Ellen Schroeder and Shirley Haugen, both 76, have been exploring some interesting stories at their local libraries. The stories are the women’s own, and they’ve decided to share them.
The two are regular participants in the monthly Palm of the Hand memoir writing workshop, co-sponsored by the Baraboo Public Library and the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County T.N. Savides Library.
“I enjoy writing,” said Schroeder, who lives in Reedsburg.
She first attended the workshop last year.
“When you write, you write what you remember,” she said, adding that she has been taking down stories to share with her seven grandchildren.
She wants them to know what her life was like growing up on a Wisconsin farm.
“I like to have feedback from stuff I’ve written,” said Haugen, of Baraboo.
The workshop, based on a Palm of the Hand memoir-writing model developed by poet and author Michael Czarnecki, has been offered in the community for nearly three years. University library director Marc Boucher said Czarnecki first visited Baraboo to share the method in 2011 and has visited several more times. The libraries plan to bring him back this year, Boucher said.
Workshop participants have built on the style over the past three years, he said. “We’ve always had people there.”
The workshops are designed to get people thinking about their lives and to break down memories into manageable lists of writing topics. Each idea should generate no more than a one-page story.
“That’s real, documented memory that would not have been written down had you not just taken that little bit of time,” Boucher said.
Boucher said he’s enjoyed the process and has about 36 pages of material to share with his son one day.
The workshops start out with introductions, follow with a period of quiet reflection and then end with participants sharing about potential writing topics and reading anything they’ve written in between meetings, if they wish.
The stories sometimes are funny, scary, sad — reflections of the participants’ lives.
“Some people think, ‘Oh, I don’t have anything interesting to tell,’” Boucher said. “Everybody’s got a story.”
He recalled finding comfort in special memories of his grandmother after she died. In the memories, a small piece of her lived on.
“To me, as long as I’m able to keep her memories with me, in my mind, she’s still with us,” he said.
Stories have that power, Boucher said.
He said he hopes the program has given people some of the motivation they need to get their own stories down on paper.
“Going to the workshop might just be that little bit of creative oomph that you need to start doing it,” he said.
Meg Allen, director of the Baraboo Public Library, has facilitated the events with Boucher. She said the workshop has been a way for the community to connect.
“One of our roles in the library is to give people an opportunity to engage in various ways,” she said.
Allen said she’s never been a creative writer, but the way the program breaks down the memoir-writing process has allowed her to gather some stories to share with her daughter.
“It’s a great way to connect, and it’s a way to hear other people’s stories,” she said. “It’s fascinating.”
Cate Booth, an associate academic librarian at the university, attended the workshop for the first time last month.
“I was pretty reluctant,” she said, adding that she decided to go to familiarize herself with the programming. “I did want to see what the process was like.”
Booth, 29, said she’s not inclined to share her feelings and is a little shy about her writing, but something about the workshop spoke to her, and she has decided to become a regular.
The stories at Tuesday’s meeting ranged from Boucher’s harrowing tale of winter camping in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest with a buddy to Schroeder’s memory of seeing a double rainbow on her family’s farm.
Haugen had the others howling with laughter when she told the story of how her daughter dropped a baby alligator during a family trip to Florida.
“My typing is terrible,” she said, as she read from her story about getting a parking ticket on her 1954 grey-and-white, dual-muffler Ford in Sheridan, Wyo.
Haugen is quick to joke, a warm smile coming across her face as she comes up with a particularly good zinger.
She said she hopes to write down the story of her life by jotting down special memories of all the places she has lived and visited.