A Writing on the Net SM
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"Write your autobiography if you would like to live forever"
Column in The Journal News, Westchester County NY daily newspaper, Thursday, February 15, 2001, Page 6E
By Bill Bookman
Copyright 2001 Bill Bookman
A newspaper column about Carol Kafka's workbook (and video) which guides a person in writing their autobiography, having fun and being inspired in the process.
"I could write a book!"
How often have you seen the eyes upcast toward the ceiling, the hands clasped, and imagined the brave autobiographical thoughts racing through the person's mind?
But how often has the book actually been written? Even a bare recitation of facts requires a drawn-out process of recollection. Clothing a dimly-recalled event in scene-setting and dialogue is a challenge. Even more difficult is relating events to a lifetime theme.
There are discussion groups and creative-writing classes around to help with the process, but many people work alone. And they need something to constantly nudge them and inspire them into productivity.
For those solitary writers, Carol Kafka of New Rochelle, a retired Mount Vernon school teacher, has developed a mail-order course with the challenging title, "Autobiography: Your Chance to Live Forever." It consists of a 68-page manual and a video tape of Kafka and a male associate talking to the unseen classroom of one person.
The basic idea of helping seniors write the stories of their lives had come to Kafka when, after retirement, she was teaching creative writing at St. John's University in Brooklyn.
Kafka told me, "There was one man in his 80s in the class who said, 'I don't want to do what you're asking the class to do. I want to write my autobiography." I told him I thought that was a great idea, and I started to work with him one-on-one. I soon realized how much work I needed to do to make the process accessible to him."
With that experience behind her, Kafka decided to put together an autobiography course for solitary writers. To gain a broadened sense of what seniors might need, she volunteered at the New Rochelle Senior Center.
Kafka boldly states on the cover page of the manual, "You have stated your claim to immortality, nothing less."
"All you have to do," she goes on, "is to respond to the suggestions on the videotape and in the workbook, freely and openly."
That takes some self-discipline. And Kafka doesn't want you leafing through the whole workbook or playing the video all the way through. You are told to read a chapter, close the book and start the video. At a certain point, you are then commanded to stop the tape and carry out instructions that were outlined to that point in the book.
When that's done, which frequently takes some time, you read the next chapter and listen to the next section of the tape.
This goes on for seven chapters, with titles like"Childhood Memories and Fairy Tales" "Relationships and Forgiveness," and "Finding a Theme." For motivation, there are video shots of people writing in their notebooks with soft music in the background.
The workbook and video are available from Soul Search, Inc., Box 659, Bronxville, NY 10708 ($29.95, plus $5 shipping).
Kafka still teaches the course live to groups of people. The next one will take place next month at Wainwright House in Rye.
Send comments to Bill Bookman in care of Living Section, The Journal News, I Gannett Drive, White Plains, NY 10604.