“KEEPERS OF OUR CULTURE”
by Joyce Krieg (January 16, 2015 Issue)
My dad always wanted me to get a teaching credential. As I prepared to graduate from San Jose State with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, the hints he would drop grew more frequent: why not stick around for another year and get a teaching credential? But I was young and eager to set the world on fire with my newly-printed diploma, following in the footsteps of my ink-stained heroes: Woodward and Bernstein, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson. So I always responded with, “No way!”
So it is with a great sense of coming full circle – not to mention a drop of irony – that I find myself some 40 years later earning a certificate to teach Guided Autobiography and setting out to do just that.
My dad was actually quite enlightened for a male of his generation – Great Depression, World War II – when it came to women’s roles in our culture. He felt strongly that his daughter, and all girls, should be prepared to earn her own living, learn a marketable job skill, and never rely on a man for her economic survival. But his forward-thinking only went so far, just covering the typical and expected careers for women of the era: secretary, nurse, or teacher.
So when he kept bringing up the subject of a teaching credential, the younger version of me just got defensive, feeling as if he was rejecting my decision to become a crusading journalist – and that he didn’t believe I could do it. For years, I carried around pain that my dad didn’t believe in me or my dreams.
But now, with the perspective of some 40 years, I can see that he was only looking out for my best interests. For sure, journalism isn’t an easy field to break into, then or now. Not only was it a crowded field, but most newsrooms in those days weren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for job applicants of the fairer sex, Nellie Bly notwithstanding. So I’m sure that in Dad’s mind, a teaching credential would have simply been a safety net, a Plan B if the newspaper reporter thing didn’t work out.
The Power of Guided Autobiography
And right there, in these preceding five paragraphs, is a mini-example of the power of Guided Autobiography. You pick a topic – in this case, Career – and you write a short essay on a defining moment in your life as it relates to the topic. Through the process of writing and sharing – usually with fellow students in class, in this example with the readers of Cedar Street Times – you gain a new clarity, a fresh understanding of past events.
Dr. James Birren, the founder of Guided Autobiography, says, “I have learned from autobiography that humans are adaptable … our interpretations of our lives influence the decisions we make. The self we tell ourselves we are, the narrative self, appears to influence the decisions we make in life. Autobiography reveals the individual’s theory about himself or herself, how they explain their life. It leads to the idea that one’s self, the self we tell ourselves, is in a sense a personal theory, a theory that provides direction for decisions and actions in everyday life. Here lies a possible connection between the autobiographical stories of life and the decisions that individuals have made and the directions their lives have taken.”
Of course, your reasons for writing your life story need not be so lofty. Guided Autobiography offers a terrific method for simply organizing your thoughts and getting your words on paper. Writing a memoir or autobiography seems like such a huge project, so daunting, that most people give up before they even start. Plus, for most folks who are not naturally drawn to the literary arts, writing is a lonely pursuit and simply isn’t much fun. A Guided Autobiography class meets both of those challenges head on – it breaks down the process into small, easily-accomplished projects, and it becomes enjoyable by sharing our stories with others.
Casting the Events of Our Lives in a Positive Light
There are many reasons to leave a written record of our lives. Patricia and I have written frequently in this column about the difference that it can make in building strong families, how children who know their family’s history, traditions, and legacy grow up more resilient and capable of handling life’s challenges. But for those of us without children or grandchildren, it can be a wonderful tool for reviewing the events of our lives and casting them in a new, positive light. Dr. Birren’s research shows that people who have put their life story on paper and shared it with others have fewer regrets at the end of their lives.
As for me, I’ve never regretted not getting a teaching credential. Despite the odds, I was lucky enough to have a rewarding and satisfying career in journalism, first in print and later on breaking down the barriers that kept women out of the broadcast newsrooms.
And yet … here I am, some 40 years later, with a certificate from the Birren Institute authorizing me to teach Guided Autobiography – and I think Dad would have been proud.