Guided Autobiography

9F61C78F-98F4-4952-B808-307B50D191E1_1_201_aThe global pandemic is forcing social isolation but technology can bring us together – at least electronically. When we come together with the intention of actively listening to the stories that have shaped our lives – even if it’s through Zoom – our hearts break open. We connect on a level that isn’t available in our day to day interactions. 

This June I’m offering a four-week Guided Autobiography experience. The date will be confirmed when I have the minimum number of participants. If you’re interested, continue reading then reach out via email (mimmpatterson@gmail.com) and I’ll send further details.

What is Guided Autobiography?

Guided Autobiography, a method developed by James E. Birren, is a semi-structured process of life review – an opportunity to reflect on our life story and to share it with others. Reflecting on our life through story supports our health and wellness and offers many emotional and mental benefits. Guided Autobiography creates the space for that reflection. It shines a warm light on memories and helps us to process ‘what came before’. It brings meaning to our lives and helps us to better understand our past and our present. Guided Autobiography shifts perspective.

Our introductory course will be just four weeks, with each weekly session ninety minutes long. We will work through four themes (the first being introduced via email) and each week share with others a two-page reflection written on that theme. We will ‘prime’ each theme with a series of sensitizing questions that are designed to assist in the recollection of memories related to the theme. The sensitizing questions encourage us to look at aspects of our histories that have been overlooked.

This is not a traditional writing class. We won’t be offering critiques to one another. Instead, we’ll be exploring self-awareness and human development. We’ll be sharing personal experiences. For that reason participants must agree to attend all sessions, to complete all writing assignments and to honor confidentiality – what is shared in Guided Autobiography stays in Guided Autobiography. We will create a supportive environment that accepts individual differences and will listen actively while others are sharing. 

I’ve been wanting to become a Guided Autobiography facilitator since I first stumbled upon the process while falling down an internet rabbit hole (the same way I discovered SoulCollage®). The pandemic and shelter-in-place order offered space for that to happen. I’m excited to now be able to share the process with others. 

Join me for this four-week, donation based course. Class size is limited to six.

 


Guided Autobiography: My Aunt Mimm

One benefit of the lockdown: a calendar that has room for classes I’ve been wanting to take for more than a year. Cheryl Svensson’s Guided Autobiography class has been on my radar for over a year. Here’s one of my stories from the eight-week class.

 

IMG_6225My Great Aunt Mimm’s small apartment in Allentown, Pennsylvania had the soft scent of age with a dusting of Shalimar. Her’s was one of several apartments in a pale pink two-story stucco complex built in the 1930’s on one of Allentown’s broad, tree-lined boulevards.

When I close my eyes and wander back to that time and place I remember black out shades and Venetian blinds, a spinet piano in one corner and an early Hammond organ in the other. I can see her long hallway painted with shafts of light from the late afternoon sun. I can see the oak barrister bookcases, with a complete set of Harvard Classics and Aunt Mimm’s collection of tiny porcelain dogs.

These are my memories. But memories are nothing more than stories that change with each telling.

What doesn’t change is the warmth that I feel in my heart for Mildred Matilda Barber. As a young child surrounded by a strange cast of characters, my Aunt Mimm was a soothing constant. She was the one who read to me from storybooks she always seemed to have with her. She was the one who played Heart and Soul with me for hours on my grandparent’s upright or, in winter, suffered through Jolly Old Saint Nick as many times in a row as I asked, until I was certain that Johnny would get his skates and Susie her dolly.

Aunt Mimm was a slight and gentle woman. Her personality illuminated a room not with a frenetic sparkle but soothing glimmer.  She had a solid sense of adventure but was not the type to convince anyone to take a risk. After graduating from Allen High School in 1916, and determined to continue her education, family legend has it that young Mildred visited the local bank seeking a loan to pay for college tuition. They say she pestered the exasperated manager until terms were agreed to and the papers signed.

6E34D4B0-66A3-4B12-B614-4F5025F5C42D_1_201_aShe attended Keystone State Normal School and began teaching with the diploma still hot in her hands. Aunt Mimm loved children and any child would be lucky to have her as their teacher. She loved dogs, too, and often brought her Jack Russell Micky with her to the classroom.

After retirement she traveled. Most often with friends. Once she brought me a tiny steel drum from a trip to Barbados. 

I don’t recall her ever driving. In my mind’s eye she is always dressed in a brown wool skirt that hits just below the knee, a matching cardigan over a white cotton blouse with a pixie collar, thick flesh colored stockings and sensible tie-up shoes. She never married. She never had children of her own. 

My Great Aunt Mimm was buried the morning of my ninth grade algebra final exam. A few days earlier I sat at her viewing with my mother, sister and grandmother on the funeral home’s hard mahogany folding chairs. Four women from the Order of the Eastern Star stood in front of her open casket and sang. I stared at the ruby red carpet not knowing what to do but certain that I didn’t want to cry.

It had been awhile since I’d seen Aunt Mimm. I was in the throes of becoming a hormonal teenager and she was old. My love for Aunt Mimm was muted by pimples and first periods, schoolgirl crushes and broken hearts. I didn’t have time to notice  when she became so lost to herself that a care home was the only option.  It was there that she passed in her sleep.

After her apartment was emptied my mother arrived home with a small bag holding a few porcelain dogs and some jewelry. I was given the gold mechanical pencil she wore on a chain around her neck when she was teaching. I still have that pencil. Her initials are engraved on the side. The spinet piano arrived for me, too, but before I left home for college my mother told me it had to go. And so I sold it to a music teacher for $200.

When I was thirty-five, I was an artist living rent free in exchange for light janitorial work at an art club in Palo Alto, California.  While I swept floors and cleaned studios, my friends were finding partners, having babies and beginning to make money in a fledgling Silicon Valley. 

IMG_6227People knew me as Robbi then, because that was my nickname, having been given the name ‘Roberta’ at birth. I put up with being called ‘Robbie the Robot’ – the character from the move ‘Forbidden Planet’ – in grade school, ’Roberta Flat’  – a play on singer Roberta Flack’s name – in high school, and ‘Rotten Robbie’ – after the chain of gas stations in our country’s middle – while attending college in Nebraska.

But in the summer of 1993, I decided to change my name to the only one that fit: Mimm.

Changing my name did not change my life the way I thought that it might. Still, I take comfort in knowing that twenty-seven years ago the universe had wonderful plans for me to which I was not privy. I also take comfort in walking through life with the same name as the one true and happy constant in my young life.