What I Taught and Learned Last Week

by Memoir Mentor on August 22, 2010

My husband and I had the great opportunity last week to teach four days at a week-long adult education event called Campus Education Week, sponsored by Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The university has been hosting this program for years, always the third week in August, and it draws folks from all over the country looking to get away from home for a while to learn something new or find that proverbial shot in the arm they need to meet a challenge or pursue a dream.

This year’s 20,000 attendees could choose from the more than 1000 classes taught from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. Many stay in the university dorms, likely resurrecting memories of the good old days when their bones better weathered those thin dorm-room mattresses. Provo’s many hotels offer more comfort and privacy and run at full capacity all week.

I’ve attended this event a few times as a student some years ago, and have taught classes there on numerous occasions.  When I teach, I always attend other classes when I’ve finishing my own presentations. I always come away from the week invigorated, my head full of things I’ve learned, brimming with ideas and goals for self-improvement. It’s a great program.

My husband and I enjoy the opportunity to teach together. Two heads are better than one, and we learn from each other. I believe our students enjoy hearing our two perspectives. This year we focused on the following concepts, one taught each day:

  • Who Am I?—Revealing Yourself through Your Story
  • Putting Your Readers in Your World—It’s All in the Details
  • Making It Real—Showing vs. Telling
  • Writing Honestly about Sensitive Issues—Telling Your Emotional Truth

While a few of the 350 people who attended our class had heard us speak before, the majority had not. I enjoy presenting our writing techniques to new people, many who have not thought about using scenes and dialogue in their personal histories or know the difference between “showing and telling.” When I first introduce these concepts, I sometimes perceive some reticence in the faces of my listeners. I’ve been at it long enough that I generally know what they want to say to me: “I can’t write lile this”; “I don’t want to write like this because it’s imbellishing the truth.” I know, though, that if they hear me out and consider the various examples I show them, they’ll generally come around…which is what happened again this week. The energy and enthusiasm I observed by week’s end told me my husband and I had expanded their vision of what they could do with their stories.

People are always concerned about addressing those difficult issues all families experience: people who have hurt them; personal failings; relatives who are difficult to be around but who have played a major role in their lives. How do you write honestly about these thorny problems? We saved this lecture for the last day, but invited students to let us know in advance what topics were giving them trouble. Many took us up on our invitation, providing us with plenty of material to discuss in Friday’s class.

Friday came, and as my husband and I discussed the problems and the various issues people need to consider, we assured them that there is no right or wrong answer. Sometimes we had different opinions, creating kind of a “He Said/She Said” scenario that our audience found entertaining and, hopefully, educational. We needed twice as much time as we were allotted to address these sticky, sometimes painful, issues—which means we have something left to teach next year.