Don't you love it when the universe takes a hand and points you in a good direction?
A few weeks ago when I stopped by the Chevy Chase Library I saw a notice for a Memoir Writing Class: four classes—five minutes from my house—free—you bet. I signed up.
The stories for my storytelling come from personal experiences. Right now, I am working on new material. This class could open the door to new insights. Another confirmation that this was a good thing.
The first class 20 seniors—men and women—gathered in the basement meeting room of the library. Our instructor, educator and author Armiger "Jay" Jagoe, welcomed the group. He is a very tall and rangy elder man with sharp, blue, twinkling eyes and a wide smile. He reminded me of my husband as he waved us to our seats with his inordinately long, thin arms. "Come in. Come in." Perched on the edge of a table he exuded the ease and confidence of experience. Later, someone asked him the direct question and he revealed his age—a biblical, awesome and inspiring 91 years. This man would have stories to tell.
I had no idea what to expect. I guess I thought there would be some didactic lists about what to do as you start to write your autobiography, your memoir. Not so. Early on he told us that we would be on a life changing quest—for ourselves.
One woman was not happy. "I did not come for self-help."
The teacher was not phased. "Madam, how can you write a memoir if you do not know who you are or what your purpose is?"
I settled more comfortably on the hard molded plastic chair, if such comfort is possible. The feeling that he would be a trustworthy guide for these four sessions flowed over me.
During the classes Mr. Jagoe used exercises and prompts that are familiar to folks like me who take or teach storytelling workshops. But his approach seemed to give them a different flavor. When we paired up to talk about prompts like our first memory or the first home we could remember the prompts felt fresh. I wondered if it was because we were not there to "achieve" something for the outside world but had come because we wanted something for ourselves. I knew for sure I was catching the excitement of those in the class who had never tried this before and who felt their memories igniting.
Mr. Jagoe assured the group that once you started on this quest and then began the writing that it would take hold of you and change your life. I believe that to be true because more than twenty years ago it happened for me when I encountered storytelling for the first time. But I heard him opening another door—not just the finding and telling of our stories but the finding of ourselves, who we are and how we came to be ourselves.
The initial homework? To write a confidential mission statement answering the question: What is my purpose in life?
This class has been a marvelous experience. I have looked forward to these Thursday mornings at the library and I am sorry next Thursday closes the series.
All I can say is, if you see a notice announcing a class with Jay Jagoe, don't miss the opportunity to meet an inspiring and memorable man who hopes to lead you toward a greater understanding of yourself as you sift your memories to create your own story.