Anyone who is familiar with Susan Klein - through her storytelling events, her books and CDs, or her appearances as co-auctioneer for the annual Possible Dreams Auction - knows she is organized, has a gently self-deprecating sense of humor, and is enthusiastic about helping to guide others through the creative process. Ms. Klein's eight-week memoir writing workshop, Spice of Life, which she has offered to Islanders since 2007, provides a springboard for those who are interested in compiling their life history one story at a time.
On May 6, she will begin taking her fifth Vineyard group through the process of mining the wealth of memory, and crafting stories that, as she explains, "are based on the relationships between people, between you and your environment, and you and your values." Ms. Klein adds, "The process is based on working as if we were reporters going back into our own lives. It's a moveable feast. There's a lot of humor. Even in the roughest parts of what we do, there's usually some kind of glimmer in there."
The workshop begins with examples: "I preface about 95 percent of the activities with an anecdote," says Ms. Klein, "so if people aren't clear, they have a real-time example to understand it on a different level."
Ms. Klein uses organizational exercises to help participants excavate their memories, leading a brainstorming session on identifying events from the past that helped define each decade. "We start with a full global and national backdrop so we can be sure that we have something for our own personal story to land on," Ms. Klein explains.
Most of the people who sign up for the workshop are more interested in recording family histories than in writing professionally. There is no compulsory homework, and no one is obliged to read their work in class - such things are left up to the individual - but Ms. Klein does suggest writing optional assignments. She explains, "The first week we'll be looking at everybody we know - the communities and the cultures we're involved in."
Some of Ms. Klein's students are determined to complete a memoir, and the organizational aspects of the class help them solve the problem of where to begin. She provides her students with a three-ring notebook with sections to aid in the organization process. "It's really a way to write what you know, get it down, get it in a form that you understand - also to be able to find it again. The class is structured so that you know where things are. You can put the same thing in different places."
Olive Tomlinson attended the workshop last year so that she could preserve stories of her past for her two sons. "It really opened my eyes," she says. "She had us draw a schematic of our childhood home. I was able to see that house, where the outlets were, the things that went on in the house 50 years ago. I wrote about things that happened during the war. It just tapped into everything and the group helps you with your memories. It's just rich."