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.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vicki-Bronwen Heal August 23, 2010 at 7:06 am

Dear Br & Sis Thurston

Please, please, please, tell me you are teaching at Education Week again next year. When will you know?

Vicki Heal

2 Memoir Mentor August 23, 2010 at 7:26 am

We won’t know until early spring. Were you in our class this year? If so, email me if you have any questions. Good luck with your writing project, Vicki.


3 Linda Lacey Missouri August 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Dear Dawn and Morrie, Congratulations on providing 350 attendees ways to “show, not tell” memorable stories to bless generations to come. Now, inspired by seeing you in person, the attendees can open your book anytime to remind them of details and be inspired again. I hope they open this blog regularly, too. You give gems a-plenty. Dawn, I look forward to your October class in Orange, CA to catch your nurturing and talented ways. What are you each reading now?
Linda Lacey Missouri

4 Janice Martin August 24, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Dear Dawn and Morris,
Your classes were surpurb and just I what needed to enlarge my scope as I continue my journey in writing my history and those of my family. Garnering fresh ideas from your classes provided me additional insight and the ability to see greater potential in developing my writings. I wrote a mission statement earlier this year, a new one since I am a new phases in my life, “to leave a legacy . . .bestow a history, both written and pictorial; which will inspire and help bind my famly together” . . . I look forward to further classes from you.
Janice Martin, Washington St.

5 Memoir Mentor August 24, 2010 at 3:25 pm

What a good idea to write a mission statement that captures what you want to accomplish through your personal history. I’m sure you’ve discovered that this statement helps shape what you choose to write and how you write it. You are doing a fine thing, and your family will be blessed and inspired by all your hard work. And it is hard work!
My best wishes,

6 Janice Martin August 24, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Dawn, Well I reread what I wrote to you and obviously I made some writing errors, much like you talked about, and didn’t proof read it. Ouch! A lesson learned to late.

7 Memoir Mentor August 24, 2010 at 8:44 pm

This isn’t English class. Don’t give it another thought.

8 Chris Stevenson August 25, 2010 at 7:47 am

I attended your class last week and it was one of my favorite classes. I learned so much and I’m so excited to share many of my family stories in a way that the next few generations will want to read and reread them. I am a novice writer but thanks to your inspiration and information, as well as several other classes at BYU Education Week, I’m going to move to the next level. Thanks for teaching.

9 Toan Lam September 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Dear Dawn,
I get your name through a friend of mine who said you are the person I should talked to. I am trying to write and finish my memoir since 2004. I am a Vietnamese pediatrician in Salt Lake City. I came to the US via Hawaii as a refugee in 1975 by boat during the last day of Saigon. I need somebody to help me with editing and to finish my story. What sparks my determination to publish my story was the story in NPR radio in September 1st, 2010. The story was about the USS Kirk who helped save hundred of thousands of life during the evacuation. I was there on one of the boats.
Because of my busy schedule as a physician, I need help in finishing my book. I would love to hear from you or if you are unable, to recommend someone else to co-author my story.
Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks.

10 Memoir Mentor September 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Dear Toan,
It was a pleasure to hear from you. I’m so glad you’ve decided to write your story because others can learn from it and, of course, it should not be forgotten. Since you live in Salt Lake City, I recommend you seriously consider attending the all-day personal history conference that is being held at Westminister College on Friday, October 15. The conference is sponsored by the Association of Personal Historians, people who are in the business of helping people write, edit, and publish their memoirs and family histories. I will be coming from Southern California to speak at that conference, so if you attend, be sure to come up and introduce yourself to me. I can introduce you to some of the local people running the conference who may be able to help you with your book. You can find more about the conference at this site:http://personalhistoryconference.blogspot.com. Being a physician, you have a very busy schedule, but if you can find a way to clear your calendar that day, I think you’ll find the kind of help you’re looking for.

My best wishes,

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