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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Welcome to the Lifewriting Blog!

By Cheré Coen
Funny how teaching lifewriting can make you doubt your own life story. Don’t get me wrong, I will be the first person to insist that writing memoirs is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself, as your family legacy and for the historical record of your community. Genealogists and historians will agree that diaries and records of a person’s life are invaluable to the study of history. I’ve worked for years on my own family genealogy and have longed so many times to be able to get inside the heads of my crazy ancestors.

So why do I find it hard to write my own story?

I offer advice, I share writing roadmaps and I listen as the instructor of the ULL Lifewriting Class on Wednesdays. Mostly, I sit in awe at the amount of talent around the table and the stories that spring up. There are detailed memories of old Lafayette, past Cajun traditions and old French expressions. Many grew up elsewhere, some fought in World War II. And some stories about the most mundane aspects of life make us laugh the most.

My days are spent writing fiction and articles, teaching and trying to master social media. I’m still raising two children, and I try to maintain a household of one husband, one Boston terrier-boxer mix and three cats. I sometimes wonder what would I write about!

At lunch recently one of the students remarked that we remember so much of our childhood, but not as much when we are raising children. Perhaps we are too busy trying to keep the ship afloat. I find this to be true when my kids mention moments from their youth and I struggle to recall them. But perhaps that’s even more reason to write about life as we live it.

So I vow to be as good as my students and write about myself every week. I’m starting with this blog.

Our prompt this week is “Going Back to School,” which brings me to Jefferson Elementary in Jefferson Parish with its creaky wooden floors, drafty windows and lack of air conditioning. The day my mother enrolled me in first grade I was told repeatedly how my father had attended the same school, something I had no trouble believing since the building look medieval to me. I found the same to be true of my first grade teacher, an older woman who had taught my dad. To a 5-year-old, anyone who had taught a parent was ancient. To this day I wonder if she was old as I remember.

Still, I was excited about the prospects, loved the chalky smell of the massive classrooms with windows everywhere and the inviting playground with its painted hop scotch markers and swing sets. In the corner of the property, parents loaded up used newspapers for a paper drive. Seemed like a fun place to me.

My older sister was bored, having been through this process before. She began exploring the property, heading for a high view of the world up the fire escape. Being an inquisitive kid — or pest of a little sister is more like it — I followed. Back then I followed her everywhere.

When she reached the top and could view the neighborhood, she suddenly turned and screamed. At first I thought she was angry I had followed and was telling me to go back to Mom. But she bolted past me, bounding down the stairs with one word registering as she flew past. “BEES!”

I looked up to see wasps emerging from where she had stood, but before I could understand their intention, one wasp flew right for me. All I could do was shut my eyes.

He stung me on the eyelid, which felt like fire burning through my skull. Of course, I cried and headed down the stairs, although a lot slower than my sister. My mother met me at the bottom, whisked me in her arms and we headed for the Oschner emergency room. I later learned that some kids are allergic to bees and a sting so close to the brain could result in death. I think my mom was just afraid I might lose my eyesight.

I suffered neither death nor blindness, but I got special attention that night, my mom applying cool face clothes on my eye while I enjoyed “The Wonderful World of Disney.” My favorite episode of “Winnie the Poo” was on that night, and I delighted in every moment, if only through one eye.

First grade started the next day with the ancient teacher who taught my dad. And I had a great story to start off the school year.