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One-line memoir project to serve as 'time capsule' of community members’ experiences

When Uncasville resident Jeanette LeBlanc heard of a project for residents to write a one-line memoir, she liked the challenge of coming up with a single line to encapsulate the entirety of her life up to that point.

For her inspiration, she thought of the animals she had throughout her life, from cats and dogs to rabbits and even a lizard. She said they helped her through various situations in her life, and she often credits them with giving her a purpose

For her memoir, she wrote: “There is no burden so heavy that it cannot be lightened, even temporarily, by the love of a pet.”

LeBlanc is among the residents of New London County participating in the “A Life in One Line” project. 

It's part of the One Book One Region reading initiative in eastern Connecticut, which typically calls on the community to read a specific book and participate in discussions about the book. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to make adjustments, said Jessa Franco, teen and workforce development librarian at the Groton Public Library and programming chair for the One Book One Region Committee.

Discussions of this year’s book, "Crazy Brave" by National Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, shifted online, and people in the community were challenged to do something new: write their own one-sentence memoir.

The plan is to compile all the memoirs into a book, with chapters based on local libraries and educational institutions, and keep a copy of the book in the local history collection of each library. The book would serve as “a time capsule” for this generation and what people are experiencing, from their daily lives to their response to COVID-19, Franco said.

Franco said inspiration for the idea came from Harjo’s own memoir, which is broken up into four sections of East, North, South and West. Franco thought about how if the region wrote a community memoir, it could be broken up into sections by libraries and the communities they impact. The inspiration for writing the memoirs in one line came as other libraries were doing activities, such as a one-sentence story challenge posed by the Cranston Public Library in Rhode Island.

The One Book One Region Committee is working on plans to self-publish the book of one-line memoirs so each library would have a copy, and also have an eBook for people, as well as print copies available. The committee is working with IngramSpark and also researching ways to make an eBook outside of this service. Franco said Bank Square Books in Mystic also will assist with the publishing process.

Franco said proceeds will benefit local organizations that support themes from "Crazy Brave," such as mental health and creativity as a healing process.

She said she hopes writing a one-line memoir will bring a moment of clarity to people in a stressful time. “Art is healing and writing is a form of art, so taking that time to think about your life, think about what you value and who you are as a person and being able to write that down, provides guidance and clarity.”

Franco said for her own memoir, she wrote: “If pressure makes diamonds, then I am going to make myself shine.”

She said the changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to her schedule and her response to it helped her understand herself better. That introspection made it easier when it came time to write her memoir.

“For three months, everything about my job changed,” she said. “My traditional measures of success weren’t accurate to the new normal. Until this year, I hadn’t noticed how dependent I was on my daily schedule and the pressure I put on myself to succeed.”

She said the platitude, “Pressure makes diamonds” has always stuck with her and led her to think about the pressures in her life and where they come from.

Franco said she hopes reading the one-sentence memoirs of community members also will prove meaningful, as people realize how much the memoirs resonate with them. “You can find meaning in other people’s lives, and you can find your own kernel of truth. You can find direction. You can find inspiration,” she said. “I’m hoping that helps our community come together during such a stressful time as this pandemic.”

LeBlanc said she would love for the project “to bring the community together, particularly in a time like this, where physical togetherness is unwise and unsafe.”

“It has so much potential to give people a glimpse into other lives, and to offer perhaps a different perspective than they may have had previously,” she said.

Franco said all community members of all ages are invited to participate, and they can choose how they want to be identified, from using their full names to remaining anonymous. The deadline for the one-line memoirs is Sept. 15. People can submit their memoirs at OneBookOneRegion.org or tinyurl.com/alifeinoneline.

As part of the One Book One Region initiative, poetry walks, in which people can walk through an area and see signs with poetry written by Harjo, will be available Sept. 7 through Nov. 2, conditions permitting, at Connecticut College, Ledyard Public Library-Bill Library, Mohegan Park and University of Connecticut-Avery Point, Franco said.

A list of upcoming book discussions is available at OneBookOneRegion.org.

k.drelich@theday.com

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