Dianne Aprile on writing from our own lives

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Thank you to Dianne for sharing this with us. If you are interested in learning more about Dianne click here. To learn more about her creative writing workshops at Cloud 9 and to register, click here.

Written by Dianne Aprile

Recently I read from my memoir-in-progress at Words West Literary Series in West Seattle. I was paired with a wonderful poet, Melinda Mueller. We read in a “braided style,” meaning Melinda and I took turns reading, switching off several times during the evening. Some of what I read that night were excerpts from my memoir that have been published, like this one.

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My memoir is the story of my close relationship with my mother’s sister, my aunt Aileen, who was known as Eenie for most of her life. The narrative spans 100 years in the life of my family, but focuses on Eenie -- a survivor of much tragedy but also great joy and accomplishment. Never married, she became my surrogate mother after my mom died while I was still in my 20s.

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Her story is relevant now, especially, because as a young woman she was the victim of an assault that went unreported and led to severe depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and a series of aggressive, invasive treatments, including electro-shock and a “modified” lobotomy. Fortunately she survived all of this to live to 94. Up until the very end of her life, she could beat me at Scrabble -- and as my husband will tell you, I’m no slouch at that board game.

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At the reading, I tried to give listeners a taste of the sorrows in Eenie’s journey as well as the buoyant sense of humor she brought to every task she undertook. She lit up a room when she entered it and made friends everywhere life took her. In many ways, despite her lifelong routine of compulsive handwashing, she is a role model for me. Though she suffered more than her share of bad breaks, I never heard her ask, “why me?” or let setbacks keep her from moving forward, starting over. I was heartened when members of the audience, who listened so intently as I read, told me afterwards that they wanted to know Eenie better and urged me to finish the memoir so they could read her entire story. That’s just what every writer wants to hear!

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I like to tell my students that many of our stories can mean as much to others as they mean to us. Learning to write them with clarity and passion is a satisfying activity that can lead to us knowing ourselves better – but can also lead others to greater understanding of themselves.

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As a teacher of creative writing, I enjoyed talking about my writing process in a Q & A session led by Words West intern, Joannie Stangeland. One of the questions was how did being a jazz club owner for five years influence my writing. I talked a bit about improvisation, the heart of jazz, and how it led me to my keen  interest in collage as a writing form. As in jazz, new meaning and connotations can be created by the juxtaposition of unrelated or loosely linked material. I love exploring those connections in my writing (and in my teaching). Also jazz makes use of intended silence as a form of communication, and I employ that strategy in my writing, as well.

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Writing about Eenie brings her back to me and allows me to recall why I loved her so much. I believe that writing from our own lives, communicating our personal stories, is a revelatory form of storytelling. I recommend it to all writers of all ages and levels of experience.

Thank you Dianne! We are honored to have you leading our creative writing classes at Cloud 9!

To learn more about her creative writing workshops at Cloud 9 and to register, click here.

Charlene Freeman