Adult Learning Center 

AJC Memories 

  This article appeared in the March 30, 2008 Northside section

Reliving their lives for a memoir

Students say writing their own histories on paper has helped them learn more about themselves and the things that are most important.

For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/30/08

Her classmates wiped away tears as Norma Taulet-Ball recounted the last Christmas tree she and her husband shared before his death.

"It was written with such beauty and poignancy, many of us were in tears by the time she finished reading it," said Tony Cobourn, the writing instructor for an eight-week memoir course at the Roswell SeniorNet Learning Center.

"It was really the kind of thing I hoped everyone in the class was writing; something to draw emotion from the reader."

Taulet-Ball, who describes herself as 68-plus, assisted other senior writers as a volunteer coach. A few participants completed their memoirs, but most simply laid the groundwork, revisited their pasts, developed an outline, and started writing. Many learned more about themselves in the process and sometimes confronted difficult truths about their lives.

"The most difficult part is getting started," said Taulet-Ball, an Alpharetta resident. "I tell people not to start with chapter one, paragraph one, sentence one. You just start writing and then put it all together later."

Born and raised in Puerto Rico with family connections spreading to the Canary Islands, Italy, France, Spain and Venezuela, Taulet-Ball wanted to capture her family history for her grandchildren. "It started when one of my grandchildren asked me about my last names. But there's more to names than just names. It's history," she said.

She sees her own memoir as a lifelong project. "I'm writing for myself and my kids and my grandchildren and my great-great-great grandchildren," she said. "Sometimes I write essays, poems, real or embellished stories, anecdotes or even diaries. I use it as a vehicle to tell my kids things."

Taulet-Ball said she understands and knows herself better because of the memoir-writing process. "You get a chance to relive your life when you write a memoir," she said. "We're a product of the way we remember and react to things."

She interviews her children to hear their versions of stories as well.

"I thought I was just going to write and that was it," Taulet-Ball explained. "But it's the insight of not only looking back, but looking inside. I'm getting to know myself more. I'm getting to know my husband better too. We were married 45 years and I think I knew him, but then I read back over something and find something else there."

Although the course went more smoothly than he anticipated for a first effort, Cobourn wishes he could get people to open up more.

"The thing the participants stumbled over the most was candor," he said. "I encouraged them to be as honest as possible so their great grandchildren would have a pretty clear idea of what life was like," Cobourn said.

Cobourn's own memoir gave his family new insights into his struggles.

"What I hoped to get out of dad's memoir was a written history for my kids," said daughter Jennifer Tse, who has lived in Japan for the past 15 years. "The unexpected benefit was that his story gave me insight into who my father is and why. There were details in the stories of his childhood and coming of age that I hadn't heard before,"

Robert Laser, 76, of Roswell found reading about his own life was sometimes difficult.

"It's not just about reliving memories, but pulling memories out of you that you didn't even realize you had," he said. "I wanted to do something other than just a bunch of articles, letters and photos in a shoebox for whoever follows after me."

Unlike most participants, Laser completed his memoir during the eight-week course.

"One reason I signed up was for the discipline and to have a deadline to shoot for. I wanted to complete the memoir," he said.

Laser concluded his memoir with a collection of his favorite inspirational quotes.

"On the first night of class, there were several people who couldn't wait to get started because there were others they wanted to stick it to," Laser said. "The instructor guided that into a discussion urging people not to have anything negative or hurtful in a document that might be around for 200 years."


WHAT: Memoir writing workshop

WHERE: Roswell SeniorNet Learning Center, 830 Grimes Bridge Road, Roswell

COST: $40 per person (age 50 or older)

INFO: 770-641-3950