My journey on the GAB Time Machine

I woke up this morning thinking about an image of being on a time machine during a course I just completed – to become a certified Guided Autobiography (GAB) instructor. The experience was nothing short of extraordinary.

H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel “Time Machine.”

When you go back and remember stories and then write them,  you really are on a time machine, although not what H.G. Wells envisioned in his 1895 novel of the same name. My journey did not involve an actual or even fabricated time machine that took me to the past or future via the Fourth Dimension.

But you do go back in time when you explore your life. By sharing your stories, you make it possible for future generations to go back on their own time machine to learn about your life.

GAB is a program of the Birren Center for Autobiography and Life Review at the University of Southern California. It is based on the decades of research into autobiography/life review conducted by Dr. Jim Birren, who is in his 90s and still running GAB groups in his community.

Many of us – and everyone should – want to write or tell our stories. But we don’t know how or find it an overwhelming task.

You could hire me as a personal historian to do the interviews, write the story and then produce a book. I’m thrilled to do that, but I can’t get to everyone.

Guided Autobiography (GAB) is a process that involves writing two single-spaced pages a week on a theme stimulated by “sensitizing questions.” We don’t respond to each question, but use them to open windows into our own experiences, our hearts and our minds. Each story is as different as the person writing it.

We share our stories in small groups of no more than six, knowing what we read will be kept confidential and be respected. After each participant reads, we offer support and suggestions. We are introduced to the next theme, with those sensitizing questions, and are sent on our way to write again.

Our class was conducted through web conferencing over the Internet with instructors Anita Reyes, MS, and Cheryl Svensson, PhD. You’d be surprised by how much we bonded during those ten weeks even though our face-to-face time was via the web.

With each class, we found ourselves going deeper into our stories, and, as a result, understanding ourselves better. Our group plans to continue meeting every couple of weeks to share new stories on new themes.

GAB was an extraordinary experience that I now want to share with others.

For decades, I have helped people, families, businesses organizations and even the City of La Crosse gather and preserve their stories and photos. I also taught life writing classes for several years at Western Technical College.

Teaching GAB is a way to get your story written. How do we do it? It’s much like that old joke, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” In this case, each bite is two pages. And those pages add up.

As we completed our class, we each made a presentation. Mine was based on the 1940s icon, “Kilroy.” Long ago, my parents told me about “Kilroy was here” as graffiti written all over the United States by one anonymous person and then many others. In other countries, Kilroy had different names, including Mr. Chad in England.

Kilroy Was Here was naturally on the National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.

As I was waking one morning, the image of “Kilroy was here” popped into my mind. My idea was that writing your autobiography is a lot like planting your own personal Kilroy on earth. You let the world know you are/were here.

Get your life (story) started now. If you are not in the La Crosse, Wisconsin, area, I’m eager to teach this course on-line through face to face video conferencing.

Who should write their autobiography? All of us. We don’t have to have cured cancer or finally brought peace to the Middle East to have a story to tell. Everyone has a story to share.

Current and future generations can learn from your experiences and find resilience in themselves when they go through tough times.

You can learn more about life-writing on my website, On my page about Guided Autobiography I have a spot where you can let me know your interests about this class and also to tell me about times of day that would work for you.

Make your story happen. I promise it will be an extraordinary experience.