Life Stories Session IV

This was supposed to be the last class; however, via class vote and the agreement of Shipley Center, the Writing Life Stories class will continue. Participants are realizing the great benefits they garner each week from sharing their work with each other.

One participant even offered permission to post her paper on this Blog. That’s right. I didn’t even have to ask. Cool! So that is something I’ll include in a future post.

Memories survive. Photographer: Leneé Cobb
Memories survive. Photographer: Leneé Cobb

This week I shared an exciting personal writing breakthrough with the class that might benefit other writers.

I’ve been working on a particular episode of my life, one retaining its power to rock me, for years from a protective distance: I did, they have, it happened. I’d interviewed my parents numerous times on this event and thought we’d remembered all there was to write. I was wrong.

While reading over the class assignments from the previous week, I took note of one particular paper done in present tense and thought, hey, I’ve used that technique in other stories, why not this one? So I opened up that old, well-hammered episode and began to re-write it as if I was once again eight-years-old living through it——not what happened, but what is happening——and more little details emerged. I kept writing, did more research, asked my parents more questions, and came up with not only more juicy story, but also solved some mysteries that nagged me from our previous recollections.

The epiphany of how  details surface when we write our memories in first person present tense is wonderful and scary. I have people I can talk to; however, some writers working on their life stories might not. I don’t recommend exploring certain traumatic events alone. There is the chance that this technique, when it involves real life memories, may cause post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)  Before proceeding, writers determined to relive and record an unusually traumatic event might consider establishing a support network.

During class, we also discussed the many different forms of writing our life stories can take, how we can organize them, and the importance of getting the story down on paper no matter what form it takes.

Part of my memory tsunami came by questioning the things I couldn’t know as an eight-year-old, like the particular model of the car my dad drove. I already knew it was a white and green Chevy station wagon. I vaguely recalled it. I went out on a limb and asked my folks the model. It was easy for them both to remember that dad drove a Chevy Nomad. I  looked up the specifics on the Internet and studied the outside of an identical vehicle and also the interior. New memories of the episode in my life I was writing about flooded out faster than I could sloppily notate.

Memory Triggers

As you write your life story try to explore antique shops, either down the road from where you live or online. Use the word “vintage” in your Google search if you’re having trouble. An old milk bottle or forgotten toy, or even an old kitchen utensil can produce a whole crop of detailed memories.


• Glass baby bottles
• People who saved lives
• Selflessness
• Child car seats
• Terrifying places
• Little brothers
• High heels and galoshes
• Incorrect memories
• Cloth baby diapers
• Filberts
• Horses
• Tricycles


• Wildflowers in the field
• Fresh air
• Jealousy
• Repeated dreams
• Basement windows
• Bus trip (Greyhound)
• Homeless people on the street
• Danger in the snow
• Big noses and hurt feelings
• Baby sister
• The walnut tree
• Cowboy country
• Colors of the Southwest


–Coach Cobb


4 thoughts on “Life Stories Session IV

  1. Coach Cobb, thank you for sharing great tips for writing from memory triggers. As a former mental health professional, I especially appreciate your sensitivity to PTSD and the need for support.


  2. This is brilliant. I was often told I need to write down my story, haven’t done it yet, only in bits. When you have time, and if you don’t mind, could you pop to my blog and have a look and give me a feedback? Some things are fiction, some reflections, some poetry. You don’t have to read it all, obviously! But a view on some of it would be appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

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