Why so many retirees write memoirs

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Judy Omelusik in Vancouver on June 21.DARYL DYCK

Judy Omelusik has some shocking stories to tell about her nearly eight decades on this Earth.

It all started in her twenties when she found out that her adoptive mother was actually her grandmother and the girl she knew as her sister was growing up was actually her birth mother. She also survived different types of abuse for several decades.

Now a widow, the 79-year-old spends several hours a day, five days a week, writing her memoirs. She wants her two children, family and friends to know her story and what her journey has meant to her. If it ever finds a wider audience, that’s just a bonus.

“It’s been a very cathartic journey,” she says. “I don’t think things like this should be kept secret because I’ve lived with secrets for so many years, and it’s just very healthy to unload.”

Ms. Omelusik began her memoir in earnest in February, writing by hand and sending the pages to her sister-in-law to type. His goal is to complete the manuscript soon.

She plans to print copies in book form for her son, daughter and others in her immediate circle and eventually submit her story for publication somewhere. But her main goal is to share the memories with loved ones, which now include the dozens of cousins ​​and relatives through her father, whom she finally located and met in 1996, when she was 54. year.

“I don’t know what the reactions will be,” she said. “My friends want to read this, and they don’t know much about my life. They’ll probably be shocked, but that’s okay. I think the most important thing is the truth.

The ease of short-run self-publishing now allows everyone to leave their story behind.

“I urge people to put their stories in a book because once you have a book, it’s there forever,” says Beth Kaplan, who teaches memoir writing in the continuing studies program at the University of Toronto.

A pile of printed papers or a computer file can be easily lost, she says.

“You get them in a book, then it’s on a shelf and, who knows, in 100 years someone may pull it out and your stories are captured.”

Kaplan published his first memoirs, In Search of the Jewish Shakespeare: The Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordinabout his great-grandfather, in 2007 at age 57. She then published All My Loving: Coming of Age with Paul McCartney in Parisas well as a guide for writing memoirs, True to Reality: Fifty Steps to Help You Tell Your Story. His most recent book, Loose Woman: My Odyssey from Lost to Foundcame out in 2020.

Ms. Kaplan’s students range in age from teenagers to people in their late 80s.

Ms. Omelusik wrote her memoir by hand and sent the pages to her sister-in-law to type.DARYL DYCK

“Of course when you’re older you have a lot more stories in your arsenal,” Ms Kaplan says.

Writing a dissertation requires honesty and vulnerability, she adds, and says her classes are populated largely by women whose children have left home or are retired.

“It’s a crazy thing to do,” she said. “I’m joking with [students] that sane people are at the mall, buying watches, and here we are pricking ourselves in the gut.

It’s hard work, but many people feel compelled to put their life story on paper, Kaplan says. The hardest part can be deciding which stories to tell from a lifetime.

One of his favorite students was an 85-year-old woman, a naturally powerful and lively writer whose book was published by a small press. Soon after, the student began to show signs of dementia.

“I think we pulled these great stories out just in time, and they’re here forever. There’s a book, and Margaret will live forever through her book,” Ms Kaplan says.

Memoirs can range from a print column to video interviews or an annotated cookbook, says Claudia Cornwall, who teaches non-fiction writing at Simon Fraser University’s The Writer’s Studio, including the course How to write a family memoir.

The key is to select the events that illuminate a life, says the author of seven books, including the most recent British Columbia in Flames: Stories of a Blazing Summer.

“A number of people just want to write something for family or friends, not necessarily for publication,” she says. “They’re just doing it to see how it’s going to go, and if it’s going really well, they might consider releasing it. Or maybe not.

A writing group or class provides an avenue for feedback and perspective, she says.

“It’s sometimes intimidating if you compare what you’re doing to hit memoirs,” she says. “But if you’re with people at your level, you can see that you have something to contribute… It’s helpful to be with peers who are at the same stage of exploration. It’s encouraging.”

Whether the goal is to publish just for the family or to seek wider publication, Ms Cornwall says a professional editor can be a worthwhile investment. Still, she suggests those interested in independent publishing do their research. Some so-called “vanity” presses can cost a lot more than just taking a book to a printer.

Each province has editorial associations that may be able to provide recommendations, Cornwall notes. In Canada, the creators have copyright and there is no need to register the work, but the same applies to diaries or photographs that a writer may wish to use. If the plan is to publish, she says the author will need permission from those creators.

It’s also important to remember that you’re writing about real people and that the stories you tell affect real people, Ms Cornwall adds.

Still, the effort required to write a memoir is very rewarding, she adds.

“It’s best to get these stories before your parents or grandparents die and can pass them on to you,” she says. “You can try to piece it all together from letters, diaries and diaries, but it’s better if you can actually ask people about their lives… It’s a wonderful thing to have.”

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