Wisdom from a Memoir Writer

Wisdom from a Memoir Writer

May 31, 2017
Sneak Peeks Glenmeadow Program

Everyone has a story to tell, author John Sheirer told roughly 30 aspiring writers at our Glenmeadow Learning program last week.

The leader of “Writing Your Life: An Author’s Tips on Crafting a Memoir,” John told those who gathered at Bay Path University that, when told well in memoir form, those stories don’t simply chronicle the events of the writer’s life. They communicate the meaning behind the moments.

“Memoir digs into the meaning of events,” John said.

In the two-hour program, John offered details on the basic components of a memoir to help participants learn how to get started in telling their stories. And he read passages from several of his books, including his memoirs, Loop Year and Growing up Mostly Normal in the Middle of Nowhere. His readings illustrated how specific moments in his life were pivotal because they represented learnings—about himself, about loss, and navigating embarrassing situations.

John alternated these readings with exercises in which he asked audience members to spend one minute writing about their own experiences of childhood discovery, loss, or embarrassment.

“If your mind is blank,” he said during one writing exercise, “keep your pen moving. Your mind will eventually fill in that void. Doodle. Write the same words over and over. Get the ideas down on paper. That’s a really important thing to keep in mind. If there’s never anything on paper, there’s never anything that’s going to get written.”

In addition to being the author of a dozen books—several that are works for children featuring his dog Libby—John is as a professor of English and communications courses at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, where he’s taught for 24 years.

He told our audience he grew up in an isolated area of Bedford County in Pennsylvania, and after people told him how interesting his childhood stories were, John began to realize the formative power of his early years. The result of his musings on the topic became Growing up Mostly Normal in the Middle of Nowhere.

The first excerpt John read from this book highlighted the moment he discovered he was different from other children in school. He thought he was being called out as a leader, having been asked to walk with a group of children to speech therapy; he was surprised to discover he had a speech impediment and needed speech therapy himself.

He also read a powerful passage about a bull named Susie on the family farm and the day Susie was shot to be sold for meat. At 18, mindful of proving himself as a man, John offered to shoot the bull, which he had considered a friend; it took two bullets to bring Susie down.

“I haven’t touched a gun since,” John read from the memoir.

Then he said, “That was a significant moment in my life. I knew it was when it happened, but it took two decades to understand why. I learned we don’t have to let other people define who we are. I could define manhood any way I wanted.”

John’s program was offered as part of Glenmeadow Learning, one of many free programs we offer to members of the wider community. These programs represent only one facet of our mission to serve seniors across the region and to operate as a socially accountable organization.

The next, and final free program in the spring series, will take place at Glenmeadow on June 20. “A Progressive Lunch: Three Courses, and the Glenmeadow Experience” will allow participants to enjoy lunch at Glenmeadow while discussing wellness and other support services, and topics geared to decluttering, handyman help, and housekeeping.

For more information or to register, call 413-567-7800 or email learning@glenmeadow.org.


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