tear each other apart, accusations of other women in Dad’s life, insults hurled back at our mother for being a cold wife who couldn’t fill her husband’s needs, driving him to relationships with other women. We were too young to understand everything we heard but instinctively knew our parents’ lives were not normal, not like our friends’ parents. Worse, our security was stripped by the battles.

Phyl and I made it to adulthood the hard way, making bad decisions by the boatload, all due to low self-esteem. Neither of us ever felt we deserved what other girls got, so we settled for the least that was offered. Our marriages were horrible, just like our parents’ relationship when we were small.

Mom and Dad settled into a co-existence as the other children got older, and our siblings never lived through the frightening times we had. Still, two of my younger siblings have a hard time with the past and have let it rob them of a normal life. Phyl and I eventually came to a place where we let go of the past and chose to value the good in life. We didn’t blame anyone for the past, and that is what I need to say.

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. ~Barbara Kingsolver

Phyl died of cancer in 1991, still a young woman. She was one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. She worked hard and made a life for herself, a modest and decent existence, a life to be proud of. She held no grudges. She loved life. She and I found so many things in our childhood to laugh about when we got older.  We had fun times together.

Sander St.

  From Left: Cousin Linda, Phyllis, Bettyann, Donna. Circa 1950.

Phyl and Sue at pool

Phyllis with daughter Sue in background, 1985,
on a visit to see me in Tennessee
 
There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes. ~William Makepeace Thackeray

Memoir Writers: What Do You Want to Say?

If you have a past that haunts you, writing about it may help you find healing. You may also find buried gems you ignored during the early trauma. Those tiny jewels, if you allow them, will light a path for you to freedom. You will find love in your heart and a compassion for people who did the best they could with what they had to work with at the time. You will find what you want to say.

My parents were simply human beings who had lived through hard times themselves and made mistakes, just like I’ve made mistakes.

As Oprah always says, “When you know better, you do better.”

I’ve learned enough through writing that I’m now able to do better. And what I have to say to others, including my own family, is that you are the author of your own life. The past should only be used to answer the questions, to learn how to find your freedom to live a good life, and to discover how to forgive and move on.

I would like to hear from others who’ve traveled this road, came to the realizations my sister and I did, and hear what discoveries you’ve made about your own situation and family.

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
Be sure to join me on my blog, Journey2f.blogspot.com

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

ScrapMoir How-To #1: Memoir Writing with Pictures

ScrapMoir How-To #30: Revealing Secrets in Your Scrapbook Stories and Memoir

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon Ostrow July 28, 2011 at

Great post. I can relate. I just recently wrote something about letter writing, the pen to paper kind. My blog is “It’s All About the Journey” listed here on this website. I’ve also been writing family stories and also about my experiences of healing through journaling. I was a battered woman.

Bettyann Schmidt July 29, 2011 at

Thanks for the nice comment, Susan. I’ll check out your blog…sounds interesting. I was a battered person part of my first marriage, so I know about that. Robs your self worth. I also volunteer at our local women’s and children’s shelter. Had to complete a series of classes to volunteer and learned more than I ever believed about domestic abuse.

Glad to meet you! b.

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