- "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
- 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 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
- Send comments to Bill Bookman in care of Living Section,
The Journal News, I Gannett Drive, White Plains, NY 10604.