by Jerry Waxler
A lot of people over 50 look down the road and spot what looks suspiciously like a finish line. We pause, ask a few questions and then shop for a sports car, an RV, or an affair. But after we pay for our fling we usually have more questions than when we started. For a more lasting solution, try writing your memoir. Yes, I know it doesn’t sound as glamorous as some of the more expensive responses to midlife but it turns out to be far more satisfying.
By finding the stories of our life we reclaim the adventure, the romance, and the mystery we’ve already lived through. When we put our youthful indiscretions on paper we gain insights not only about who we were then but who we are now. Rediscovering our youth, we see how our actions fit in the grander scheme of things. And we no longer take youth for granted. We savor it. This second look lets us endow youth with wisdom.
To understand how writing might work in your life, consider my mother. Starting from her 70’s, she woke early every morning and for the first hour or two of the day, she wrote. She wrote letters to old friends. She wrote notes about her past. She prepared talks to present to the clubs she belonged to. Occasionally she found a book she thought would interest her peers. The manager in her apartment campus posted a notice that Sylvia Waxler was giving a book review, and people showed up to listen. After staging a few such events, she became known as the book review lady. Strangers and acquaintances stopped her in the lobby to discuss her last review, and tell her about a book they were reading and why she might like it. They showered her with friendliness. She turned out to be one of the best liked 87 year old women I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
But it seems I have digressed. What does an 87 year old lady writing book reviews have to do with someone much younger trying to find a renewed sense of life? I think by writing every day Mom found the fountain of youth. And her audience knew it. They weren’t pouring admiration on her because she gave the best book review they ever heard. As she pried into the meaning of books, and then reached out to an audience to share her ideas, she was creating the story of an old woman who kept going. She wasn’t telling them what to do. She was showing them what one person could do. Her story gave them hope.
It turns out that stories are the only tool we humans have for understanding life’s trajectory. So if you want to enhance your experience of being you, haul your memories out of storage, line them up, and organize them. The mishmash of events falls into place. Armed with this organized view of your life, you begin to appreciate its form. By seeing where you’ve been, you open up to the possibilities of where you are going.
I can’t explain exactly how writing will help you feel better about your life journey, since you will approach it in your own unique way. But here’s how it has worked for me. After writing for a while, I realize I’m in the thick of my own vibrant story. Life becomes more engaging. Now, my curiosity propels me forward, and as I look down the road I see glimpses of the next chapter in this fascinating journey.
Jerry: I love your website, and this latest entry is one of the reasons why. You know, I wrote for 38 years as a newspaper reporter and then as an editor, and some of it was very satisfying, but it wasn’t until I wrote an autobiographical book (some of it about me but most of it about other people) that I really, really felt good about writing. And that feeling spills over into the way I feel about living. At 67 and retired, despite the aches and pains and life’s inevitable deadlines (we used to joke in the newspaper business about the small difference between ‘deadlines’ and ‘deadliness’), I still enjoy that feeling.
When QuoinMonkey and I were together in a series of four Natalie Goldberg workshops that was part of a year-long writing intensive, we met a woman who decided to make letter- and postcard-writing part of her daily practice. The person blossomed before our eyes. We still get postcards from her. I was inspired by her practice, because it was also a way to connect to others through a dying form.
Your mother’s practice, when she got older, reminded me of this friend. I can believe that your mother’s one to two hours each morning of writing had a transformative effect on her life. Wonderful that you got to see it and now share it with us.
I love the way you have figured out how to move the story of your life to the next step. I love this aspect of memoir writing so much, I have been tempted to focus exclusively on how writing helps transform the second half of life. If you want to tap into more collective energy about this project, keep an eye on Marc Freedman’s writing, and the website http://www.encore.org. It’s a wave!
Since I’m 74, I can relate to your mother’s writing experience very well. That’s how I reinvented myself (hence my book title, “Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor”). My new book, coming this fall, is “Seniorwriting: a Brief Guide for Seniors who Want to Write (to Discover, to Heal, to Reinvent, to Share).”
Now, I’m an advocate of writing for everyone, especially senior citizens. I’m glad to find someone who is writing about some of the same things.
My blogs are “Write your Life!” at http://seniormemoirs.blogspot.com and “Never too Late!” at http://seniorwriter.blogspot.com
Thanks for your interest in the blog, Marlys. I’ve ordered your first book and will look for your second. I’m always interested in hearing about people using writing as a tool to reinvent themselves.
I appreciate your interest in my blog. It’s wonderful connecting with you and Quoinmonkey, hearing about your writing and group, and helping to promote a global community of writers.