Friday, July 1, 2016

Memoirs and Meaning

"Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life."
-The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr 

Scan. Read. Get lost in pages. Cry a little. Reread. Find the message. Become inspired. Cut. Repeat.

This is the process by which I cut a speech piece for my students. Sometimes with a particular student in mind, other times with an arbitrary idea of the archetype of a student that inevitably finds his or her way on the team. We tend to attract a type. Like minded people always seem to find one another. This process is mentally draining and greatly affects my ability to sleep. As a result, I try to complete as much of this process as possible in the summer. The anxiety that builds as I begin the arduous process is slightly stifling and probably the most depleting part of the process until I finally allow myself to dive into a text and hopefully discover something beautiful. Yes, this description is a bit dramatic, but it has become a small and thankfully brief part of the speech season preparation process - one in which I now find myself immersed.

Every story has a message, and every message carries meaning. Above all else, the most impactful part of speech team is connecting that message to a young person who can internalize, process, share, and apply its meaning to his or her life.

Understanding the learning opportunity here makes my work a tedious labor of love. As I craft an eight-minute, 1200 word story, I must carefully consider how an idea can indeed set a spark in my students' audiences and most importantly, how this idea could pervasively influence the perspective of my students.

This summer I have found myself devouring memoirs page after page. I cannot seem to quell my curiosity for the stories of others. Point-of-view and perspective have a significant impact on how we understand and see the world. Appreciating the opportunity to glimpse into the lives of others, I find myself reflecting on my life - where I am now and what I valued at the beginning of my teaching career. How naive and optimistic I was at 22 years of age; how I still refuse to relinquish my optimism even though it is challenged far too often.

What I've Learned From Memoirs

1. Our pasts significantly influence our perspectives and reactions to shortcomings.

As Alfred Tennyson stated, "I am a part of all that I have met." Our perceptions are shaped by our pasts. Just as it is important in reading comprehension, our background knowledge and schema determines our reactions to the experiences we encounter. As such, where we were forges the path to where we go. Memoir writing is infiltrated with childhood stories and ideas that resurface in our presents. These stories are written with the intent to share, instruct, and inspire. Venturing into the lives of others through memoir promotes reflection and empathy as readers place themselves in the shoes of the people on the page.

2. We can choose how we react to the obstacles we face.

The subject that seems to be the greatest instigator of writing is death. Death is finite. It marks the end of an era and can also be a spark that leads to a richer understanding of the world or a fresh perspective that might have otherwise been discovered. My June reading was burdened by death, but with this finality comes hope. With loss comes the promise of a better future.

3. Not every tragedy is the end of the world.

In the novel, It's Okay To Laugh (Cryings Cool Too) by Nora McInery Purmort the author expresses her refusal to mourn her husband until after his death. She lived in the present and valued the memories that were created as a result - in spite of the pain and hardship she ultimately endured. It is okay to laugh at the tough stuff, too. If she can laugh, so can I. The sky isn't falling today, Chicken Little.

4. We are innately hopeful human beings. At least, I like to think so.

If people can find the courage to keep moving and share their stories with the world in the face of fatal illnesses and sudden tragedies, I can overcome challenges, too. If they can find words to inspire and ways to make their lives, and the lives of those they love, matter, I can too. We are relational people. We were made to share our stories and can learn much from one another.

Must Read Memoirs for any Sensitive Soul:

5. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

This book was an impulse pickup at the library. In search of another book with a similar call number, I stumbled upon this title and instantly knew that this work on writing as a female in a digital age would become an oratorical declamation. Empowering and engaging, this book touches on important social issues and made for an empowering read.

4. A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The themes in this text have become recurrent in my reading. Beautiful, tragic, and engaging - this book touches on grief, loss, and struggling to cope with the challenges life has given us.

3. It's Okay To Laugh (Cryings Cool Too) by Nora McInery Purmort 

I found this book after reading her article on Slate entitled "Don't Tell Me To Put Down My Phone," on the new nonfiction shelf of the library. Witty, sassy, and real - this book tells the story of Purmort's courage in the face of cancer and how her family chose to keep living even with the worst prognosis.

2. Please Stop Laughing at Me: One Woman's Inspirational Story by Jodee Blanco 

This book focuses on bullying and has been on my must-read list for a while. Blanco's story is a must-read for anyone who teaches teens. It is tragic that bullying occurs, but listening to her story can help others cope with their own.

1. Two Kisses For Maddy by Matthew Logelin

I avoided reading this book for about a month. This is the real life story of Matthew Logelin, who loses his wife unexpected one day after giving birth to their daughter. This story is the most sincere, honest, and painful reads I have read to date. Once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. 

...and I'll keep turning the pages, delving into the lives others, empathetically in search of meaning through the blackened kaleidoscopes that I call my eyes. 
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