Give Me a Few Minutes, and I'll Get You Started With Memoir

Holding the first artifact for Show and Tell: Scrapbook from the 1950's

That creative and persistent daughter of mine, Kate, keeps challenging me to do new things.

We were looking at the result of the survey we sent to the people who have signed up (right hand side above) for my e-booklet and weekly emails. They told us that they want to write their stories but that they faced two serious obstacles: not enough time and not sure how to get started.

Kate told me to do a video log (vlog!) to help people overcome these two obstacles. She even suggested the title “Show and Tell.”

As soon as she said those words, she had me hooked. I’ve loved Show and Tell ever since first grade. Wouldn’t it be fun to suggest short, easy, first step based on my own experience as I am finishing my  memoir?


Here’s the very first episode of Show and Tell. I want to thank bloggers and memoirists Richard Gilbert and Paulette Bates Alden for helping me rediscover a wonderful online essay about why memoir writers need to shake up the old advice to “Show, Don’t Tell.” In a video I must be brief, but if you want to understand in depth, Paulette is your guide.

And now, without further ado, here’s the video:

 Did you enjoy this first episode? Would you like to see more artifacts and examples? Just leave a brief note with your vote below.

P. S. If you love blooper reels, you might want to take a look at Show and Tell 1.1 and 1.2 on my YouTube Channel. Do it now, because I will erase these in a few days. You can also find videos of my adorable grandson there. 🙂

Shirley Showalter


  1. Sharon Lippincott on January 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Shirley, this is so much fun and a great idea. Your passion comes through loud and clear with great instruction.

  2. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on January 28, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    In my ‘video’ I’m showing you a large metal slotted spoon with a worn pink, hard plastic handle. The words “Greetings from you milk hauler, LeRoy Wright,” are worn off the handle. This spoon came to me on my wedding day at Camp Menno Haven in November 1981. In our notice about gifts, my husband-to-be and I urged people to consider giving us something to re-use or recycle. Rosy cheeked Aunt Barbara was the main one to respond to this notice. When we unwrapped Aunt Barbara’s gift, along with new silverware, we also found a collection of used and still usable items from her kitchen, including this slotted spoon. Today my husband scooped a poached egg from its hot water bath onto my breakfast plate, using Aunt Barbara’s gift to us, which was LeRoy Wright’s gift to her.

    • shirleyhs on January 28, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      Dolores, I got tears in my eyes reading that message. And what a great gift-giving idea! Recycled useful items with more service to offer the world and a story to tell. Thank you so much for bringing your spoon to Show and Tell today. Your husband, Aunt Barbara, and LeRoy Wright are all vivid characters painted with just a few touches of “showing.” And the telling is implicit in the actions. Lovely.

    • Sharon Lippincott on January 30, 2013 at 10:03 am

      This cracks me up. I wasn’t wise enough to make such a request, but my mother’s mother gave us a gift of a battered old suitcase — that cardboard kind with the tweedy light brown paper banded by two darker stripes. It held a couple of well-used cast iron skillets, four place settings of some discarded dishes, and assorted other items. It looked like she just cleaned out her cupboards. Everyone in the room was stunned. She could have easily afforded to buy us new stuff. But before long I realized the value of that gift. Each item was imbued with HER. I still use the skillets, and I’d still use and love the dishes if there had been more of them and several hadn’t broken. I’ve already promised the skillets to my oldest granddaughter, though I may buy new soon and start breaking them in so when I part with the originals I’ll still have some.

  3. shirleyhs on January 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Oh good, Sharon. Thanks for jumping right in with your support. Doing video makes one feel a little naked.

    And it’s wonderful to get your feedback. I feel like I have a few more clothes on now. 🙂

  4. Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living on January 28, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Well done. I love doing videos and you’re great.
    Now I feel like doing more again.

    • shirleyhs on January 28, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      You were one of my original inspirations, Sonia. I would love any critique you have of lighting, position on the screen, chair, etc. I have lots to learn about the technical demands of good video. This was shot with my iPhone and a tripod on a laptop table next to the chair in the library.

      And glad to know you were inspired. Let me know when you’ve uploaded another video.

  5. Kathleen Friesen on January 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    This is a wonderful idea. I loved “show and tell” as a kid. Neurosciecne tells us that we are all “visual learners.” This idea engages your audience in an effective way.

    • shirleyhs on January 28, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      Thanks, Kathleen. I love to read about neuroscience and stories. Do you know the book Wired for Story? I should probably have reviewed it here. It’s excellent!

  6. Joanne Hess Siegrist on January 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Today’s feature is absolutely amazing. You speak clearly… you move slowly and deliberately… you are very easy to follow… and what you say makes great sense. Show and tell… this is exactly what I’ve been doing with Heritage Watchers since 1996. Good News – Our minds move in similar directions and I totally love your work. Smiles: While we’ve known one another since our days at EMU in the 1960’s… what great soul mate discoveries we now are making with our memoir efforts. This all is so exciting. Next I will actually give you a phone call to celebrate our most recent creations. Cheers.

    • shirleyhs on January 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      Thanks, Joanne. I’m always interested in feedback. Sometimes I think I speak too slowly, but I guess that’s better than too fast or too mumbled. It takes practice to feel comfortable in front of a camera.

      I celebrate your work with Heritage Watchers in Lancaster County, PA. You have inspired scores of people to Show and Tell in very creative ways.

      (If any of the readers of this blog live close by, they should call Landis Communities or the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society and learn more about Joanne’s amazing work there.)

      • Joanne Hess Siegrist on January 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm

        You speak clearly… you move slowly and deliberately… you are very easy to follow… and what you say makes great sense.

        Those above lines are exactly what a former mayor of Frazer PA told me in 1996 during my initial event for Heritage Watchers as it was in Landis Home’s main auditorium (with about 100 attendees) plus on TV to all their room sites. The former mayor when on to say something like this, “I’ve lived here for 13 years and this was the best thing I even heard at this place.”

        SHOW AND TELL – That is what it is all about and I totally love your work this day. A prime key to Heritage Watchers is receiving about 20 samples per each session… showing and telling “taster’s samples from my own personal memoir efforts. Again cheers for your inspiration!!!

  7. Kathleen Pooler on January 28, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Shirley, You are a natural for this. Your enthusiasm, compassion and skilled guidance come through so clearly. I feel this will be the start of an informative, inspirational and enjoyable series. Brava- I vote Yay!

  8. shirleyhs on January 28, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Thank you, Kathy. I appreciate your vote and your supportive words. You give me words to aim for –informative, inspirational, and enjoyable. I’ll try not to let you down.

  9. Tina Barbour on January 28, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    I was entranced by this. You are such a wonderful teacher! You were so clear in your explanations, and creative and encouraging. It makes me want to dive into my stash of old pictures! I hope you will do more of these and talk more about how you move from the photo or artifact to the page.

  10. shirleyhs on January 28, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Ah, Tina, thank you. “Old professors never die, they just go on to vlog.” 🙂

    Thanks for the suggestion for another Show and Tell. Moving from artifact to reflection to the page. That kind of feedback is especially helpful. I’m going to go sleep on it

  11. Richard Gilbert on January 29, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    I love your vlog! In fact, this makes me remember how much I LOVED show and tell as a kid. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over losing that feature of school as I progressed. Artifacts such as scrap books are indeed gold mines, and though most people may lack them, just about everyone has photos, and photos are so great for looking at and writing about in themselves. I have at least two key passages in my memoir keyed to photos, one hanging in my barber’s shop and one I took of my children with a lamb. Photos enable one to show and tell; that is, to show what they depict and to tell what you see now. It’s always different from or in addition to the reason the photo was taken.

  12. shirleyhs on January 29, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    I discovered by putting this post on FB that a lot of people loved Show and Tell. Kids are not only artists, they are also public speakers. I’m all for giving them the opportunity to exercise those gifts. Free-range children are as happy as free-range chickens.

    I like your distinction between the reason the photo was taken in the first place and what we can see in it now. So true! And a lot of the energy of writing comes from the discovery of seeing, noticing, our own lives. Photos help us do that.

  13. Susan G. Weidener on January 30, 2013 at 9:30 am


    Pictures – reviewing them – and writing about the feelings and memories those photographs inspire, is a valuable tool in jumpstarting our writing. I have one photograph of my late husband, John, which evoked a whole chapter in my memoir, “Again in a Heartbeat.” The photograph – John staring off at the horizon as he sat on the beach – brought back memories and reflections of the time he and I traveled to Cape Cod in the years before his death. This is valuable information for memoir writers. Thank you for sharing. Susan

  14. shirleyhs on January 30, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Thanks, Susan, and welcome to this website. I’m sure the layers of feeling you had when you first looked at that photo keeps evolving as you look at it again after publishing a memoir about your relationship with John. Congratulations on this achievement. My hat’s off to you.

  15. shirleyhs on January 30, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Sharon, thanks for commenting on Dolores’s comment. I hope she sees it. So much to talk about in response.

    1. Old suitcases. I’m so glad my photo of Vicky taken in 1954 shows hers. And I remember the one suitcase we had in our house before I went to college.
    2. Gifts of household items. When my mother moved into a retirement community, we children and grandchildren each got to pick some items from her collection. I have a glass bowl and a double glass candleholder, a huge black and white picture of our cows in the meadow, and the sign for our dairy: Silver Summit Farm. These matter to me and will matter even more as the years pass.

  16. Gerry on January 30, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I liked your “show and tell” comments–I enjoyed seeing the video, with your scrapbook in it. It reminded me of a similar scrapbook that I made for myself as a child. I think we are about the same age–I was born in 1952, in Long Island. My father was the pastor of a Mennonite church there, and where we moved when I was one (moved from Souderton, PA area) and moved away when I was almost 12. Your story about your fresh air friend resonated with me too, with the NY connections. Long Island where I lived, back then was fairly country–but busy. I have been spoiled by living there, for my pizza tastes to ever be met elsewhere. What is called NY pizza here in MD just doesn’t quite match my NY Long Island pizza wishes and memories! I am getting off the subject I started to write about–scrapbooks. Your scrapbook, with those manilla colored papers took me back–makes me want to find mine–I THINK I still have it? One of the things that I hope to find there is a playbill for The Sound of Music play on Broadway. My 5th grade teacher took us there to see it! I loved it! Mary Martin was no longer in it but the actress in the Maria role was very good. The teacher prepared us very well, by playing the record for us and teaching us the story ahead of time. He was a wonderful teacher, as I look back–even though he kind of scared me as a 5th grader. He was tall and distinguished looking–and the first male teacher I likely had, as my main teacher. I did have a male phys. ed. teacher though, before that, that I loved! I actually have connected with him on Facebook–what a positive teacher–I have told him how much I appreciated him. I am rambling on–sometimes I “dream” about writing my memories–for my children and grandchildren, if for no one else. What holds me back partly is wondering if I am a “good enough” writer to do that–would anyone find what I say interesting? Laziness and time enter in too!

  17. shirleyhs on January 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Gerry, we are almost the same age, though you are a few years younger than I am. 🙂 I really enjoyed and appreciated this comment. You gave me a few ideas about the other obstacles people face who think about leaving a legacy of stories:

    lack of confidence in writing skill
    lack of confidence in the value of one’s stories
    lack of motivation to give this project priority in a busy life

    Looks like I have grist for the Show and Tell mill here. You’ll have to come back to check out future posts.

    As for growing up on Long Island and then moving away (to a more rural community??), I can see why you identified with Vicky and the Fresh Air children. Long Island was so close to Manhattan, and you would have had to have missed it when you moved away.

    And finally, that pizza. We hold memories of the foods we loved in childhood and can never seem to replicate the taste we remember. I’m writing about food here also and in my memoir. Such an important part of growing up Mennonite.

    Thanks for this comment. Based on it, I think you would be a perfect candidate to try to write up or record one story/week in a journal or on a tape recorder. That seems possible, doesn’t it? If you subscribe to the Magical Memoir Moments (upper right hand corner of this page), you will get ideas about stories to write or speak about.

  18. Marilyn N. on February 4, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Thanks, Shirley. I’m in. I’ll be waiting to hear about Fairland School. BTW, isn’t that an interesting school name?

    • shirleyhs on February 4, 2013 at 9:02 am

      There are two chapters in the memoir about my experiences at Fairland school. Would love to know what you remember, too. 🙂 Hard to know where that name came from . . . .

Leave a Comment