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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

My Writing History

By Lyn Burnstine

When I was seven, I wrote a poem called My Calf. It was eight lines and two stanzas and was published in a church newspaper. I still have the yellowed copy.

As a schoolgirl, I always said that I wasn’t always great at multiple-choice questions but give me an essay question and I would ace it every time.

In high school, I edited the newsletter and the yearbook, the latter being more of a graphic arts project than a journalistic one. (That was in the days of cut-and-paste for photos and text–how much easier and better it would be now.) It helped prepare me for my next writing project.

I applied to the local newspaper for a part-time job they were offering to a student. It was just a few week-day hours after school. My job was proofreading some copy and writing a column about the goings-on at the high school.

Over the Christmas season I was sent out to ask local merchants and people on the street about their ideas for Christmas shopping. I was shy and the population was only about 4,000 anyway, so I doubt that I found anyone much except store clerks to quiz.

When I entered college, I felt I had to make a choice between music and writing as my major. Music had been a passion since early childhood when my parents agreed not to keep me waiting any later than seven years old to start piano lessons.

By college age, music had become my identity, as it has remained all of my life. I did, however, make it into the advanced writing class as my freshman English requirement. I failed miserably; I had just discovered boys at 17.

For a while, most of my writing was in the form of love letters to my future husband, in stateside service as an airman in the Korean War. For nearly 20 years afterwards, the only writing I did was of letters, especially the yearly tome I sent by snail mail every Christmas.

The saved copies provide a good record of the activities of my family during that time – only the good times, not the bad.

Near the end of those 22 years, I had begun a freelance music career for myself – quite by accident. Then and for a long time, I wrote all my own publicity and promotional material as well as for coffeehouses that I ran simultaneously.

Gradually the written word became more and more an important part of the musical worship services that I continued to present until I was in my sixties.

Most of that writing pre-dated the computer age for me. A big white electric typewriter sat on my desk until finally it was replaced by a gift - an early Apple word processor.

As I gradually wound down my musical career, I was able to spend increased time and effort on writing. I had begun a book that sprang from several dramatic presentations and papers I had written on the life of a woman minister of the early 1900's, Anita Truman Pickett, an amazing trailblazer who had been ignored by Unitarian-Universalist historians.

I received a grant which gave me a deadline to finish the book that I had been writing in fits and starts even as I was saying, “I can’t write a whole book!” I could and I did and it was published by Skinner House press in 2000.

Meanwhile I had begun writing personal essays and I published two books of memoir in 2002 and 2004. I had, by then, joined writing groups and begun to give readings and workshops.

I wrote for a senior newspaper for a while, was the editor of a folk guild newsletter and got sucked back into the world of promotion and publicity for folk concerts after a long hiatus.

Now, having retired from that and from making music myself, I am happy with two writing groups and a literary café to keep me producing something all the time. I am regularly featured on this elder blog and I am grateful for it.

My writing group of the longest duration is made up of both women and men, but my weekly workshop that I lead consists entirely of women my age - 80, give or take a few years.

The Silver Pens

Marian at our fashion show--handmade garments

We lost our dear, eldest member, Shirley, recently. She was 92.

Our lovely Shirley--star pupil modeling her handmade garment

And yes, I have written my obituary, although it keeps changing, so I have to keep writing.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


So interesting, Lyn. I wonder how many of us have had more than one career? I myself have had at least four different ones. Like you, each one pulled me to the next. I wish I could be in your group pictured above. Do you do writing prompts? Must be fun. Keep on keeping on!

Lyn - What a great life!

I once wrote my own obituary too. With critical information such as: 'Mr Dickson was a long-time member of Sam's Club and the Costco Wholsale Club.' etc!

I, too, am a U-U. So I found your book on the internet and am looking forward to reading it. - Sandy

Our lives sort of parallel, agewise and interests, although mine was art instead of music. I have NO MUSICAL ability whatsoever. I always enjoyed writing.

I just wrote my obit, so happy to see I am not crazy. I felt so free afterward, did you?

Lyn: I always wondered where you got your training for your interesting writings. Thanks for sharing it with us. I too will look your book up on the internet, and keep the great stories coming.

It sounds like your life is fulfilling...isn't that something we all hope for? I do enjoy your writing.

We followed similar paths. Interesting history there, Lyn. I write under the pen name Gullible and I must confess I wrote my own epithet:

Here lies Gullible,
In a snit.
Not pen nor paper
In her casket.

As always, I enjoy your comments and eagerly race to the computer to see what you have written in response. Thanks. Karen, yes, I give them a prompt, often one word, which they can write about or choose one of their own. After 4-5 years of weekly meetings, we began to put ideas in a box and pull one out each week.Sandy, funny as always :). Glad you found "Anita" online--it is out of print and I finally gave away all of my copies except for one. Joanne, I'd feel free if my offspring would stop procreating so I could stop re-writing my obit! Johnna, all you have to do is type in my full name on Google and you'll be besieged by links to my book.Yes, Linda, it is fulfilling, just having to adapt to limited mobility as most of us do.And Jeanne,love your epithet.

Lyn, this was just wonderful reading it and then all these terrific responses...I will have to walk around pondering my obit writing..For the first time in my 72 years I was sick and found out the ol' body is wearing out, damn it..Like many of you writers, I did some for a living, mostly grants and reports, but every chance I got, I joined writing classes and kept notes for myself on things I wanted to write about..Lately with so many people writing about questions they wished they had asked their parents, I feel like asking my own children anything they'd like to know before I am gone or too out of it to answer properly...That sounds more morbid than I think it has to be, but writing it down often sobers up my thoughts...Lyn, you have had an extraordinary life and adventures and I will look you up on Google for sure to get more detail...

ome years ago, maybe l0 by now, I joined a writing group with another woman my age at a local Housing Program..most of the participants were actors, writers, people in the Arts..we were two non profit geeks, looking for something to do on a Friday afternoon after work...I t was the most wonderful time I had spent in years, looked forward to it with joy and dread...when the workshop ended, everyone promised to keep in touch and keep writing, but you know how that goes..thanks for all the sharing..this is best part of my day..reading, listening to you all and reminding myself to get down and write it all down...

I wrote my obit six or seven years ago, and not surprisingly it is in great need of revision. Thanks for your interesting post. It's always good to hear from a fellow UU.

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