THE CENTER FOR LIFESTORY WRITING
A few years before Paul Turner retired, it occurred to him that he should begin writing "chunks" of his life for his two granddaughters.
"Marilyn [Turner's wife] and I realized it was important to do it while happenings in our lives were still relatively fresh in our minds. I changed the term 'chunks' to 'slices.' It seemed more appropriate," Turner said with a chuckle. "Slices are events or happenings in your life you feel are significant, or at least would be interesting to family and friends."
Turner started with titles for his slices.
"I had 132 titles in three months," he said. "So far I've filled 60 of them with slices."
In 2001, when Turner did retire, one of the first things people asked him was, "What are you going to do now?"
"I told them I was writing slices of my life for my granddaughters," he said. "To my surprise, several people seemed genuinely interested. Some even asked how they could get involved."
As a result, he and Marilyn, with five others, formed a group with the idea of preserving their lifetime memories by putting them into stories for their children and grandchildren. They decided to meet each month to share ideas and stories they wanted to pass on.
"We established a few simple guidelines," Turner noted. "Each slice, or story, was limited to 750 to 1,000 words and would be read to the group at meetings. The stories wouldn't be critiqued or criticized, and no advice [would be] offered on how the story could be better written. The meetings were not intended to be writing classes."
As word got around, more people joined. In 2004 he and Marilyn officially founded The Center for LifeStory Writing. The goals and guidelines remained virtually unchanged from the original. The center now has 145 members, who have written more than 1,300 life stories that are filed in Turner's computer.
Membership in the center is available to anyone who wants to write a life story. There are no charges, no dues. Participation is free. And the limit of 750 to 1,000 words isn't a hard-and-fast rule.
"It mainly keeps stories more manageable, and leaves room for photos, titles, and the author's identity," Turner explained.
In 2006 he established the center's Web site, www.ccnlifestory.org.
When Turner receives a story and photos, he uses computer software to create a page that resembles a well-designed page in a magazine. The page is converted into a portable document format, or pdf, and e-mailed back to the author or to an individual designated by the author. If authors request that their story not be posted, it isn't.
"I prefer that stories are written on a computer, but I accept hand-written stories and photos sent by mail," Turner said. "I do everything myself. All the author has to do is e-mail it to me."
Turner does not edit the stories, other than performing spelling and grammar checks. If the author wants part of the story kept private, or even the entire story, it stays with Turner.
Why does Turner do this without financial compensation?
"I do it for the satisfaction of helping seniors preserve their memories for families and friends while they are still mentally and physically able," he said. "So many people have parents or grandparents whose lives they wish they had known more about."
Turner notes that many people have a familiar lament: "If only I'd asked them when they were still alive."
"It's basically a senior opportunity," he said. "It can be difficult to get them started. They say, 'Oh, I'm not a writer,' or 'I don't have time.' They don't have to be accomplished writers, and most could find time!"
Most members write an average of 25 to 30 stories, or slices, as Turner calls them.
"One gentleman has written 102, mostly about travel experiences," he said. "Others write about their school experiences, grade school to college, holidays, military, health, and humor. The most popular themes are what I call 'sweet memories.' We have 12 themes altogether."
Turner, 76, retired after a 35-year editing career at the Church of the Nazarene headquarters in Kansas City and several local church venues. He and his wife live in Olathe. They met when both were students at Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee, Ill., and married in 1956. They have a daughter, Karen, who lives in California, and the two granddaughters.
For more information about The Center for LifeStory Writing, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.