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Posts from 2018-08

A New School Year is a Fresh Start




Each school year I introduce myself with a handshake for each one of my new-to-middle-school- and-absolutely-terrified-about-it sixth grade English students. As I shake their hand, I ask them to give me their name and tell me something about themselves. All too often, I get things after their name like, “I have ADHD”, “I get in trouble a lot”, “I’m absent a lot”, “I’m not good at English”, “I don’t like school”, “I don’t try very much”, or any of the other negative labels that students hear throughout their school careers. How sad is that?


My usual response is something like, “Oh, excuse me, I didn’t know we were introducing ourselves that way today. Let me start over. Hello, my name is Ms. Withers and I am a type A personality with ADD.” This usually gets me a smile, maybe even a small giggle. Then I make them try the introduction again only saying something positive this time. My hope is that maybe they will see the beginning of a new year at a new school for what it is - a fresh start.  Parents, please have your student leave their negative labels at home. Teachers, get to know the student, not the file.


Have a great year everybody!


Writing a Memoir Can Come with a Cost

Memoir Cost

I spent over twenty years writing my memoir,  A Backpack, a Eurorail Pass, and Some Serious Baggage . The book is about my trip through Europe with my boisterous, silly, and hilarious friends, Jeanne and Bert. It is also about the journey that propelled us into confronting the baggage we carried including grief, sexuality, and for me, the abuses of an uncle and a powerful, patriarchal religion. Like many memoirists, I want my story to help other women who have been in similar situations, or help them avoid those situations altogether. Despite full disclosure about the book and my desire to publish, my memoir is coming at a cost I did not anticipate.


I published this book for a time in 2013, but pulled it because I didn’t think my aunt (the woman who was married to my abuser) was ready, and I knew I hadn’t been as upfront with her about my plans as I should have. In 2017, I decided I was ready to try it again. I did my due diligence with my aunt and let her know of my plan to publish, and I sent her the manuscript nine months before my proposed publish date. She told me she hoped that writing the story would be therapeutic for me and said she was happy that I was writing it, but she didn’t know if she could read it herself. I thought all was well.


My aunt’s support ended when I revealed the July publish date during a family gathering for Memorial Day. I’m not sure if she thought I wouldn’t really publish, or how the friend she had read my book and “tell her what was in it” presented it to her, but she freaked. She called me a liar, selfish, self-centered, a “little girl”, and a shit. My aunt has disowned me, threatened that her boys are “coming after me”, her ex-husband should sue me, and that my “story doesn’t matter because hers is so much bigger than mine will ever be.” Luckily for me, the rest of my family is incredibly supportive and are as confused about my aunt’s reaction as I am.


Was I prepared for this? Not at all. Is it still worth it to publish this book? Absolutely! Perhaps even more now because I realize that I have been protecting my aunt since I was twelve years old. I cannot do that anymore. It is not good for me, and it is not good for her. She needs to deal with her story and come clean with her sons. And, A Backpack, a Eurorail Pass, and Some Serious Baggage is not just about me. Jeanne and Bert’s stories should be told as well, and I am honored that they are allowing me to do that.


My best advice for anyone looking to publish their story is this:


  • If you are publishing to make money, don’t. Few memoirs make money. Of those few that do, they are usually written by someone who is already well known. It has to be about something bigger.

  • Be transparent with everyone involved. That includes not just the people who are in your story, but family and friends who are close to you.

  • Know the legalities of writing a memoir. Change the names to protect the innocent and the guilty. Talk to an attorney who works with authors. Publish with someone who has liability insurance, or purchase this insurance yourself. Just because you can win a lawsuit doesn’t mean you have the money to fight one.  

  • Remember it is your story, and if you want to tell it, that is your right, but also know there may be consequences.