Helen and Teacher

Helen and Teacher
The Story of my Life

Monday, February 28, 2011

Recipe Cook up Writing Ideas

I like to use recipes as prompts.  Start by choosing a sentimental recipe, one in a much-loved file, one you know by heart.  Write it down.  Analyze the ingredients.  Then, jot down who used to make it, why you liked it, or didn't like it, how you concocted or gathered ingredients.  What occasions it was served, etc.  For inspiration, read the letters of Juia Child, Cookbooks by Partricia Cornwell, The original Joy of Cooking, and "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote, the story of his aunt, The Fruitcake Lady. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Great Class

Great Class yesterday!  Will correct typos, too.  Keep in touch, and I welcome comments as usual.  There will be more ideas and more comments re telling your life story.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Theme for English B-Poem as Memoir


By Langston Hughes

The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you---
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me---who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white---
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me---
although you're older---and white---
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.

Diples - Using Narrative and Event as Memoir


            When I was only five, my grandparents and aunts and uncles left to live in California.  My world pretty much fell apart forever.  My grandma or yia yia had been my primary babysitter, companion and caregiver.  We sang songs, took walks, made things, cooked, and baked.  She was especially good at making pie dough from scratch and baking chocolate chip cookies.  By the time I was in Kindergarten, I had a babysitter who had been one of her friends.  Both my parents worked, which was sort of unusual for the time, and each morning, my dad dropped me off at Mrs. Genakes’s old Victorian house converted into flats.  Another of my grandmother’s friends, then in her eighties, also lived there in a beautiful apartment with plants.  Their families became my family.  I went to all the tea parties held by the Greek Ladies, who all seemed as if they were well-preserved remnants from Socrates’ time, but who, in reality, were not that old.  Most were in their fifties and sixties, except for Kyria Eleni, or Kitty, the lady who was 80+.  Some were younger than I am now. 

                Late November or so, they were all busy with the St. George Bake sale preparations.  Of course, I was immersed in it, too.  I worried along with them if we ran out of nuts for baklava, and I talked about variations in recipes for melomacarona and kourambiedes.  One Friday afternoon, Mrs. Genakes, Kitty, and I packed ourselves up into the old black VW beetle Mrs. G. drove.  We headed for the old church, now long gone, in East Moline.  We went downstairs to the old pine-paneled kitchen.  It was already full of ladies, dressed in their cotton dresses, sensible shoes, and netted hats.  Most had their hair twisted in a kind of chignon.  All were long aprons, bright, handmade, and love worn, over their street clothes. Someone found me an apron that covered me down to the tops of my shoes.  I think it was Mrs. Gartelos who put a big mixing bowl in front of me.  Someone else added the we ingredients for diples, a kind of honey turn over made of fried dough then rolled in nuts and honey.  Soon, I was rolling the dough on the large, flat counters. They used big broom handles or closet rods to roll the dough.  Conventional rolling pins just weren’t big enough and didn’t get the dough smooth enough or flat enough. I was laughing, covered in flour, yet taking the whole thing very seriously.  I was one of the church basement ladies, and I had a task and a mission.  No one complained if my diples were thicker  and denser than anyone else’s.  Everyone was supportive.  There were no men.  Only Father Dymick came in to visit us.  He was the young priest we had at the time, and he was familiar to me. He was a good friend of my Uncle Jim, and had visited my grandma’s house often.  Two things struck me that day about him.  One, he was wearing casual clothing, a cardigan and open shirt.  I don’t remember him wearing his collar.  The second was that he had just come from visiting my Uncle Tom in the hospital.  A few days before, Tom had been in a horrific accident with a combine outside Peoria.  He had been coming home for the weekend to us.  He was talking about Tom and saying he was doing better, but he hadn’t recognized me right away.  It was one of those fly-on-the-wall moments.

                After a while, the diples were done.  Mrs. G. and Kitty wrapped mine up to take home with me.  I was very proud that I had made them, and helped the church out, too.  We no longer make diples for the bake sale, and I don’t have the time to help them anymore.  Nearly everyone baking that day is gone, now.  Even Tom, my mother, Father Dymick, and my grandmother’s friends.  Christmas memories for me involve handsomely, if quaintly dressed middle-age ladies baking in a pine-paneled kitchen, up to their elbows in flower, honey, and good cheer, especially for a little girl swathed in a too-large apron and flour.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Serendiptiy at Starbucks and Coben, and Writers World Newsletter

This is a long blog, but a fruitful one.  I was waiting in line at Starbucks, first of all, and began reading the following in Harlan Coben's Just One Look:  '. . . I could use a Starbucks,' he said." . . "There was a line at Strabucks.  There always seemed to be a line at Starbuck" (211). 

This is a useful, free newsletter for all writers.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Using Narrative or Epiphany to write Memoir

Here is a fictional example that mimcs writing memoir from an epiphany or significant event from Harlan Coben's novel Just One Look

"There are sudden rips.  There are tears in your life, deep knife wounds that slash through your flesh.  Your life is one thing; then it is shredded into another.  It comes apart as though gutted in a belly slit.  And then there are those memoments when your life simply unravels.  A loose thread pulled.  A seam gives way.  The change is slow at first, nearly imperceptible."

Another nice quote relating to the creative process for artists and writers:

"Loneliness, the precursor to boredom, is conducvie to the creative processs.  That was what artistic meditation was all about--boring yourself to the point where inspiration must emerge if only to reserve your sanity.  A writer friend once explained that the best cure for writer's block was to read a phone book.  Bore yourself enough and the Muse will be obligated to push through the most slog-filled arteries."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

I watched a story about this book on PBS.  It is a childrens book based on a memoir written by the first Japanese immigrant to the US, who was rescued and brought here on a whaling ship in the 1850s.  It is a great candidate for someone to model.  Also, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and much of his other books are written in the style of memoir. They are good sources for inspiration as are some of the short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Along the same lines, review Memoirs of a Geisha, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittmann, and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

Heart of a Samurai. http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Samurai-Margi-Preus/dp/0810989816/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1296746520&sr=1-1

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New ideas

I plan to use an idea involving writing about a recipe, with the ingredients as prompts, or using a favorite meal.  Similar writers include the works of M.F.K. Fisher and Memory's Kitchen, a book of recipes compiled by Holocaust survivors when they were in the camps.  I also came across interesting slave narratives, including one written in Arabic, publishe in the U of Wisconsin press, and another book cataloging the ancient library of Alexandria.  Can't wait for this class.  Will be sending along a photo for library website, soon.