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Local writing group delves into memory

Memoir writing workshop attendees listened to stories read by other members of the Freeport Memorial Library Memoir Writing Group on Feb. 19.
Memoir writing workshop attendees listened to stories read by other members of the Freeport Memorial Library Memoir Writing Group on Feb. 19.
Lauren Whyte/Herald

A group of men and women trickled in one by one to sit at horseshoe shaped table to start the monthly meeting on memoir writing at the Freeport Memorial Library.

A month ago, Barbara Spinelli, the organizer of the writing group, had challenged the writers to write about an experience that altered their perception. At the start of the meeting, each writer pulled out pieces of paper to share a story they wrote on an experienced that changed their life.

From climbing mountains in Switzerland, seeing the sunset for the first time while in a plane or a vision blurred by thick fog at the Grand Canyon — their stories reminisced on life lessons they said they couldn’t forget.

Freeport resident, Joseph Cirina, 86, irina has been attending the memoir writing group for one year, and said his writing has improved. As a self -proclaimed amateur photographer and aircraft enthusiast, he was inspired to share his view from above flying inside a restored World War II plane, in 2018 at 85 years old.

He vividly described his experience of extending his body outside the open cockpit of a Waco UPF-7 biplane. He said he wanted to get the perfect photos of Long Island’s Robert Moses Causeway, Fire Island Inlet Bridge, Fire Island Lighthouse and Jones Beach, from above.

“As you’re getting older the opportunities are becoming less, because you’re going to die soon,” Cirina said.

Cirina said whatever he did not do in his youth, he wanted to seize the opportunity to do them now.

“Most of my friends are dead with the exception of one in Florida that I speak to frequently,” Cirina said. “We talk about it all the time that no one can relate to the time of our youth except for those that were there, so I thought somebody should write about it”.

Cirina said he started to write stories about his experience. In his “view from the top” memoir, he states the most desirable photos should be taken with only the air between the photographer and the ground.  He said, feeling the windblast while leaning outside of the windshield with his camera, gave him a sense of what a bird may experience flying.

“My job is to come up with an idea and create a safe space for people to reveal their lives, that’s it,” Spinelli said.

The memoir writing workshop is in its sixth year, and every month Spinelli creates a writing idea based on something that’s happened in her life. She said that if it’s happening to her, then it must have been happening to someone else.

Another memoir writing group member had revealed that her view from the top was more from a place of getting older and now understanding and respecting the sacrifices of her mother.

“Under the surface of the smoothness of everything in my life, was my mother.”Freeport Judy Goldfien said.

Goldfien said her Jewish mother was brought up to believe that a woman’s place was to take care of everything in the home. She said her mother never went out, took a break, or had a girl’s night out without her husband being present.

Looking back at her life, Goldfien said that she was doing the minimum, and had it much easier taking care of her household, compared to what her mother did. She said her mother was very organized and took care of the responsibilities of raising the family while working and going to school. Although her father was actively around, Goldfien said she relied on her mother for everything.

“I saw what I couldn’t do that’s why I respect my mother so much now, and her sacrifices,” Goldfien said. “I was working with children and my responsibilities were less than my mother’s and I had trouble doing it.”

While intimately sharing stories of her mother as a tribute to her life, Goldfien bursts into tears. Her view allowed her to look back on her mother’s life without criticism, but in awe of what she herself could not do.

So many of the writing group attendees could relate to Goldfien’s memoir and shared their interpretation of her story. There was a collective understanding in the group about life’s journeys free from biasness and ridicule, but showered with respectfulness, acceptance and grace.

“ Nothing is just positive or negative, it’s a duality and that’s real life,” said local artist, Marc Josloff.

Lauren Whyte is an intern at the Freeport Herald Leader and a graduate student at Hofstra University.