Coffee is Cheaper Than Therapy – no-stress life writing

Life writing does not have to be complicated. Ann Conklin Unruh wrote a booklet of short musings and advice based on regular chats with a good friend over coffee dates. Coffee is Cheaper than Therapy—true!, and it’s a lot easier to get into a good coffee shop than to get an appointment with a good therapist. Therapists are very busy these days.

Ann has created a nice gift for her family and friends and anyone else who likes light-hearted, simple wisdoms and tidbits of this and that which can be read in bits and pieces—good for busy people. She writes as a woman who has journeyed enough years through life. She wrote about the importance of getting positive feedback to keep your spirits buoyed, whether or not to color her hair, and the problem of being thought responsible. She wondered who bothers to cook these days, especially after the kids leave the nest. I particularly enjoyed her story about finding the right swimsuit for her mature self—and making peace with it. Her calm, warm personality shines through, and I can imagine her family even way in the future enjoying “hearing” Ann speak to them, still giving them loving advice and making them smile. Future generations will get to know a great-plus grandmother they will never meet, and they will learn—even from the tidbits—what life was like and what she thought about. Ann dedicated her book to her three young grandchildren.

You don’t have to write a big book. Leaving one or two paragraphs of your thoughts on topics is something worthwhile. I loved reading my grandmother’s very brief journal entries of a couple years in the 1930s and learning about her daily life and her thinking. Brief is way better than leaving nothing.

Read more about Ann and her book in an interview in Gazelle magazine:  “Author tells inspiration behind book.” If you feel intimidated about writing your life stories, perhaps Ann’s words will ease your anxieties and inspire you to just write a little. Pretend you are talking to a good friend—or go out for coffee with a friend and take notes.


Posted in book reviews, book talk, lifewriting, relationship | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Canada Day and vacation memories

I have just returned from a delightful first visit to Canada, besides the quick drives through Vancouver as the start-stop of Alaskan cruises. Today, July 1, is Canada Day, celebrating not the independence of Canada from Britain (peacefully on March 25, 1982) but the joining in 1867 of the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada (now Ontario & Quebec) to form a more united front in case of any attack. I am ready to celebrate Canada – in summer, at least – as a respite from Midwestern heat and humidity.

My dream has been to return to the Colorado Rockies, where I have fond childhood camping memories, including the one of chipmunks reaching into our hamster’s cage to steal his food, but I was happy to check out the Canadian Rockies instead, thanks to my husband attending a conference in Calgary nearby. We flew to Calgary and drove to the mountains by way of the Trans-Canada Highway which runs alongside the historic Canadian Pacific Railway. The imposing mountains, many cradling glaciers, are glorious even when moody with rain clouds. We did not see any animals but a few chipmunks and ravens, but bears were sighted by others during our stay. With so few roads and such expanse of wilderness, animals can easily stay far from humans.

My Dutch great-grandfather and his two sons came to North America on a freighter that landed in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. The younger son, my grandfather, was almost washed overboard during a storm. He was able to keep hold of the railing as his feet were pulled out from under him. Immigrants were crammed below deck, many from Poland. My uncle said it cost $40 to get to North America, and no permits were needed back in 1913.

My great-grandfather thought about settling in Winnipeg, thanks to an agent friend trying to persuade him to take up Canada’s offer to farm there for seven years and then get sixty acres free. But it was all wild land, and the agent mentioned winter snow was so high people had to dig tunnels to get out of their houses. No thanks – they knew people in Chicago so they would go there. There was a “Dutch Chicago” in those days. So my father – and eventually I – were born in Chicago instead of refreshing Canada.

My weather forecast today is 95 degrees, heat index up to 107. Canada, O Canada, I miss your wild mountains and the cool, fresh air scented with pine. Thanks for the great memories!


Bow Summit

Peyto Lake and mountain pass, from Bow Summit

Posted in grandparents, heritage, memories | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Memoir – Betrayal and how personal do you need to be?

When writing memoir, how to work with your family members and/or friends is always a consideration. Should you even tell them you are writing? If you do, how much should you let them influence you? I saw the following post on a Facebook memoir writers group I am in:

How to Tell Your Family That You’re Writing a Memoir by Neal Thompson

This is a perennially big topic. If you are writing controversial elements or exposing personal details about others, you need to determine why you want to include those parts. Are they necessary to the story? Do you really need to get graphic or will general statements do? If you really need to tell that information, how willing are you to be shunned by family or friends who might be offended or even horrified by your invasion of their privacy?

When you really need to tell unpleasant stories about others, do make them well-rounded characters. Consider what made them behave that way, and consider they are not all bad and that maybe you were not completely innocent. Revenge memoirs can easily backfire and reflect badly on you instead of the other.

If you need to include uncomfortable private details involving others, think about how you can avoid TMI (too much information). “Need” means this information is integral to the reason you are writing the memoir, and leaving it out would affect the story line. How much do you really “need” to tell? Are you being gratuitous or salacious? Some readers might love that, but will your family? Maybe you want to change the names or create composite characters (note this in the front matter). Will you write under a fictitious name and never tell your family? Also consider the readership – do you want your present and future family (including teens and the elders) to read it?

If you are writing a memoir to include stories your family or friends might not like, how are you handling it? Are you even going to tell them?


How much do you need to show?

Posted in bad memories, lifewriting, memoir writing | Tagged | Leave a comment