December 14, 2006
Take a stroll down memoir lane with the family
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Yet even with more ordinary events, she says "it takes very little to prompt someone. The most typical thing I say is, 'And then what happened?' and they're off and running."
Inevitably, however, you'll be faced with some "emotional land mines," Stephens says. Again, she speaks from experience: When she was interviewing her mother "there were some things she absolutely refused to let me include; but there were others that I was able to convince her wouldn't hurt anyone to reveal."
As challenging as it can be at times, Stephens recommends that "you maintain as much neutrality as possible. As a listener you can guide the individual along, but don't push beyond your subject's personal boundaries."
Not only do you need to "honor that person's sense of propriety and privacy; you also must remember that it's their story, not yours," Stephens warns.
On the other hand, people are often surprised at how much someone will reveal. "Family secrets will come out, either because the emotional weight of them has dissipated over time, or because near the end of someone's life they see value in revealing them, or just because the incident might not be considered such a 'shanda' in this day and age."
Nevertheless, Stephens says, "I try not to be a psychologist when I'm working with people; I try to stay in the moment."
As a listener, she says, you are most effective when you remain as objective and non-judgmental as possible.
"Around the holidays," Stephens points out, "the materialism of our society can be especially overwhelming."
It's easy to lose sight of one simple fact: You can't take it with you. Memoirs are one way of creating a lasting legacy, and Stephens believes it can be "a wonderful gift to help someone tell their life story."
So this year, why not eat your fill of latkes, dance with the kids, then grab hold of your curiosity and cozy up to crazy Uncle Sy. You just might be surprised by what you'll learn.
For more information, visit www.writewisdom.com, or call (310) 820-2052.
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