July 2018

Memoir 101: How to Write Your Life Story

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Night by Eli Wiesel. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen.

These are all best-selling memoirs, authored by people who felt compelled to remember their past and write it all down. Just like these authors, we all have untold stories within us. Whether you want to leave a legacy, share a life lesson, make sense of a certain time in your life, or help others through your personal experiences, memoir writing is a wonderful gift—therapeutic for you and meaningful to your loved ones. No one wants friends or family to one day think: “I wish I would have asked them about that when I had the chance.”

So, why don’t more people take the time to capture their thoughts and feelings around major life events?

There are a few reasons, and they’re all misconceptions. You don’t have to be a professional writer to write a memoir, just write from the heart. You don’t have to be famous. And you don’t have to detail the entire storyline of your life—that’s an autobiography—and autobiographies can be a daunting idea, whether you’re 40 or 90.

According to Reader’s Digest, a memoir is your version of what happened during a specific time in your life; whereas an autobiography is the chronological telling of your experiences, with a timeline, focused on facts. A memoir is less formal, less encompassing, less obsessed with factual events, and more concerned with “an emotional truth toward a particular section of one’s life.” It’s mostly written from memory—not intended to be an accurate statistical report.

With memoir writing, facts and figures don’t tell the whole story. In order to make your experiences come to life, you also need to include feelings. According to author Bart Astor of Baby Boomer’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents, “No one else has had your experiences or reacted in the same way.” People connect with emotions, descriptions, dialogue, and personality. It’s YOUR story—no one can tell it the same as you. After you write it all down, your loved ones will want to read it!

But where do you begin?

  • Start by reading memoirs. Just reading about another person’s experiences will help you understand more about tone and theme. A list of the top 50 memoirs can be found here.
  • Think about the pivotal moments in your life. Which ones really mattered? (Remember, this isn’t your autobiography. You don’t have to write about the entirety of your life.)
  • To get the words flowing, look at a photo that evokes a strong reaction. What do you hear, smell, feel, see? Repeat this process with a few different photos.
  • Write the way you talk—in a conversational way. It’s more engaging and easier to read. (Don’t be too formal.) Be honest. It’s ok to show your flaws; everyone can relate to making mistakes.
  • Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or quality. Just get it all down. You can fix it later.
  • Believe in yourself!

If you feel like some of your memories are a little fuzzy, you can always include a disclaimer at the end saying: “These events are my memories. Others may remember events differently.”

If you still need inspiration, these questions might help get the creative juices flowing:

Where were you born? Was there anything unique about your birth?

What’s your earliest memory?

What toy do you most remember getting at Christmas?

Did you have any pets growing up?

What family vacation do you most remember from your youth?

Who was your favorite teacher? Why?

What was your favorite subject?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Were you in any extracurricular activities?

Who were your childhood friends?

What did you do for fun when you were young?

Did you get an allowance? How much? How did you earn it?

What was your first car?

Who were your high school friends?

What did you learn about yourself in high school?

Are you more like your mom or your dad? How?

When was the first time you saw your parents cry?

Who was your first crush?

Who was your first kiss?

Who was your first love?

What’s your favorite city to visit?

What’s the farthest from home you’ve traveled?

What impact has religion had in your life?

Did you go to college? What did you study?

What was the greatest success in your career?

What did you do with your first “big” paycheck?

What was the biggest sacrifice you ever made?

What time(s) in history will you always remember?

Name a time you were on top of the world.

Name a time you were overcome with sadness.

As a youth, did you break any bones? Need stitches?

What was your first job?

What was your favorite job?

Who were your role models when you were young?

What have you done that you never thought you’d do?

What do you know about your family history/heritage?

What’s your favorite holiday tradition? Why?

(If applicable): How did you meet your spouse? When did you know he/she was “the one?” What was your marriage proposal like?

Where was your wedding? How many guests attended? What did you serve? What do you remember about that day?

(If applicable): Tell me about the time(s) your kid(s) were born.

How would you describe your kids’ personalities? Grandkids?

What person most influenced you in life?

What makes you happy?

What’s your dream for future generations?

Now get to writing! Good luck! 

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The Best Exercises for Improving Balance + Stability

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an older adult falls every second of every day in the U.S.

Let that sink in.

An older adult falls every second of every day in the U.S.

That’s a lot of falls—some with serious consequences. Aging causes bones to become brittle, and broken bones don’t heal as easily.

We tend to lose balance with age for a number of reasons: could be due to a medical condition, side effects of dizziness or vertigo due to medications, impaired eyesight, or an overall decline in physical fitness.

The good news? Medical conditions aside, balance is a motor skill that can be maintained and even improved. It’s not going to happen, though, without a little effort. First and foremost, you have to get back on your feet. Don’t let poor balance result in a cycle of inactivity and muscle loss. Gain confidence—and muscle—through regularly doing simple balance and strengthening exercises. Even better, you can do the following exercises anytime, anywhere.

STANDING EXERCISES:

Flamingo stand (balance on one leg)

Start with an easy exercise. Stand on one leg, gripping a sturdy chair (no wheels) for balance—use both hands. Lift your right foot about an inch off the floor and balance on your left foot. Hold the move for 10 seconds, repeat 10 times, then alternate legs. The goal of this exercise is to get strong enough to eventually hold the pose—without using the chair for balance—for up to a minute.

Tightrope walk (walk in a straight line, heel to toe)  

By walking heel to toe, you’re strengthening your core and your leg muscles while simultaneously improving your posture. To do this one, mark a straight line with masking tape, then walk heel to toe, with your heels and toes almost touching. Focus on one spot directly in front of you. Stretch your arms wide as you walk (picture a tightrope walker). Repeat 20 times.

Leg raise with arm lifts

Improve physical coordination by standing next to a chair, feet together and arms at your sides. Lift your left hand over your head and slowly raise your left foot off the floor. Hold for 10 second and repeat with the other side.

Back leg raise

Using a chair for support, lift one leg at a time as far back as possible. Bend the leg you’re standing on, raise your other leg. Hold the position for a few seconds. Repeat 10-15 times. Bonus: this exercise helps to strengthen your lower back.

Side leg raise

The side leg exercise will help strengthen the upper legs and hips. Hold onto a chair, keep your back straight, toes facing forward, and hold the position. Repeat 10-15 times. Breathe slow and steady.

March in place

This one is as easy as it sounds—standing straight, lift your right knee high, lower, then lift the left leg, or march in place. Marching is as fun as you remember. Repeat 20 times.

SITTING CHAIR EXERCISES  

Arm circles

Sit in a chair and lift both arms above your head. Use a light weight (or a can of vegetables works, too) and rotate your arms like you’re making a large circle in the air.

Side twists

Sitting in a chair, hold a ball at arms-length, keep it up to shoulder height. Twist slowly to the left, then to the right. Repeat.

Hand squeezes

Strengthen your arms by bending your elbows, then bring your hands together, and push with both hands (right hand pushing into left and vice versa).

Other ways to lower your chances of falling   

Many falls can be prevented. The Centers for Disease Control recommends taking the following precautions:

  • Have an open dialogue with your general practitioner—tell him or her if you have fallen recently, worry about falling, or feel unsteady. Mention all of it. Don’t be too embarrassed to mention a recent fall. Some medications can make you feel dizzy or drowsy, leading to falls. Let your doctor know about every medication you take—even over-the-counter ones that might not seem worth mentioning.
  • Schedule an annual eye exam. Limited vision can impair your mobility.
  • Eat foods high in Vitamin D and rich in calcium.
  • Remove any “tripping hazards” from your living space. Put shoes away instead of leaving them near the door, secure loose rugs, make sure cords aren’t in the way, and put a nightlight in the bathroom. (As we get older, it takes awhile for our eyes to adjust to dark and light.)
  • Get out of bed slowly. Sit on the edge of the bed, take a few deep breaths, and get your bearings before attempting to walk.
  • Try tai chi or yoga. These gentle activities can significantly improve your balance and flexibility.

Getting some exercise every day—even a moderate amount—is really the best way to stay steady on your feet and reduce the risk of falling.

If you haven’t been active recently, consult your doctor before doing these exercises.

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