What is YOUR Life Story?

Written by Panorama resident, Mary Jo Shaw. November 2018

Think about it. Your story is only yours. It’s unique. No one else has the same life story as you. No two are alike!

I’d like to share this month’s unusual event.

The Lacey Senior Center invited me to be the presenter at their monthly Speakers Series. The manager asked me to discuss the 23 years of my life in my journey of when I was a nun and what happened when I left the convent and immediately trained to be a high fashion model.

In her phone call, Ms. Manager explained that my talk was to be “informative vs a primary sales pitch” for my Convent to Catwalk book. “You can have the book here and sell IF people request it after your talk. No problem.” She encouraged me saying that the seniors would love to hear excerpts of my stories.

Wow! How fun that would be! I was used to giving book reads & signings, but this would be different.

My opening remark usually explains that a catwalk is a modeling ramp for showing off fashions. I love the question-and-answer part during my presentations and always encourage the questions. “There’s no right or wrong question. Here’s your chance to find out what you’ve forever wanted to know about the nuns or high fashion modeling. If I don’t want to answer, I don’t want to answer.”

Naturally, I explain I don’t want to spoil the climax to the many stories, so I may give a soft hint of an answer. Invariably someone says, “I don’t want to hear the answer! It’s like knowing in advance ‘who done it’ when reading a mystery story.”

At Lacey Center, a woman posed, “Why did you write Convent to Catwalk?” Immediately, other attendees nodded wide-eyed.

My response? Actually, I answered with another question to everyone present to start a discussion. “That’s such a good question. Let’s list why you all think it was a good idea to write my story. I’ll give the first reason.”

I answered, “Why not? It’s my story, different from anyone else’s. I wouldn’t be here talking today if I hadn’t had the extreme contrast of the two life styles to write about.”

Toward the end of our hour, I summed up the reasons they offered which were true and my own added reasons:

  1. Years from now, some twig on our family tree will remark, “Oh, yeah! I heard we have an ancestor who was a nun, left the convent and was a model. Wonder what that was all about?”
  2. Even now my grandchildren (ages 11, 12 and 15) don’t know the mysterious, hilarious, traumatic, painful, emotional, near-death experiences I endured, how I handled them and how God helped me pull myself out of them.
  3. I don’t have expensive things to leave to my children and grandchildren. What I have they don’t want, except for my baby grand piano, and that will wear out and be forgotten that it was even mine.
  4. Without being preachy, I can leave them inspirational & positive ways to endure the ever-growing small and huge challenges they will experience in their lives.
  5. Most people won’t write a book as a legacy, but if we have a pencil and some three-holed paper or a simple computer, that’s all it takes…no fancy words, just writing as if we were telling our story to a friend…one story at a time.

The hour discussion with Lacey Center citizens was lively and fun, and too short!

So…what did you do that you tell your friends about when you reminisce about the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s…? What do they laugh or cry about with you?

Here at Panorama, I’ve heard loads of life stories and learn more every day. Those accounts should stay alive for their families and for history.

I thank our 100 year-old Charlotte W., who has held free Panorama Writing Your Life classes for about 14 years twice a month. With no constructive critiques, our goal was simply to write a 10-minute story at home and read in it class. We were eager to hear the next episode in each resident’s life! Charlotte also started a program of tape-recording life stories of residents in our Convalescent & Rehabilitation Center. The activity director sees that the stories are typed and put into a folder. What a gift for the family!

After about a year, I was encouraged to attend PanWriters weekly classes, for a small fee, with international playwright Bryan Willis. He has taught at Panorama since 1998. I’d leave the class with swollen encouragement to publish my stores for others. Because of Panorama, I self-printed in 2018. Convent to Catwalk is in its fifth printing in one year. I look forward to the many opportunities to book read & sign, where I am able to donate a portion of the proceeds to the church, organization, or club; thus, giving back to my community and to my God.

I’m thankful that Panorama offers the opportunity, encouragement, the time (freedom from house maintenance and repairs, yard, etc.) and even sells our books and crafts for us in our Gifts Etc. shop!

So, what is your story? Write it right!

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