Why Write Your Legacy?
Written by: Meg Oldman
We capture meaningful moments with our phones, shared celebrations, and committing events to memory. Few of us actually sit down and write about what we know about these moments.
Marion Roach Smith has made it her business, literally and figuratively, to lead people through the process of documenting – specifically writing a memoir of what they know about their lives beyond dates and chronological facts.
Marion was hired for her first job out of college by The New York Times. She was just 21, with no journalism experience outside of the classroom. Journalism graduates in the early 1970s had a wide variety of entry-level job possibilities at the many working journalism houses throughout the country. The internet was not part of mainstream usage; newspapers, magazines, and televised news were still the main source of news and daily living.
Three years later, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at 49 years old. Marion had never heard of Alzheimer’s. Neither had most others. There was no yellow page listing in the New York City phone directory for it, nor had Congress allotted any funds for study and research into the disease. Her mother’s doctor told Marion that four and a half million people suffered from Alzheimer’s. Marion was shocked by this information and, consequently, brought it to the attention of the NYT Magazine editor. He was as mystified as she by the sheer numbers of people stricken with the disease, and even the medical editor for the magazine was surprised by the information. The editor then assigned Marion the task of writing about Alzheimer’s; thus, the disease was introduced to the wider world. She found from the thousands of letters and faxes she received in response that people felt alone; many were unable to get their patients diagnosed, and there were no support systems in place to which to go to for help.
The New York Times did not have much of a place for personal stories in the 1970s. It’s hard to imagine now that the language of news did not fully embrace the personal. At that time, one hardly used the pronoun I. Marion’s story of her mother’s diagnosis was a rare read in the NYT. Marion concludes, “Ever since, I have believed in the power of the personal narrative.”
Marion wrote her first book, published by Houghton Mifflin, that expanded her story; three other mass market books followed. Twenty-two years later, she created a class to teach the art of writing memoir. She sat on the board of the local arts center in her home town of Troy, New York. As a journalist, she felt that the writing classes they were offering were less than engaging. She pleaded for better writing courses many times over. Finally the executive director “got sick” of her bringing it up, and he invited her to begin teaching a course about writing memoir. The class was very popular. “Helping other people learn how to get their hands on their stories — I get teared up when I say this — is just as wondrous as it sounds!”
She has worked with Vietnam veterans, survivors of domestic abuse, people in recovery, and people who are happy gardening. Marion notes, “Showing people the tools to tell their tale is giving them access to what they really know about themselves … it’s a joy to do.”
One of her favorite students wrote about her own 50 years of marriage; she published one book and gave it to her husband on their 50th wedding anniversary. Marion felt like a midwife attending the birth of that book; sadly, it turned out to be six months before he died. “It was one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve been privy to,” Marion reflects.
In another encounter, an English graduate student wrote her memoir and made copies for her four children; it was about the twelve relatives they had never met, with all the expressions each used in their manners of speech. Marion estimates that close to 80% of her students want to be published. Her job is to help each them identify how they want to do so, whether it be in a blog, a podcast, or other platforms such as writing journals or magazines.
Her main goal is to communicate the idea of writing with intent: “You identify the form in which you want to publish, master it, and use it.” She, herself, didn’t know how to write a piece for the NYT Magazine. Marion learned on the job; she studied everything from NPR essays, “All Things Considered,” to op-eds. Marion summarizes about what she learned, “Writing with intent has to do with writing for a goal that is very specific to the form in which you want to publish … not wasting your time practicing, but actually writing with intent for a form.”
Furthermore, her students are discovering their own legacies; “Memoir is not what you did, but what you did with it … writing about your life informs your life and vice versa.” When asked about the age range of her students, she said, “They are all over the place. Every age has a different size of memoir.” It’s a rich process her writers encounter; she’s interested in their stories and what they have to say about their lives. She believes they actually come through the process of writing their memoirs with an appreciation for their own lives. What they come away with is a legacy to pass down to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; that way those family members who may never meet them can be inspired by the stories of the people who came before them.
For more articles on legacy planning, click here to subscribe to Legacy Arts Magazine.
Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: March 19-23
Here’s a look at the Top 11 Most Viewed Articles of the Week on IRIS.xyz, March 19-23, 2018
Click the headline to read the full article. Enjoy!
Let’s pretend you are a US investor that wants to deploy some of your money overseas. You think international developed market stocks are attractive relative to US stocks, and you also think the US dollar will decline over the period you intend to hold your investment. — Chris Shuba
I had a chat with The Financial Times the other day, and provided lots of background as to why I don’t think cryptocurrencies are the choice of criminals. The comment that was reported was the following ... — Chris Skinner
During the tumultuous red and green gyrations of the capital markets this year have your clients anxiously called to ask: “What’s going on with my portfolio?” What do you do when the usually smooth ride in your luxury automobile becomes as bumpy as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in the Happiest Place on Earth? What does the average investor do? — Ted Parker
Inflation is a bad thing, right? It make things more expensive, right? For those of us of, let’s say, a certain vintage, we recall the runaway inflation of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. So why does the Federal Reserve – in charge of managing the country’s currency and value thereof – actually try to create inflation? It’s called the inflation targeting and it matters to your money. — Bill Acheson
As you near your 60’s, your prime earning and saving years will transition into a period of time where you get to enjoy the “fruits of your labor,” a.k.a retirement. We call this segueing from accumulation to decumulation, the period when you will be drawing from your accumulated nest egg. — Dana Anspach
Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are popular vehicles for market participants looking to engage in thematic investing. Thematic investing looks to take advantage of future growth trends, including disruptive technologies. Given that forward-looking approach, stock-picking in the thematic universe is equally as hard, if not harder, than in traditional market segments. — Tom Lydon
It’s not enough for your salespeople to be product experts, they also need to be capable of having the kind of conversations that position them as business experts and even strategic resources. — Lisa Rose
Business growth doesn’t come from wishful thinking. As you know, it takes a lot of hard work. The growth of your business is not an option – it is a necessity. Coordinating the right mix of strategies to gain market share and improve client acquisition rates is essential to advance your firm in today’s economy. — Michelle Mosher
It’s undoubtedly true that investors’ financial security is no laughing matter, and this is reflected in the stolid, dour, reliable imagery and branding that is, by and large, the industry standard. This is hardly surprising—investors need to believe they’re placing their hard-earned money in the hands of experienced, trustworthy professionals. — Alexandra Levis
The number one question advisors ask when exploring a move to independence is how the economics compare to accepting a recruiting package from a major firm. It’s certainly a valid concern, because while the recruiting deals being offered by the wirehouses are down, it is still very possible for a top advisor to get a really attractive hard-to-pass-up offer. — Mindy Diamond
Municipal bonds might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a sexy investment. They don’t typically command news headlines like the stock market or bitcoin. — Frank Holmes
- 1 of 2625