Monday, December 31, 2007

Teddy Turns Fifty



It's amazing how a gift can lead to a lifetime of memories. This is my niece's favorite toy, a small yellow teddy bear appropriately named "Teddy," at age fifty. Here's his story:

It all began in December, 1957. I was a spinster school teacher in West Virginia (actually, I was only twenty-five, but earlier marriage was in vogue then) when I got the news that I had become an aunt. My younger brother and his wife were the proud parents of a baby girl, Cynthia Marshall. They lived in Iowa City, Iowa, where my brother was a graduate student.

Since Cindy was born on December 22, my Christmas vacation was the perfect time for a visit. Of course I knew nothing about babies, but I knew that a gift was appropriate. I headed for a toy department (Marshall Field's in Chicago, as I remember). I'm not sure why I was there--I didn't live in Chicago then, but I was probably visiting my parents in nearby southeastern Wisconsin. The store clerk suggested a very small, soft, washable yellow teddy bear as the perfect gift for a small baby. I bought it. Thus was Teddy born. I planned a trip to Iowa City to see the new arrival.

It was love at first sight when Cindy saw Teddy. From that day, he lived in a corner of her crib. As she moved along to larger beds, he was always her companion. Somewhat tattered, he endured a bit of repair work and even accompanied Cindy to college at Texas Lutheran.

Cindy remained in Texas after graduation and married, and I was barely in touch with her over the years. Of course I had forgotten Teddy, as I'd long ago forgotten any toys I might have had myself. As it turned out, Cindy remembered.

In 2005, I made my first holiday trip to Houston, Texas, to visit Cindy, her husband Scott Truby, and my grand-niece Lauren. Imagine my surprise to learn that Teddy still existed! By then, Teddy--and Cindy--were forty-eight years old, and I was seventy-three. I mentally filed away the fact of Teddy's survival, but I didn't actually see him then. Cindy delighted in telling me about him.

This year, I decided to take a picture of Teddy to commemmorate his fiftieth birthday. How proud I was at age seventy-five to realize that at least once, I'd found the perfect gift, one that has lasted for fifty years. Happy birthday, Teddy and Cindy, and I'll hope to see you both again next year!


Holding Cindy in 1957. Note the 1950's clothes and hairstyle. I don't look very comfortable!




Cindy sleeps while Teddy keeps watch.



Cindy holds Teddy.



My Niece, Cindy Truby, at Fifty (with new tree Santa)


Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne.
Photos by John Marshall and others unknown, 1957 and 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Reasons to Talk, Listen, and Write During and After the Holidays

A survey by Ancestry.com uncoverd some surprising results, including the following:

-- Young Americans are looking to their roots. 83 percent of 18- to 34-years-olds are interested in learning their family history. Following closely are the 35- to 54-year-olds at 77 percent and Americans ages 55+ at 73 percent.

--Half of Americans know the name of only one or none of their great-grandparents.

--Twenty-two percent of Americans don't know what either of their grandfathers does or did for a living.

--Although America is known as a nation of immigrants, 27 percent don't know where their family lived before they came to America.

Never assume that no one cares about you or your family's history. Whether or not you want to get seriously involved in genealogy, listen to family stories and write them down. Otherwise, they may be gone forever. Write your own story. We're all part of our family's histories; we all count! The family get-togthers of this season make great opportunities for learning and sharing.

For more of the survey, go to this link: http://www.boomj.com/?page=lifestyle/newsdetail&storyID=112682552&password=fgjqui

Happy holidays! I'm off the Houston, Texas, tomorrow, but I'll be back by December 27. For more about my activities, see my other blog, "Never too Late!"

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ever Try to Write a Rictameter Poem? Here are Two

The "Rictameter" is a nine-line poetry form in which the first and last lines are alike, and the syllable count is 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2. I'm no poet, but I'm fascinated by mental challenges like this. Why not give it a try?


Northern Winter

Snowfall:
White, beautiful,
Silent, soft, inviting
Snow angels, snowmen, sleds and skis.
Time for warm mittens, scarves, parkas, tall boots.
Drivers' challenge: shovel, plow, clear.
Parents' work, children's joy,
Winter's wonder:
Snowfall.


On Writing

Writing:
Challenge, career,
Pastime, necessity.
What we love and what we practice,
Source of joy and livelihood and respect,
Or what we hate and what we dread.
Time-consuming, source of
Rejection slips.
Writing.


Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How About a Top Ten List?


At this time of year, you hear and read many, many Top Ten lists: movies, books, TV shows, world events, celebrities, everything. How about writing your own list for 2007?

For some ideas and my personal list, see my other blog, "Never too Late!" at http://www.seniorwriter.blogspot.com/ (or use one of the links on the left).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Enjoy the Holidays, and Prepare to Write About Them

At this time of year, you may be too busy to think about writing your life story; hopefully, you're busy living that story. However, as you savor every positive experience, chance meeting, or family reunion, think about what you can write later. Don't forget the unpleasant experiences or funny mishaps. either. Remember the stories of holidays past that you may hear from family members.

Every experience is worth writing about, so think about the people you love (and possibly whose who cause you problems). Remember the wonderful gifts you give and receive, and the less-than-wonderful ones, too. Enjoy, experience, and think about writing your life, as the title of this blog suggests.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More Writing Ideas: Tracing Creativity (and Other Traits)

In his essay "Your character evolves through time-a memoir prompt," Jerry Wexler, of Memory Writers Network (http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/your-character-evolves-through-time-memoir-prompt/) records steps in his development of creativity, from sewing costumes and assembling model warships to dancing, painting, and singing, and finally to memoir writing. He encourages others to try to same thing.

I second the motion, and it seems to me that this technique can be applied to many traits or personal attributes besides creativity. You might explore steps that led you to a certain career or hobby or special interest, or steps that led you to an awareness of yourself, or even toward religious faith or lack thereof. How about steps in your coming to understand a particular problem, and/or steps that allowed you to solve that problem?

The idea is to focus on specific memories and try to describe them in detail, creating pictures with your words. That's what good life story writers do

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Writing On Line


This is a shameless promotion for eGenerations, the over-50 web site for which I write a twice-monthly column. This is still a fairly new and struggling site still being developed, and the founder is eager to get suggestions for improvements. Why not join? It's free, it won't bombard you with spam, and it can offer a place to argue with other members in the forums, to express your ideas, and to publish everything from your memoirs to your recipes on line.

While you're there, read my column on writing, rate it, and "digg" it. It's nice to be appreciated.

Go to http://www.egenerations.com You can find my column on the "Connect" page, upper right.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Another Online Outlet for Your Writing

If you want to post your writing on line, with a chance to earn a small sum of money if it proves popular with readers, check out the This is by Us web site. Once you've signed on, you can post anything you want and comment on any other post you want to.

Be sure to comment on and vote for anything you like there, and once you've posted somthing, urge those you know to read it, comment, and vote too. I just discovered this site today, so obviously I have not made any money, and as is my common experience, I probably won't. But feel free to vote for my two contributions and to add your own. At the very least, it's an interesting experiment. You can find a complete explanation on the site.

http://www.thisisby.us/register.php?r=10066/

Saturday, December 1, 2007

High School Writing: Has the Pendulum Swung too Far?

I have never been a high school English teacher, but as a college teacher, I shared the responsibility of teaching students to write. Once an English teacher, always an English teacher, I guess. I was fascinated to read the November 30 Chicago Tribune article, "Young writers knock out a book in a month," by Carlos Sadovi.

At least on the surface, this is good news. I'm a great believer in writing for all, and while my emphasis is on senior citizens' writing now, I'm all for getting an early start at being comfortable with the writing process. It seems that at Corliss High School, "140 students are scrambling to finish full-length novels in one month for teacher Kelli Rushek." In this offshoot of the National Novel Writing Month competition for adults that I've mantioned earlier, Rushek's aim is to "get students past the fear of loooking at a blank page. . . . I think the beauty of this is that I'm not grading what they are writing. It allows them to unhinge the trap door of ideas . . . . [I believe] that one must write before they write well."

I agree. When I began teaching many, many years ago, we English teachers tended to frighten students with our red pens. A person who agonizes over the correctness of every word and sentence as he or she writes it will not get very far. We probably turned off many potentially good writers in those days, and I'm probably as guilty as anyone. As Rushek points out, in the past, her students grumbled about having to write short essays, and now the writing portion of the ACT requires writing a five-paragraph essay in a half-hour. At Corliss, one student wrote about 900 words during her Thanksgiving break, and some dream of publishing their books for fame and fotune.

I have no interest in shattering such youthful dreams, but here is what bothers me about this project: "Students aren't graded on spelling, grammar or whether their stories make sense." To me, grading or the lack thereof is not the point. Will these students ever go on to the editing process? Will they ever learn correct spelling and grammar and how to express their ideas clearly? I can hope so, but my past experience makes me wonder. Toward the end of my teaching career, I encountered college freshmen who were incensed to be told that their writing did not deserve an A because there were so many errors. Instead of trying to learn about and correct those errors for an eventual A, they blamed me for being a tough, mean teacher. Too much experience with instant gratification?

To quote from my own book, Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors who Want to Write: "Correctness can come as a final step. . . . Worrying about each word, punctuation mark, and sentence as you write it can produce serious writers' blocks or bad writing. . . . Unfortunately, some teachers, students, and writers have stopped believing that correctness matters at all, and that attitude has brought its own problems, especially for those writers whose work gets rejected by publishers on the basis of writing errors rather than content." I've recently refused to review a self-published book seriously in need of editing for the most basic writing errors.

To sum up, I applaud the Corliss program and Ms. Rushek's and her students' enthusiasm, but I would like some assurance that discussions of correctness and the need for editing will come eventually, sometime after this herculean effort. If this project is an example of a resurgence of interest in learning to write well, I'm all for it, and I hope that's the case. On the other hand, if it's another example of the "dumbing down" of education, I despair. The pendulum has swung far since the days of the overused red pen and grade penalties for errors, but has it swung too far in the other direction?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-novel_30nov30,0,5424586.story

Monday, November 26, 2007

Those Hated--and Loved--Christmas or Holiday Letters

Christmas letters have probably inspired more parodies than any other feature of our hectic holiday season. They have been called "litanies of bombastic bragging disguised as holiday cheer," "anti-holiday letters memorializing deceased pets and reviewing all physical maladies endured throughout the year," and worse.

I confess that I am still a writer of Christmas letters. I think I inherited the idea from my late mother. After her death earlier this year, the most common comment I heard from her relatives and friends involved appreciation for her newsy Christmas cards and letters through the years. Anyone who received and read those cards and letters got a running report of her varied and interesting life, and she kept up the tradition into her nineties, with my technological help in the last years. She regretted having to give up this part of her routine a year or two ago

As for me, I've sent cards and/or letters for many years, even when I had to rush to finish them between hectic end-of-semester duties and Christmas eve. These cards have helped me keep up a current address list of old friends; when I saw an old college roommate from the 1950's recently, we still knew each other, thanks to our exchanging Christmas letters most years. I like keeping in touch with people whose paths crossed mine years ago.

Ted Pack presents parodies, examples, and suggestions for writing Christmas letters on his web site (see link below). In brief, his suggestions include keeping the letter brief and readable, keeping it light and happy, keeping it jargon-free (those on-the-job technical acronyms may not mean anything to your readers), focusing on highlights rather than trying to cover a whole year in a page, not promoting your home-based business, and above all, avoiding bragging, at least bragging without a touch of humility. I may have erred occasionally, but in general, my letters suffer only from being too long. We writers are like that.

Mr. Pack includes more specific suggestions on what to write about, as well as some humorous parodies of the worst examples. If you're a Christmas letter hater, give them another chance. I, for one, like to know what my friends, relatives, and acquaintances have been up to, and I hope that at least a few people want to hear about me. If not, they all have wastebaskets. I won't let a bit of disapproval deter me. Let's start a Christmas letter revolution. It's one way to share our life stories.


Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Holidays and Traditions

As I've suggested before for other holidays, why not write about memorable Thanksgiving celebrations, good or bad? Family traditions, family conflicts, cooking disasters, cooking triumphs: those are just a few of the possibilities. Don't let those memories be lost.


To see my recent post about Thanksgiving, go to my other blog, "Never too Late!"


Organizing your Life Story

One question I'm often asked is, "How can I organize my memoir or life story?" Assuming that you have written a series of journal entries, in no particular order, where do you go next? How do you put them together into a booklet, pamphlet, or self-published book? If, like me, you write about whatever experiences come to mind when they come to mind, your material may seem to be an amorphous mass. Here is some of the advice I give in my book, Seniorwriting.

Read through what you have written. Do you find a recurring pattern, themes or problems or triumphs that appear often in your journals? If a theme or a series of themes stands out, that may be a good way to organize your life story. Some possible examples are family, funny stories, illnesses, family tragedies, hobbies, awards, military service; there are many other possibilities.

Do you prefer a more chronological approach? You may want to gather your stories together under time periods such as childhood, youth or teen years, adulthood or working life, retirement, old age, etc. You might organize by years or decades, as well. Another approach would be to organize by major life events or milestones: birth, religious rites, graduations, marriage, children's births, losses, retirement, etc."

There are several books available that make writing your life story almost a fill-in-the-blanks project. Use one of them if you wish. However, it's your story, so my advice is to organize it and tell it in your own way.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Truth About (Old-Style) English Teachers and a Book Reviewer's Dilemma

Do you think those teachers who marked up your school papers in red ink were just being cruel? Did you let them discourage you from writing and make you hate writing? Here’s the truth: we (I was one of them) really wanted to help you learn to write correctly. Another truth: writing errors still can make English teachers (and former English teachers) cringe, at least those of us who belong to the older generations.

So what brought this topic to mind? As you know if you read one or both of my blogs, I am a relentless promoter of personal writing for seniors. I am a strong advocate of sharing experiences and life stories. I advise would-be authors to write naturally, as they speak, and not to let fear of writing errors discourage them. I do advise giving some attention to correctness as a final step: rereading, proofreading, and finding proofreading and editing help, amateur or professional, if necessary. In my "best of all possible worlds," any book self-published and submitted to on-line vendors such as Amazon.com for sale should be nearly error-free.

My ability to recognize writing errors is nearly 100%, while my tolerance for errors in a finished product offered for sale is nearly zero. I just was asked to review a book that created an interior conflict between my roles as writing promoter and reviewer. Should I write a negative or lukewarm review because of the writing errors, refuse to review the book at all, or praise the many good features of the book with just a brief mention of the writing errors? Should I shatter a new writer’s confidence by mentioning the errors, or should I shatter my credibility as a reviewer by ignoring them?

I’m not talking about awkward style or a few confusing sentences here, although there are some examples. What disturbs me are the repeated misuses of lie and lay, like and as, good and well, misplaced modifiers, even apostrophe errors in "it’s." Do these things really matter? They do to me, since they sometimes make reading difficult and rereading necessary to understand a sentence.

On the other hand, I’m sure that the errors don’t matter to, and probably aren’t even noticed by, the author’s relatives and peers. They probably love the book, and they should. The problem, as I see it, is offering it for sale to the general public without the necessary copy editing. Most self-published and small-press books I’ve reviewed have been nearly error-free, but there’s already been too much public complaining about the proliferation of books by incompetent or marginal writers. An error-filled, unedited book offered on Amazon has the potential to give us all a bad name.

So there you have it. What should I do? Blame public education? Despair at the realities of the publishing industry? Not really. Here are my choices as I see them:

1. Keep quiet. Refuse to review the book.
2. Pan the book as poorly written.
3. Write a mostly-positive review (as deserved), but with a caveat about writing problems.
4. Start a small, relatively inexpensive copy-editing service to help as-yet unpublished authors.

Please add a comment. Make your suggestions. What do you think I should do?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Instant Gratification for Writers?

I just encountered an interesting enterprise, http://www.48hrbooks.com/. This company promises to print and send fifty or more copies of an uploaded book in about two days (even less time if you are willing to pay extra). The cost can be less than $5 per copy without extras; of course ISBN number, bar code, cover design, file conversion to PDF, etc. cost extra, as they do with other, similar companies.

As you know if you read my blogs, I am an advocate of POD publishing for books not likely to attract wide audiences, especially for those of us too old and/or impatient to wait through years of rejections and fading hope. However, while I have used http://www.lulu.com/, where the process takes only a week or so (with no copy minimum), I wonder if 48hrbooks.com is going too far? Will someone dash off a quick, low-quality book and regret it within two days?

I still think writing takes a reasonable amount of thought and planning. In fairness, I assume that this service is mainly for books that have previously been completed, and it offers a way to finally get that book from computer to printed book. I also see it as of possible use to procrastinators with family stories ready to send out as holiday gifts. I imagine there are business uses, too: quickly-needed training manuals and other documents. The company offers formats other than the standard paperback book.

I have not tried this service; if anyone does, please keep me informed. It certainly illustrates the changes computers have made in the publishing world. Whether those changes are good or bad (or more likely, a mixture of the two) is still to be determined. However, I do like the idea of the many possibilities available for those who write. Let's hope we learn to use them wisely.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Writing vs. Marketing

It should be obvious that writing and publishing one's work are not synonymous. However, the proliferation of self-published books both full of errors and of limited interest to the general public has made me wonder if we need to make a clearer distinction between writing and publishing for the general public.

As usual, the answer may be in making careful decisions. I have encouraged, and still encourage, everyone to enjoy the benefits of writing: discovery, healing, reinventing, sharing, and enjoying, among others. It is very important to share our experiences and leave our stories for our families. As records of life in our times, our stories may have lasting value. Still, not everyone has the skills to produce a book that will sell, or the desire to market it. That's fine. Today, it is possible to produce an attractive book at reasonable cost without any expectations of sales. That's what I did with the tribute to my mother, Remembering Violet (see earlier post).

In short, do not assume that every book should be published, or not published. Get some advice. If you decide to publish, you may need an editor. Don't try to publish a book filled with writing errors. I've said that errors don't matter, but they usually do in the commercial publishing world. They also matter to occasional book reviewers like me.

This article from the "Just Write" blog may help you find your personal answer:

http://www.thmeeks-justwrite.blogspot.com/2007/11/publishing-question.html

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Self-Interview

As I've said before, a self-interview can be a good way to begin writing. When Nathaniel Briggs, founder of the eGenerations web site, for which I an a columnist, came up with six questions for members to use when interviewing themselves or other members, I decided to try them out. Here is what I wrote for my eGenerations journal in August, 2007:

When I was a teacher, I often suggested that other teachers should try out their own assignments. Few accepted that suggestion, and I can't say that I've always followed it myself, but right here and now, I'm about to try it. Actually, I'm trying out a suggestion made by the esteemed editor of this web site. He proposed that members interview each other on eGenerations as a way to get everybody writing. I'm all for that, although I've taken a more casual, less formal approach.

I've interviewed others in my journal, and most of you have already read more about me than you want to know, but here goes: I'm interviewing myself to test out the eidtor's six suggested questions. I could write volumes on some of them, but I'll try to keep it relatively short. And I assume that most of you would choose from among the questions rather than try to answer all of them.

1. What's your most challenging life experience?

My most challenging experience involved dealing with the final illness and death of my beloved husband, Jules, in 2000. He was a wonderful, active, healthy, gregarious 70-year-old who still rode a motorcycle and enjoyed life. Then he became ill, and his pancreatic cancer was diagnosed in late 1999. There was no hope, no effective treatment, no cure, and to make matters worse, he had seen his younger brother die of the same terrible disease a few years earlier and vowed not to endure aggressive treatment. He didn't.

I had retired only a few months before he became ill, and this seemed to be the end of our rather fortunate life together--and my own life, too. I have no nursing skills and was an inept caregiver, no matter how hard I tried. The disease ran its course; he had hospice help, and eventually died in late March, 2000, in a hospital because I couldn't handle him either physically or mentally.

I didn't really hit bottom until about five years later, when I finally realized that I needed to do something with my life. I began, or in a sense resurrected, my writing career, and "the rest, as they say, is history."

2. If you could re-do something in your life, what would it be?

I would change very little about my life. I might have tried harder to make more friends, but being a loner came naturally, and I've dealt with it. I would have skipped my first marriage; there was nothing wrong with my first husband except the dullness I perceived in him, so we parted, fortunately with no children to be affected by our divorce. Of course the real problem was with me, not with him. The marriage was simply a mistake.

I might have tried to do more writing earlier in life, but my work ethic told me to have a career and always remain self-supporting (hard for a writer to do), so my choice was right for me. Yes, I've made some mistakes, but I have accepted myself for who I am, flaws and all.

3. Have you done any traveling? If so, where?

My answer is yes, I've traveled virtually everywhere. I succeeded in visiting the last two in my quest to visit all seven continents, South America and Antarctica, in 2005. I visited Ireland earlier this year, but travel is getting harder for my arthritic knees. I'm glad I had a wonderful travel companion until 2000, and that we didn't wait for retirement to travel. We began in 1974, and I'd begun earlier than that. Some of my travels are recounted in my book. I wish I'd known more languages (I'm fluent only in English) and been able to communicate better.

4. What life lesson have you learned that is most important to you?

I've learned many lessons, but perhaps the most important is tolerance of others and their abilities, flaws, and ideas. I grew up in an all-white, mainly Christian rural environment, but when I finally encountered diversity, I embraced it.

5. What's your favorite passtime?

Of course it's writing. I write for the joy of it, not for money. I admit that I get a thrill from seeing my name and my words in print and on line, and I don't think I'm overly egotistical. It's hard to explain. I also enjoy reading, opera, theater, and travel. I sometimes enjoy just sitting in my recliner thinking--and I always have a pen and paper nearby. My body may not be very active, but my mind certainly is!

6. What "odd" thing about you don't most people know?

I'm not sure what people know about me now, but I suspect that some don't know that while I'm a loner, I'm basically shy rather than egotistical. I'll never be a "social butterfly," but that's o.k. with me. People may not know that I've survived breast cancer and a broken pelvis, as well as a broken leg and a broken arm. Life hasn't always been easy. A few of my older friends don't even know that I'm a blogger! I hope everyone knows that I'm fine now.

An afterthought: I guess many may not know that this stodgy old professor has toured the U.S. and Europe on the back of her husband's BMW motorcycles. We traveled through the Alps four times, and our final foreign trip by motorcycle was our fascinating trip to Russia in 1990 (see the photo above).

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the author's collection

Link: http://www.eGenerations.com

Friday, November 9, 2007

More Encouragement to Write!

In case you need still more encouragement to write your life story and/or to blog, or to urge your older relatives to do the same, check out this link to Ronni Bennett's blog, "Time Goes By." I, too, would like to have "conversations" with my long-departed ancestors, and except for my mother, none have left their stories for me to read.

http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/2007/11/repost-extraord.html

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Reluctant Driver

As you can tell from my mother’s "How I Learned to Drive" below, driving was a sort of rite of passage as early as the 1920's. My mother learned to drive her uncle Bert’s Model-T Ford when cars were rare in her small town, and when it was very unusual for children, especially girls, to learn to drive. She admits later in her autobiography that, since her immediate family didn’t own a car while she was growing up, she didn’t have a chance to drive again until after she was married in 1930, but she was proud to know how.

I, on the other hand, grew up when cars were everywhere, and in the 1940's and 1950's, most young people dreamed of the day they would get their drivers’ licenses and their own wheels. For many then, it was just a dream, but for me, it wasn’t even that. I admired my Grandma Minnie’s old maroon coupe with a rumble seat, but I never really wanted to drive myself. Let’s face it: I was a shy nerd, and I was scared. I was a loner who, as my mother often said, "always had my nose in a book," and learning to drive was never on my agenda.

It seems strange today, but while I welcomed rides from friends and family, I never even tried to learn to drive the family car–and we always had one. I believe my younger brother learned to drive as soon as he was old enough (or earlier), but I somehow skipped that step. My mother claimed that I learned to drive a tractor, but I remember only terror in the field, not successful driving. Of course my brother eagerly took up tractor driving; our parents couldn’t have afforded to buy cars for either of us anyway, and we had no paying jobs.

I finished high school and college, earned my Master’s degree, and began my teaching career in the late 1950's, all without learning to drive. It wasn’t until I quit my doctoral studies to marry the son of one of my professors in early 1959 that my lack of driving ability became an issue. We moved to a suburb of Chicago, and I got a teaching job at Wright College on the northwest side of the city. I needed a car to get there, and before that, a driver’s license. I was twenty-seven years old.

I remember my husband’s (no wonder that was a short-lived marriage) trying to teach me to drive in our new red 1959 Chevrolet Impala, without success. I don’t remember the details; I was just too nervous. I remember trying to practice and ending up on a dead-end road in a small parking lot, where I panicked, cried, and only because I had no choice, finally figured out how to turn around and get out of there. I seem to remember doing some minor damage to that Chevy, but I’ve put the details out of my mind. Eventually I signed up with a professional driving instructor, passed my driving test in the Impala, and bought a red Corvair for myself.

All went well for a while. I kept driving, although I never was especially good at it. By the time I met my second husband, I was the proud owner of a cream-colored Corvair convertible with a black top, but by that time, I had skidded off an icy highway, and the car had a sprung frame. I replaced it with a Dodge Dart convertible, and then went on to my string of red cars (see my June 20 post below), including three 3-series BMW’s and my present 2003 Mini Cooper. I’ve avoided major accidents, but all of my cars have sustained serious dents and scratches from my pathetic efforts to park.

To this day, I have to make three or four passes to back my Mini Cooper out of my tiny garage parking spot; anyone else can do it in one or two. I don’t drive very often, and that’s probably good for the population of Chicago. I may give up my car when I move to the Clare in a year or so, and yet–those new Smart Cars are really cute. I wonder if they come in red?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Violet Learns to Drive


My mother, Violet Uhl Marshall Funston, wrote her life story, My First Eighty-Six Years: A Midwestern Life, in 1997. She died earlier this year at the age of 95, but it seems appropriate to use her work as an example of what we all can and should do to record our stories for our families. This story also is reprinted in Remembering Violet (see below).


How I Learned to Drive, by Violet Uhl Marshall Funston


My mother's brother Bert bought a Model-T Ford. He also bought a long linen duster, dark goggles, a special cap, and driving gloves, the accepted costume for all drivers. There were many cars in the cities already, but few in our small town, so I was fascinated by that Model-T. Every week I helped my uncle wash and polish that car. I liked to sit in it and pretend I was driving. I also liked to toot the horn. It made a wonderful noise, "Ah-Ooh-Ah," which frightened the neighbors' chickens, and according to the neighbors, affected their egg production.

Every night in my prayers, I asked God to have my uncle Bert, Grandma, and Grandpa take me riding the next Sunday. I sat in the front seat with my uncle and watched everything he did and asked him questions. Finally, I decided driving a car was not very difficult, and I started "bugging" my uncle to teach me to drive. Very few women drove cars then, and no children, especially girls. He finally agreed to teach me. We had our lessons in the cow pasture of a farm my Grandpa Blanchard owned. I learned to drive quickly, and I still believe that if you can drive a Model-T Ford, you can drive anything.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Let's Write in November!

November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), National Life Writing Month, and Family Story Month. Why November? Well, I don't know why, or whether, one month is better than another for writing a 50,000 word novel (not a task I'm likely to undertake), but it may make sense for life stories.

According to Denis Ledoux, of the Soleil Lifestory Network, "November is a great time, with the holidays coming, to discover that the best gift you could possibly give is one that can't be bought. To share a few stories of your life with those who mean the most to you is a very special present." That's essentially the message of this blog.

I hope my little book Remembering Violet (see my October 22 post) will prove to be a good gift for all the family members and friends who contributed, and for a few others as well. Thanks to computers and on-line self-publishing (I used Lulu.com) or local copy shops, there's still time to write down a few family memories, yours or a relative's, and distribute them as gifts.

Ledoux adds, "When you are writing your lifestory, it's not the Pulitzer Prize you're going for! We each store a unique treasure trove of valuable experience and insight in our memories. It's a loss for the whole community when that treasure is allowed to fade away."

Family Story Month is designed to let younger people, students, participate as well, perhaps by interviewing older family members about their lives.

Whatever your age and writing preferences, just write! If you can write that novel, short story, or poem, go ahead. But don't forget that Life Stories or Memoirs are also part of November's unofficial writing schedule. Just have fun!

Sources:

http://www.scrapyourstories.com/lifewritingmonth.htm
http://www.storyarts.org/classroom/roots/family.html

Photo: "Where I Write," by Seniorwriter

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cherry Blossom Nostalgia: A Review

Cherry Blossons in Twilight: Memories of a Japanese Girl, by Yaeko Sugama Weldon, with her daughter, Linda E. Austin, is the charming life story of a Japanese-born senior citizen. It is a book for readers of all ages, from young people learning about history and other cultures to older people who lived through World War II.

Yaeko Sugama was born in 1925 in the small town of Tokorozawa, Japan, where she could see Mt. Fuji and the Chichibu mountain range in the distance. The family was poor, and lived in a typical one-story wooden house with a tin roof. Her father's shoemaking shop was in the front. Yaeko adored her father, but somewhat resented her mother's preference for her brother. "Girls are not so good to have because they marry and leave home, but when a son gets married, he stays to take care of his parents." That was the Japanese custom.

The author describes other customs of the time: the nature celebrations, the making of origami birds and kirigami from colorul paper, Yaeko's pet owl, stories from Japanese folklore. The author's charmingly drawn illustrations from a child's life in Japan are an added bonus.

After "Childhood" comes a section on "School," and then "World War II," "After the War," and "A New Life." The book ends with an appendix of Japanese children's songs, photographs of Japan in the 1950's, and a useful glossary and index of Japanese terms.

World War II disrupted peaceful life in Tokorozawa and brought air raids, bomb shelters, and rationing, leading the children to ask, "Who wants war anyway?" While the war took away the young Japanese men she might have married, it gave Yaeko a view of the outside world. She worked for American military families, eventually married an American soldier, and moved to the Chicago area.

Yaeko Sugama Weldon now lives in St.Louis, Missouri, near her daughter Linda, who helped her put her stories together. This book is a good example of the family memories and experiences we all need to share. While Yaeko expresses her regret that she didn't learn English better, her simple, direct prose is charming. That, as well as the story itself, should make this book especially interesting to young readers. However, I couldn't put it down myself.


Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne.
Link: http://www.moonbridgebooks.com/

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The First Review of Seniorwriting Has Just Appeared!

It's always a pleasure for a writer to read the first reviews of his or her books (unless they are scathingly critical). Until someone has read it, we wait anxiously for confirmation that our work has merit. The author usually likes the book, but will anyone else? We little-known authors without agents know that the "big guy" reviewers from the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune and other prestigious publications probably won't be interested, nor will local or national TV shows be competing to interview us, but thanks to the Internet, we can find competent reviewers. In fact, I am a reviewer of little-known books myself.

The first review of my new book, Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write, has just appeared on Reader Views and on Amazon.com. The reviewer is Richard R. Blake. To read his review, go to http://www.readerviews.com/ReviewStyneSeniorWriting.html

I'll repeat the link to my first author interview about this book, by Paul Lam in The Elders Tribune: http://www.elderstribune.com/writing/senior-writing-ten-questions-marlys-styne-seniorwriter

Update:


Two more reviews have appeared. You can find them with these links:

http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/reviews/seniorwriting.shtml

http://moonbridgeblog.blogspot.com/2007/11/national-life-writing-month.html

I am a realist; I know that my books have a limited audience, but I am always happy to read a favorable review or interview. If this book encourages at least a few of my fellow seniors to write their life stories, I have succeeded.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tributes and Memories: Honoring the Departed

When my mother, Violet Marie Uhl Marshall Funston, died earlier this year in a nursing home at age 95, it was a sad occasion, yet in a way, a relief that her suffering had finally ended. She was a woman who led an active life and touched the lives of many friends and relatives.

She had several careers, completed college in her late fifties and realized her life-long dream of becoming a teacher, outlived two husbands, and later became a part of the lives of two of her great-grandchildren.

Only a few members of our small, scattered family and a few local friends were able to attend her funeral in Northfield, Minnesota, so I resolved to ask those who knew her to write brief tributes before the end of the year, accounts, serious or humorous, of their memories of Violet. Those who were not comfortable writing were asked to contact me via email or to telephone me for a conversation about her.

Of course some procrastinated and needed several reminders, but I eventually gathered memories from my brother, niece, nephew, three grand-nieces, five cousins, an aunt, and three friends. Fortunately, my mother wrote her own life story in 1997, when she was 86, so I was able to include some excerpts from that as well.

It was wonderful to reestablish contact with cousins and old friends I hadn't seen or kept in touch with for many years. The result was a little 56-page book entitled Remembering Violet, self published via computer through http://www.lulu.com/. It was a labor of love for all of us.

This book is not for sale; it will be distributed to family and friends. I hope it will help everyone remember what an interesting, vibrant, active woman my mother was for most of her life.

Completing this book gave me a good feeling. When you suffer the loss of a loved one, why not suggest or begin a tribute or memory book? It's fairly easy these days, due to improved technology, and not very expensive. It's a good way to pass along family memories and stories.

(While my mother was not a celebrity, and this book is not for general sale, if anyone would like to see it as a model or example, please contact me.)

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, October 19, 2007

See You at the IWPA Book Fair Tomorrow!

If you live in or around Chicago, drop by the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph Street, for the Illinois Woman's Press Association Fall Book Fair tomorrow, October 20. From 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at least thirty Illinois authors will be talking about and signing their books, on sale by the Shop at the Cultural Center.


You'll find books of all types, from fiction to self-help to memoirs, from religion and spirituality to senior issues to sports, from business communications to Illinois history to children's stories. This is your chance to discover new authors you may never have heard of, but whose works are well worth reading.

Yes, I'll be there, with both of my books, Reinventing Myself and Seniorwriting. The event is free and open to the public, and I'd be happy to see you! If you've never visited the Cultural Center, this is your chance to tour a beautiful old building, too.

[Update: See my October 21 post, "Support Little-Known Authors," on "Never too Late!" for more about the fair: http://seniorwriter.blogspot.com/2007/10/support-unknown-authors.html]

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More on the Power of Telling Life Stories

Yesterday, Federal Judge Joan Lefkow and her sister, Judy Smith, were featured in a Matt Lauer interview on The Today Show. Lefkow and Smith are daughters of the late Donna G. Humphrey, the 89-year-old murder victim who left behind a wonderful collection of poems that her daughters published recently.

The resulting book, I Speak of Simple Things (Ampersand, Inc., 2007), is a fascinating picture of a woman's life. In the Lauer interview, Judge Lefkow said that while the extensiveness of her mother's writing was a surprise, the family knew that Humphrey was constantly writing in her later years, even feeling guilty when she didn't take time to write.

You may read my earlier review of this book below, in my September 30 post, but more importantly, watch a video of this Today Show interview:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/21297994/

Friday, October 12, 2007

Assignment: Write About Those Milestone Events

As you ever inspired to write about special events in your life, past or present? How about those "big" birthday milestones? They present good opportunities for introspection and passing along the lessons you've learned.

Do you remember any special birthdays or anniversaries from earlier years? How about writing down those precious memories?

Today is my 75th birthday. To see what I wrote, look at my other blog, "Never too Late!" It's nothing special, but perhaps it will get you thinking about what you really can and should write about the milestone events in your own life. Don't let those thoughts or memories get away!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Get Your Book Into Print: A Review

Computer consultant Helen Gallagher, author of Computer Ease, has written a new book, Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way (Virtualbookworm, 2007).

She presents a practical, businesslike, common-sense approach for getting your book published, mainly through self-publishing or POD (Print-on-Demand).

Gallagher examines the changing publishing industry, pointing out some interesting facts: "A few companies, just five or six, control over 80 percent of the industry. Most books in bookstores come from those few firms. Only one to two percent of unsolicited submissions are purchased for publication."

What's more, it's usually a long journey of up to two years or more from manuscript to publication for traditionally-published books, and most have to sell at least 1,200 copies for marginal success, over 7,000 to sustain interest. Even then, there's no guarantee of financial success, and most book promotion is still left to the author.

The author points out, "self-publishing is not settling for second best. It's the right choice if your book won't likely capture the attention of a large publisher and you don't want to spend years waiting to see your book in print." Gallagher is writing for a wider audience, but it seems to me that most of my fellow senior writers or would-be writers need to heed her words. "Attract a publisher if you can, but if not, don't wait your life away."

Through her considerable experience both as a writer and as a consultant who helps clients through her firm, Computer Clarity, Helen Gallagher is well qualified to give extensive advice on both word processing techniques and on the business aspects of being a writer. From organizing material to establishing a contact database to promoting your book through a web site or blog, she covers all the bases, and she adds an appendix of writing resources.

For a writer either beginning or just finishing a book, Helen Gallagher's Release Your Writing should prove to be a valuable tool.

This book can be ordered at http://www.releaseyourwriting.com/.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Assignment: Who's Your Favorite Poet?

Do you have a favorite poet, perhaps one remembered from long-ago school days? Why is or was he/she your favorite? If you belong to that fairly exclusive group of poetry lovers--or poets--what do you like about poetry in general and your favorite poet in particular?

For what I wrote about my own favorite, go to today's post on my other blog, "Never too Late!" at http://www.seniorwriter.blogspot.com (or click on the link in the sidebar here).

If you write short poems yourself, feel free to share them here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Read an Interview about my new book!

The first interview about my new book, Seniorwriting, appears on The Elders Tribune site today, thaks to site founder Paul Lam. Check it out at http://elderstribune.com.

Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write (to Discover, to Heal, to Reinvent, to Share) is now available at www.buybooksontheweb.com.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Telling Life Stories Through Poetry: A Review

A Review of I Speak of Simple Things, by Donna G. Humphrey (Ampersand, Inc., 2007)

Donna Grace Glenn Humphrey, a native of Kansas, probably came to the world's attention only once, on February 28, 2005, at age 89. On that day, Mrs. Humphrey, mother of a federal judge in Chicago, became a tragic murder victim, along with the judge's husband.

This year, Chicago Tribune reporter Mary Schmich revealed, in a fascinating article, that Donna Humphrey had written poetry for most of her life, but while she shared some of it with family and friends, most of it was tucked into drawers and closets where family members found it only after her death. Fortunately, her daughters, Joan Humphrey Lefkow and Judith Humphrey Smith, joined Suzanne Isaacs of Chicago's Ampersand, Inc. to publish privately these revealing fragments of a woman's life.

Columnist Schmich calls the poems' style "plain and lyrical," and they probably do not rank among the world's greatest poetry. However, as a revealing record of a woman's life, these poems, "dedicated to the strong and noble women of the prairie," are priceless.

The book begins with "If I Were a Poet." It reads, in part:

"If I were a poet / I could speak my thoughts in language / All sublime and terrible . . . . But I, I only know of simple things / Heart-stabbing winter sunsets, / The unexpected thrust of pain / That tells me life is fragile . . . . My thoughts are not profound / I only speak of simple things."

In short poems gathered by the editors into "The Natural World," "The Inner World," "Time," "Home," "Longing," "Family," "The World Outside," and "Faith and Prayer," Donna Humphrey did, indeed, speak of the "simple things" that made up the lives of the ordinary women of her time.

Some of the poems reflect concerns about aging: "A book unopened in her lap, she rocks / And counts her gold in simple things / The heart remembers." In "Old Woman," she sees herself as an abandoned house. "I wait the Wrecker's ball / When with a sigh / I fall and leave a space / For building." "The Widows" begins, "We are everywhere / We with our perms / Our little purses / Our careful steps / Supported by our walkers / Or our canes. / We are the Survivors . . . "

Donna Humphrey, farm wife, mother, general store proprietor, office worker, and hospital assistant controller, lived for nearly 30 years as a widow. According to the book's introduction, she suffered from chronic depression. Still, "Through her faith, determination, and the love and responsibility she felt for her children, she thrived." She survived difficult times, and she lives on in her poetry.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, September 24, 2007

Assignment: Awards, Prizes, and Triumphs

This past weekend, I was reminded how pleasant it is to receive an award--any award. I received a first place award for 2006 contributions to my other blog, "Never too Late!" and a third place award for my first book, Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor, at the National Federation of Press Women's 2007 conference and 70th Anniversary Celebration in Richmond, Virginia.

These awards are not especially important to the world at large, but they made me feel good, just as did being named high school class valedictorian in 1950 and receiving my Distinguished Service Professor award from Wright College in 1995-96. It's a good feeling to be acknowledged for something.

Write about your moment or moments of triumph. What did you do to earn the award, and how did you feel about it? Don't worry if you can't think of any major prizes or awards. Look for the simple moments of pride during graduation ceremonies, beauty contests, spelling bees, state fair contests, organizational recognition ceremonies, or anything else. Your reward might have been a trophy, a plaque, a certificate, an atheletic letter, anything from money to a simple handshake from a local celebrity or mentor.

You might also write about moments of pride in the accomplishments of a family member. Have you shared vicariously in awards won by your spouse and/or children?

Do you agree that it's a good feeling to be acknowledged? I believe that it's important--and comforting--to remember these awards, prizes, and triumphs as parts of our life stories, and as I have proved, it's never too late for more triumphs!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Assignment: Write to Combat Ageism!


According to Julian, of "The Tattler" blog, "These are the nine known major stereotypes that reflect prejudice toward senior citizens":

Illness
Impotency
Ugliness
Mental Decline
Mental Illness
Uselessness
Isolation
Poverty
Depression

Where did these stereotypes come from? What can we do to help overcome them? Let's look for senior achievers and tell their stories--or let's tell our own stories! Let's prove that there is life after 70, or 65, or 60, or 55!

A slightly different version of this post appears in The Elders Tribune (http://www.elderstribune.com).

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's Almost Here!

Today, I received the proof copy of my new book, Seniorwriting (Infinity Publishing, 2007). It will be published in two weeks or so. Since this is my second book, receiving it was not quite as exciting as receiving my first, but I still was thrilled to see it.

I hope that this brief guide (81 pages, $9.95) can make it easy and enjoyable for senior citizens to write to discover, to heal, to reinvent, and to share their valuable experiences and memories with future generations.

If you're already a writer, you probably do not need this book. It's basically for beginners. I hope it may prove useful as both a guide for individuals and as a text for Continuing Education or Lifelong Learning classes in writing; it is much less prescriptive and structured than the other books of its type I've seen, some of which seem to take a sort of "fill in the blanks" approach. I believe that we need encouragement toward creativity, not rigid writing rules.

My book offers examples of personal writing, including some first presented in this blog, as well as some practical advice on organizing, revising, editing, and publishing or sharing.

I hope to take away the fear of writing and inspire other seniors to find as much joy in writing as I have. Perhaps I'm naive, but I still believe that all seniors should share their valuable experiences and life stories--and that they can!

(No, I don't know who the gentleman on the cover is. His picture was provided by Infinity.)

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Do you Have Publishing Experiences to Share?

If you have published and/or shared any of your writing, I invite you to tell your publishing story here. Either add it as a comment or e-mail it to me (you can find my e-mail address in my complete profile).

Have you downloaded software and followed suggestions and instructions from a self-publishing site to produce a book or booklet? Have you published an e-book or posted your work on a web site other than your own?

Have you looked for or found an agent? Have you published with a traditional publisher, large or small? Have you self-published or used a POD publisher? Have you used a copy shop or small printer to produce a pamphlet or booklet?

New writers often ask the questions, "What next?" "How do I share my work (with the world or with my family and friends)?" Tell us your stories of success or failure, your struggles and/or your triumphs.

Writing is often not about income, but about self-satisfaction. Have you found it, or have you unintentionally been part of a horror story, or both? Either way, please share your recommendations and your warnings.

For a longer discussion of publishing, printing, and sharing, see my September 4 column at eGenerations (see the link on the left).

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, September 7, 2007

Still Another Life Story Writing Site Discovered!

Check out the "Great Life Stories" web site. It offers a series of very specific suggestions to make writing your story easier. If you need a lot of help thinking of things to write about, this easy-to-use site may be for you.

http://www.greatlifestories.com

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Is Typing Difficult for You?

If you want to tell your story, but have difficulty typing, or simply prefer speaking to typing, you should check out the latest verstion of Dragon Naturally Speaking. For less that $100, you can easily learn to speak into a microphone and have your words transferred to your computer screen. Unlike some earlier versions of the program, this one seems to be getting some rave reviews.

Check out Paul's review in the September 5 The Elders Tribune at http://www.elderstribune.com/.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Assignment: "Wake up and Smell the Roses!"

Are you so busy, so pre-scheduled, so occupied by work or hobbies or activities that you hardly have time to observe the passing scene around you? Here is a short quote from the final chapter of my book Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor:

"Writing is a wonderful way to bring what you see and do into sharper focus. When you write about ordinary experiences as simple as taking a walk ior eating at a favorite restaurant, you expand that experiuence by giving it a texture and depth that it wouldn't otherwise have. Writing forces us to look attentively at what we see and to interpret it, as well as to remember it."

In two chapters of my book, "Taking a Walk" and "Lunch with a View," I do exactly that: I observe my surroundings very carefully and write about what I see, as well as the reactions and memories the scenes inspire. At least once a week, I try to sit or stand somewhere and write a journal entry about what I observe: sights, sounds, smells, happenings, interesting people. I've done this on CTA busses, on city walks, in restaurants and outdoor cafes, on a bench in the park near Lake Michigan. If I'm unable to take notes on paper, I make a point of memorizing the significant details and to write about the experience as soon as possible. It's usually easy to remember the details. You'll see a few examples of such writing on my other blog, "Never too Late!" as well as here in my "Observations" writing assignment, "Clothes Make the Man--or Woman!"

Check out today's The Elders Tribune at http://elderstribune.com/ to see a video and link to the related Washington Post articles describing an amazing event staged by the newspaper to find out how commuters would react--or not react--to a well-known classical musician's unannounced performance.

An appropriate quote from the article is these two lines from W.H. Davies' poem "Leisure":

'What is Life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare."

Ask yourself that question. Take time to look and listen, and write about it.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Another Approach to Life Stories


It is not the purpose of this site to promote any commercial venture, and I have no financial interest in or experience with Dennis Stack's American Story Keepers. However, his idea is one I have found very interesting.

Here is the mission statement:

"Our mission at American StoryKeepers is to help preserve our American heritage. We believe that by capturing and sharing the life stories of all Americans, especially our country's oldest and wisest members, everyone can benefit from the wealth of experience and wisdom we all possess."

The idea is to promote the capturing and sharing of life stories through audio recording; Story Keepers (for a price) can join and order tape recording kits and instructions for starting a home-based business. They receive teleconference training in recording and interviewing techniques, marketing help, and other benefits.

Individuals may also order a variety of kits containing instructions, interview questions, etc., for about $39.95 each. I have not seen the kits.

Whatever the value of Story Keeping as a business venture, I see value in the basic idea. As I've often said before, we "oldest and wisest" members of society need to tell our stories for those who come after us. I am a strong advocate of the printed word, and with the wide availability of inexpensive, easy-t0-use computers and printing and self-publishing opportunities, writing has always seemed to be the way to go. The basic minimum requirements, paper and pen or pencil, are available to all.

However, I must concede that there are some, especially among the oldest of us, for whom writing is difficult or impossible. Some have physical disabilities; others simply feel uncomfortable about their lack of writing experience and skill. How sad if their stories are lost!

In short, if you or someone you know is mentally alert and has stories to tell (as everyone does), consider audio (or even video) recording. You may be able to help elderly friends or relatives or nursing home residents record their life stories. Whether as a volunteer activity or as a commercial venture, this idea deserves examination.

Check out Story Keepers at http://www.americanstorykeepers.com/.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the official americanstorykeepers web site

Friday, August 24, 2007

Assignment: Your Favorite Residence

Of the places you've lived, whether few or many, which one has been your favorite? Your favorite town or city or neighborhood? Your favorite house or apartment? It might be where you live now, your childhood home, or anywhere between. Describe that favorite place in detail, and explain why you loved (or love) it there.

On the other hand, you might prefer to write about a place you hated. Why did you hate it? You might also want to compare two places you've lived, both good, both bad, or one of each. Another possibility is to describe your ideal residence--the one you'd have if you could afford it, or if your circumstances allowed you to move there.

Take the challenge. Give it a try!
Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, August 18, 2007

More on Writing your Life Story: a Book to Read

If you still aren't convinced of the benefits or importance of writing your life stories, here is a book you should read: MatchDotBomb, by my fellow Chicago writer Francine Pappadis Friedman (Wheatmark, 2007). This is a book especially important for newly-single baby boomers, but I enjoyed it as well. You can read my complete review on Amazon.com.

Friedman, an attractive, fifty-something Chicago professional and mother of two grown children, loses her beloved husband unexpectedly. At the urging of two good friends, she begins searching for a new soul mate through Internet dating. She meets a whole rogues's gallery of lonely men, whom she describes and seems to understand very well. Her sense of humor is wonderful. She doesn't find her soul mate, but she discovers something far more important: herself.

That's why I recommend this book so highly on this writing site. This book is not really about Internet dating; it's about discovering who we really are and what we really want and acting on that knowledge. Francine Friedman discovered the answers partially through Internet dating, but also through writing about the experiences and about her life in general.

Even if your experiences, like mine, are quite different from Friedman's, and no matter what you think about Internet dating, read this book--and write your own!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, August 11, 2007

New Assignment: A Self-Interview

Why not interview yourself, probably the person you know best? Share the results here in a comment or email them to me if you dare (seniously, I'd like to get to know the few people who visit here better). Here are a few possible questions, but do your own thing.

1. Where do you live, and how do you feel about living there?

2. What's your career or job, past or present? How do you or did you like it?

3. What childhood experience has had the most long-lasting effect(s) on you?

4. What's your most challenging life experience?

5. If you could re-do something in your life, what would you do differently?

A Writing Opportunity

Have you heard of the proposed anthology, There is Life after Fifty? There's still time to write a chapter. I'm submitting one soon. Check out this web site:

http://www.thereislifeafterfifty.com/

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A New Feeling of Accomplishment

Today, my new little book, Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write (to Discover, to Heal, to Reinvent, to Share) is heading off to Infinity Publishing as a PDF file, accompanied by the required blurb, bio, synopsis, etc., as well as a check. I have feelings of accomplishment and elation. In two months or less, I'll receive a proof copy, and then I'm finished. This book will join my other book on BuyBooksontheWeb and Amazon.

Is this a big deal? Not to the world at large, but it is to me. Do I expect to make money? No. Do I expect to become famous? No. It's impossible to describe the feeling of seeing a book with my name on it, but I urge others who have something to say to try it. I do have the advantages of computer skills and sufficient income to do what I want to do, but as this book mentions, there are easier and cheaper ways to share ideas, especially your life stories.

This book will cost only $9.95, so I hope a few of you will buy it. But whether you do or not, I'm here on line to help you. Just keep writing; share those valuable thoughts and experiences!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Seniors: Express Yourselves On Line

If you're a senior who loves to write or wants to write, consider submitting your articles or stories about anything to the relatively new The Elders Tribune web site. Check it out at http://elderstribune.com/. You won't be paid for your work, but you retain your rights and can publish elsewhere later. Read the rules on the site.

I want to encourage all seniors (The Elders Tribune emphasizes the work of those of us 65 and older) to write. You have experiences and memories to share and stories to tell. The Elders Tribune is a good place to showcase them and to gain confidence as a writer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Reader Contributions: Seniorwriter's Challenge

Here is an update on what my readers have written in response to my journal assignments. Most were previously buried here in the comments, where they were hard to find. Please write more. You may send them to me via email, as I suggested earlier, but it it's easier, just add your contributions as comments under the corresponding assignment. I will find them and move them.


Assignment III: "What would you Do?"


A Gift with Strings (and Wheels) II

Oh boy, my dream has finally come true! I have been interested in purchasing a sauna steam bath for years, but I never could bring myself to spend the money on something just for me. However, now with this gift I can have my steam baths. I believe that a steam bath would detoxify my body and help me look younger, not to mention add quality years to my life.

Now that I have received a gift of $5.000 with criteria attached, I definitely would not purchase one at this time. Under the stipulations given with the gift, I would hire a limo to drive me to the Youthtopia Med Spa in Alpharetta, Ga. That is the nearest spa to where I live. It is about seventy five miles from my home one way. I could read and relax every mile of the way and would not concern myself with the traffic.

I would also hire a masseuse, one that is licensed and must possess extensive knowledge of muscles. I would prefer a female masseuse. I don’t believe that I could relax completely with a male giving me the massage. I would request a total body massage after each steam bath. Or should I do it before the steam bath? I would need to check that out.

I believe that with all this body work being done, I would definitely need to update my wardrobe afterward with at least two very nice sexy outfits including shoes and purse to match.

I have read that steam baths not only detoxify the body but makes the skin glow. I would continue the steam baths until my $5,000 was spent down to about $1,500. Then I would find the sexiest dress shop, most likely at the Galleria Mall in North Atlanta. I know of a specialty boutique shop there that specializes in sexy clothing and accessories for petite women. At this point I might not have enough funds to purchase but one outfit. I would spend approximately $500 for the outfit. I believe I could choose one that would compliment me for that amount of money.

That would leave me one grand to spend on an evening out to dinner. And I would definitely get a complete make-up makeover. At the Youthtopia Med Spa, they have a chaperon service. I would use the thousand dollars to hire an evening chaperon to dine with at the most elegant restaurant in Atlanta, Ga. I would not buy his meal and would explain to him that I had to buy my own. I would not dine with just anyone. I would have to interview several applicants before choosing just the right one. This gentleman would have to be debonair with a capital D, and if at all possible, look very much like Clark Gable. We would dine and dance until dawn.

My relatives have left me nothing so far as I know, but I feel really lucky, so I will go out tomorrow and buy a few lottery tickets!

By Mollie Mercer Hewitt, 2007


Assignment VI: "Names and Nicknames"

1.
I hated the nickname Dottie. It made me feel as though I was a spot on the blackboard, which someone could erase. Now there's a comment to be analyzed. Place that with dyslexia and I could be a case for a psych book.

I made it through, and here I am, successful in commercial real estate and blogging at night with Grammology. This for the hope of bring grandmas back to their families, sharing their wisdom and experience with parents and children.

Consequently, don't call me Grammie; call me Grammie Dorothea. I made that up. I love the sound.

A name is personal. Don't you think our name should be temporary, until we are old enough to approve the one given, or choose another? Stop by my site, http://grammology.com/.

By Dorothy, 6/29/07

2. I once taught a memoir class at the South Side Center for the Chicago Department of Aging. What a hoot! I loved it. We had a lady in class whose family called her Jim--a nickname for Virginia.

Barrel was the closest thing I ever had to a nickname--Cheryl Barrel. Try living with that!

The other sort-of nickname came from my gym suit. We had to have our first initial and last name stiched across the yoke. There was very little space between C and the Hagedorn place, so my friends began calling me Shagedorn or Shaggy.

By Cheryl Hagedoen, 6/29/07

3. I always wanted a cool nickname, even wrote about in on by blog. Buzz or Jake or something.

I was named after General Mark Clark. Well, not really, but that's the guy that had the name when my parents decided they liked it.

Yeah, I was called Markie too. Big Whoop!

My uncle used to call me stinky. My aunt always had a fit.

Oh well, I survived.

By Mark at goinglikesixty.com, 6/29/07


Assignment X: "Family Tales"


I became interested in my own family genealogy after starting what I thought would be a long, maybe impossible, quest to find my partner's birth family in England. He had been adopted by an Australian family as a baby. With the power of the Internet it took me but two days to find his extended family.

My own quest is harder in the Irish records were destroyed in a fire, but a tree of names is not so important to me anyway. It is the stories I have uncovered that bring the tree into bloom, giving it the richness and life and creating vivid pictures of adversity and the power of the human spirit. One of my favorite stories sent by a previously unknown relative:

After taking a ship from Ireland to Scotland in 1893, he walked to Glasgow and found woirk at a hydroelectric power station. He then walked to the North East of England, working as a labourer digging docks in Middlesborough. Once this project was finished, he walked south to Hull to dig new docks there.

Knowing that all the navvies and labourers on these projects were from out of town and needed somewhere to live, he was saving up little bit by little bit to buy a boarding house.

He finally achieved his goal, buying a house in Hull and opening his boarding house. He charged out of town dock workers 4d a night and sharpened their shovels to help them dig faster. Most of his eleven children were born in this house.

One of these children was my father.

By Sueblimely, 7/20/07

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Quote for the Day

"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens." . . . Carl Jung, Psychologist

Saturday, July 21, 2007

An Interesting Observation

I just noticed, here on my own blog, a Google ad for a memoir-writing site. That one charges $60 per year to participate! And here, in connection with my other blog and my column on eGenerations, I'm offering roughly the same thing for free! One of the advantages of advanced age, I guess. Anyway, get busy and write!

If you're really eager to spend money, go to that site, or send me your life savings (just kidding)!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Seniorwriter's Challenge

I have now posted ten journal assignments, but I'm not sure how many of my readers have tried them. Here is my challenge: write your story based on one of the assignments and send it to me. Find my e-mail address in my Complete Profile here, and put Write your Life in the subject line.

You may send your story in the body of your e-mail message or add it as a Word or Word Perfect attachment. Tell me whether you give me your permission to post it on this blog, or if not, I'll merely send you my comments and/or suggestions. Either way, what you write remains your property.

I want this site to become more interactive. Please contribute, and feel free to add your comments and suggestions at any time. Happy writing!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Journal Assignment X: Family Tales

Most families have their share of family lore that needs to be preserved for those who come later. Did your grandfather tell funny stories about an eccentric uncle? Did your mother tell stories about your brother's bad behavior at some time in his childhood, or embarrassing stories about yours? What about tales of encounters with early versions of TV or "motorcars" or other new-fangled inventions, immigration struggles, and/or life in the "old country"?

How I wish my father had recorded his story, told to my brother but only vaguely remembered now, of his arduous journeys to college on unimproved roads in a a Model "T" Ford in the late 1920's, not long before the family photo above was taken! The old picture above shows me, at age one or two, with my parents. How young we all look!

Family history should involve more than family trees and birth and death dates. It's the stories that count. Fortunately, my mother, Violet Marshall Funston (1911-2007) wrote her life story, My First Eighty-Six Years: a Midwestern Life, in 1997. The following example is adapted from her story. It recounts one of the tales her paternal grandmother told her about family life in rural Pennsylvania long before my mother was born.

A Husband for Mary?

"One day, as Grandma sat rocking and knitting, she got an idea of how to solve one of her family problems. ‘That’s it!’ she said aloud. Old Tom the cat opened one sleepy eye, looked at Grandma, and then at his dish beside the kitchen range. The dish was empty. He blinked his eyes and settled down again, his purring blending with the sound of the wood crackling in the kitchen range and the clicking of Grandma’s knitting needles as she knit another pair of socks.

"As Grandma’s idea took shape, the knitting needles clicked faster and faster, keeping time with her rocking. Tom awakened again, moved his tail out of the way of the fast-moving rocker, and then slept again.

"Tom was awakened next by stomping on the porch, and Grandpa, full of snow and the vibrant life that was Grandpa, burst into the kitchen with his violin under his arm. ‘Marvin’s cow is going to calve tonight,’ he said, explaining his absence. ‘Coldest weather we’ve had.’ Tom rubbed against Grandpa’s legs, purring his loudest. He was sure to get a tidbit from Grandpa’s lunch. He would sit on Grandpa’s lap licking his sleek black fur, hoping to be petted and to have his fat tummy rubbed.

"‘Joseph,’ Grandma asked, ‘do you think we could have a box social at the school?’" She meant the rural school where Grandpa taught.

"‘Whatever put that idea into your head? You were never much of a social butterfly. Aha! It wouldn’t have anything to do with trying to get a husband for Mary, would it?’

"Grandma ignored his question," but after she promised to clean the school for the occasion, Grandpa promised to ask at the next school meeting.

Aunt Mary, in her middle twenties, did not even have a boyfriend, while seven of Grandma’s other children were already married. "Mary wanted to run a millinery shop and had no interest in marriage. To Grandma, the only proper career for a girl was homemaking and raising a family."

At a box social, each marriageable girl decorated a box, filled it with her best cooking and baking, and waited for it to be auctioned off. Of course Mary was not interested in baking, but Grandma bullied her into baking an apple pie, and Grandma baked some bread for the box herself.

Grandma tipped off Marvin, whom she considered a likely prospect, and he won Mary’s box. "Mary shared the food with him; however, it was plain to see that she was not enjoying the food or Marvin."

Mary never married. After a while, the family moved west from Pennsylvania to Strawberry Point, Iowa, where Mary opened her millinery shop. She "decorated hats with feather plumes, flowers, birds, and ribbons. A woman would buy a dress and then come to the store to buy a hat decorated to match the dress."

It was at Mary’s hat shop in Strawberry Point that her visiting brother, Grandma’s son Edward Uhl, met Minnie Louise Blanchard, twenty years younger than he, and they fell in love, married in 1910, and later became my mother’s parents and my grandparents.

It’s strange how things work out. Grandma’s plot failed, and Mary became the first known career woman in the family, a tradition that has continued to this day.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the family collection

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Journal Assignment IX: Overcoming Adversity

"Into every life some rain must fall." That old saying is quite true. Have you survived a serious illness, an injury, the loss of a loved one, or financial ruin? Even the most fortunate among us may face unpleasant events or even tragedies at times, and the stories of how we faced and overcame those problems can provide valuable lessons to others.

The following example is adapted from a chapter in my memoir, Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor.


Facing Breast Cancer

My early-stage breast cancer was diagnosed in 1990. Although I am still alive seventeen years later, I can never consider myself cured, and it is very difficult for me to read, write, or think about the “Big C.”

I’d had “lumpy” breasts, or fibrocystic disease, for many years, so self-checks were difficult and mammography results hard to interpret. However, in spring 1990, I found a small lump that seemed different. My doctor checked and ordered a biopsy.

I was terrified, but we were about to begin our motorcycle trip to the Soviet Union. I insisted on postponing the biopsy. The wonderful trip made me forget, as I had hoped it would.

After we returned, I became involved in creating a memory booklet for my 40th high school class reunion, so I didn’t rush back to my doctor. I was feeling fine, and my husband and I enjoyed the reunion. Still, a nagging fear emerged from time to time.

Finally, with my husband nervously pacing in the waiting room, I underwent the biopsy. The news was bad. I remember curling up later on the living room sofa, crying and thinking that my life was over.

My doctor recommended modified radical mastectomy. The choices were one breast or both, restoration or no restoration. I didn’t like the choices, but with my supportive husband’s help, I decided: bilateral mastectomy and no restoration. I was fifty-eight years old at the time, and at a high point in my career. Somehow, the thought of worrying about cancer occurring in a remaining breast or suffering complications of restoration seemed worse than losing a significant part of my body. I was not concerned about beauty and sexiness at the time, as long as I had my husband’s caring support, so that was my decision.

Had I been younger or alone, or had cancer treatment been as advanced as it is today, I might have decided differently.

The operation and the hospital stay were awful, but I’ve put the details out of my mind. Still, I do remember several details from the aftermath.

My teaching colleagues were very supportive. I missed the first week of the fall semester, and when I was able to return, I looked awful. A few people seemed to think I was on the verge of death, and I probably looked that way. Nevertheless, I persevered. I found out about prostheses, or silicone breasts, and got used to them.

I had to make another decision: radiation, chemotherapy, both, or no treatment beyond frequent checkups and Tamoxifen. The doctors disagreed. I gambled on getting only checkups and Tamoxifen; I was not willing to interrupt my career for treatment. I agonized about this for some time; had I made the right decision?

I gambled, but I seem to have won, at least for seventeen years now. I was proud to participate in the 2005 Mothers’ Day Y-Me three-mile walk for breast cancer. Yet to this day, cancer still frightens me.

Facing breast cancer taught me that when I face major problems, I can be a survivor, that curling up on the sofa, crying, and feeling that my life was over was a natural reaction, but not a practical one. And perhaps best of all, I realized what a wonderful, supportive husband I had!

Copyright 2006, 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Journal Assignment VIII: Holiday Memories


How have your holiday celebrations changed over the years? Do you remember special family gatherings on Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, or some other special day? How have your celebrations, or you attitudes toward the holidays, changed over the years?

For my July 4th memories, go to today's post on my other blog, "Never too Late!" at
http://seniorwriter.blogspot.com. Happy memories and happy writing!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Journal Assignment VII: Recurring Dreams

Have you ever had a dream that kept returning night after night or once in a while? Was it disturbing, frustrating, interesting, explainable? According to recent TV sleep aid commercials featuring Abe Lincoln and a small talking animal, your dreams may miss you if you don't sleep well, but some of us sleep well and don't appreciate our dreams very much.

What, if anything, is your recurring dream trying to tell you? Sometimes putting it down on paper helps you figure that out.

My "Lost" Dream

For many years, I've had a recurring dream. I call it my "lost" dream. It comes in many versions, with different settings and participants, and it has become more complicated over the years. Still, it's the same basic dream. No matter where I am in my dream, or with whom, I'm lost and vainly struggling to get somewhere, a place I never reach. When I awaken, I have feelings of deep despair and hopelessness, and it's always a great relief to realize that it was only a dream.

My dream began sometime while I was in elementary school; I can't remember exactly when it started. In early versions of the dream, I was usually trying to find a classroom in a school resembling the one I was attending at the time, but the scene was always different enough to be confusing. I was always alone and late for an important test or activity, and I just couldn't find the room. In reality, I was always the good student, the one who never missed a class or came late.

As a teacher, I continued to have the same dream. Then, my class was waiting for me, but I couldn't seem to find the right building or the right room. The dream expanded to huge museum-sized buildings, far larger than any I ever taught in. I walked for miles down seemingly endless corridors, and then up or down stairs to repeat the process again on another floor, and sometimes in other buildings. In reality, I can't remember any serious difficulty finding my classrooms anywhere.

In later years, the scene shifted to Chicago or a similar large city, where I found myself in an unfamiliar neighborhood, sometimes with my husband or a friend or acquaintance I hadn't seen in years, trying to get home. Sometimes I didn't remember where I lived. Sometimes there was no means of transportation available, and I was unable to walk. Sometimes I had no money. Sometimes I was stranded in a cavernous building with no visible exits, where I wandered about in a state of panic. The surroundings were always mysterious and threatening, and if anyone was with me, he or she remained strangely passive and unable or unwilling to help.

I remember one "lost" dream in which I was at a six-corner street intersection where three streets, one diagonal and the other two at right angles to each other, crossed. I found myself trying first one street, then another to get to some unknown destination. I always seemed to be going the wrong way on the wrong street. In reality, I seldom get lost, and I ask for help if I do.

After my retirement and my husband's death, my dreams became more disturbing. I woke up sad that my husband was not really with me any more, or that I had no classroom or students to find.

My recurring "lost" dream obviously reflects my basic insecurity, my depression, and my compulsive desire to be dependable and prompt, and yet in real life, I've never felt as frustrated and hopeless as I've felt in my dream. In general, my life has been a happy and successful one. Of course I miss my husband, but he's been gone for seven years now, and I've gone on with my life. I live comfortably, and I think I've found myself by writing and encouraging others to write.

I haven't had my dream lately. I hope it's gone, but if it comes back to haunt me, I'll try to laugh it off as a relic from the past and think positive thoughts. I'll also try to remember all the details and write them down. Maybe there's a good story lurking somewhere in my subconscious mind.


Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne