Mar 232015
Cross my heart stories

Because we didn’t say them lightly, the promises we made make great stories

Remember (if you’re approximately my age) how we used to cross our hearts and “hope to die”? We’d earnestly pledge ourselves to some action or affection, pantomiming the heart crossing as if we (in my case, good Southern Baptist girls) were genuflecting.

Today, kids pinky swear. To me, pinky swearing doesn’t carry the same weight as our covenants made on the pain of a-needle-in our-eye injury. But what do I know? As much as I assuredly meant all those promises (unless, of course, I somehow managed to cross my fingers behind my back as I gesticulated the heart crossing on my front), I can’t remember many of my hope-to-dies. The one I do remember was to remain lifelong friends with Sally Moore. I lost touch with Sally a few years after she moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, which for my 12-year-old perspective. might as well have been Peru. Continue reading »

Mar 172015

How do the stories you tell affect your loved ones’ image of you?

Through your stories, you’re providing context that your loved ones will use to understand you better. In essence, you’re projecting an image. For instance, when you share multiple memories about raising your children, your loved ones will come to think of you, and understand you better, as a parent. Which is great. But, there’s something better

When you share a rich variety of memories and stories, your loved ones get to know you in a variety of roles. And that results in a deeper, multidimensional connection with your readers.

For instance, they might think of you as a loving grandpa, but through your stories, come to also know you as an athlete, a soldier, or a young man desperate to win that pretty girl’s heart.

When my boys were young, I used to take them to the corner barbershop for haircuts. It’s a local place where men of all ages and walks of life drop in to get a shave, cut, or trim. You take a number as you walk in and the wait provides prime people-watching entertainment.

Providing context barber chair

Providing context matters. If people only know you in one context, they won’t recognize you outside of that setting–like, at the Barber’s Shop

One day, a familiar looking man was in line before us. All three of us recognized him, but couldn’t place him. It was a busy Saturday, so we had a full ten minutes to (surreptitiously) contemplate his identity. Father of a soccer teammate? Employee at the grocery? Teacher? A doctor one of us had seen? (Yeah, that’s a sad commentary that at that point in our lives we were seeing so many doctors that we couldn’t keep them straight.)

As the gentleman left, the barber called out, “See you soon, Dr. Caron.” Finally, it dawned on us. He’s our veterinarian.

He was out of context. Without the office, white coat and pet hair, we didn’t recognize him. We were like the elementary school kid who is flabbergasted to see his or her gym teacher in the grocery store. Don’t gym teachers only exist inside the school? I made a remedial note to self: vets get haircuts.

As storytellers, it’s important to provide rich—and diverse—context for our memories and family stories. As rich of a setting a veterinary office is, you don’t want that to be the only setting you build. We want them to recognize us, even if we’re in the barber shop without our white coat or dog hair.

Mar 122015
Writing with you heart on your sleeve

Writing with your heart on your sleeve helps your readers to connect with you. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

One of the most rewarding parts of sharing your memories and stories is those moments when the big picture comes alive. When you see in someone’s reaction that you connected. Writing with your heart on your sleeve increases the likelihood of that happening.

The memory collector has a different role than the average narrator. You’re part of the story. You add context. When you expose your more vulnerable side, you allow readers to see the world through your glasses.

It comes down to building trust with your readers—your loved ones. The better they know you, the more they will trust your vision—your filter—of the stories you’re telling. More importantly, writing with your heart on your sleeve helps form that palpable the connection with your readers. Continue reading »

Mar 062015
Read my blog

Since you’re here, you might as well start with #11! Infographic used with permission.

If a well-respected genealogical website said you should read this blog (and 13 others), would you follow instructions?  I hope so, since that’s what Crestleaf’s blog is saying.

In my new favorite post, Crestleaf lists 14 Blogs You Might Not Be Reading but You Should! Of course, it should be pointed out, that when it comes to Crestleaf, I’ve been preaching to the choir. They offer a system by which you can put your photos into context and digitize your stories.

To make it doubly nice, they’ve saddled me with some great company. Join me in checking out all these blogs that make it easier to tell your own and your family’s stories.

Thanks Crestleaf!

If you’re landing here for the first time, the related links below make some great starting points.

Mar 032015
Making your stories public

Is making your stories public like acting your life out on stage?

There’s sharing and then there is sharing. One of the more difficult decisions memory collectors and memoirists make is how public we want to make our stories.

Making your stories public can be difficult. Sharing everything is akin to living life out on a public stage and can make sharing your imperfections hard. I remember watching The Jetson’s as a child and thinking how intrusive the video phones were. Jane had her “morning mask” that she used to answer it, but what if the house were dirty?

Even today, before I skype or hangout on Google, I go put on a nicer shirt, brush my hair, and wish plastic surgery were an option. Continue reading »

Feb 262015
Memories Family Stories and community learning

Memories, family stories, and community learning were all featured on this episode of Dear Myrtle’s Wacky Wednesday

Dear Myrtle, “Your friend in Genealogy since 1955,” was the would-be storyteller’s friend on her February 25, 2015 Wacky Wednesday show (embedded below). And, as the guest on her show, I got a great taste of community learning. Continue reading »

Feb 242015
Lighthouse moments of clarity

Like a lighthouse guiding ships, friends can help us find moments of clarity.

Life lessons are theoretically wisdom we’ve gleaned by doing things the hard way. At some point along our journey of colliding with reality, we arrive at an “ah-ha” moment. Explaining how you gained moments of clarity is a great way to connect with loved ones. (See also my book, Lessons Learned and Are You Older and Wiser?).

However you received your moments of clarity, the circumstances come back to you whenever you’re confronted with a similar situation. If you’re like me (and in this instance for your sake, I kind of hope you’re not), sometimes you come out of an experience with a lot more sleepless hours of fog, bewilderment, and what-iffing, than moments of clarity. Sometimes it takes a good friend, confidant, spouse, or therapist to help us deconstruct. Continue reading »

Feb 172015
Cookie Cutter stereotype

Stereotypes can leave you with a cookie cutter character. However, they can help you frame a delicious appealing description.

Are stereotypes bad for stories? Do we want our readers to type cast us—or the loved ones we write about—as simple stereotypes? Or do stereotypes help us build a setting for a story?

Breaking the Stereotypes: Steel Magnolias and Cast Iron Camellias

Stereotypes seem like a cop-out when it comes to describing people, because they are. However, when you use them as a starting point they can be very helpful. Comparing yourself to common stereotypes can help you define who you are. For instance, growing up in the south, I’ve known my share of “steel magnolias” and “cast iron camellias.” Continue reading »

Feb 132015
Who inpsires you?

Write about who inspires you?

Roots Tech 2015 (#Rootstech) opened with the question “Who inspires you?” Video clips showed various individuals naming famous heroes. After a few minutes, the answers segued into naming family members. It was a nice way to start thinking about how we introduce our family members. Not just who inspires us, but why or how they inspire.

I felt a pang—missing my Aunt Ann and wishing she could share this adventure with me. She led the quest to explore the Crymes family’s history. In fact, it’s not unusual to see her name as the reference of information on genealogy forums. She’d be awed by the crowds.

“Discovery” is a byword here. I wondered, what drives a person to embark on a journey of discovery? Is it rooted in curiosity? A need to connect and bond? Enamoredment (is that a word?) with the past? Something else? Continue reading »

Feb 092015
Cupid stories of the heart

Cupid can pin down great stories of the heart.

Valentine’s Day brings to mind sweethearts, chocolates, flowers, loving or romantic gestures, and sweet nothings–even when “sweet nothing” is literally all we have. In addition to providing a huge sales opportunity to the greeting card industry, Valentine’s Day causes us to pause and reflect on our stories of the heart. We reflect on what we have, what we have lost, and everything in between.

Since, if you buy into my theory, you’re already thinking about it, take a little time around Valentine’s Day to describe the great loves of your life or share the stories of the heart. Likewise, this time of year also lends itself to extracting some of those stories from family members.

Unspoken History to Oral History to Written Stories

You’d be surprised how little prompting some folks need when it comes to a subject near and dear to them—the people they love.

Stories of the heart start at the very beginning.

I’m a great believer in prompts, as you might have noticed. They are especially effective when it comes to teasing out the lesser known aspects of familiar stories. Perhaps the facts of the story are known, but the nuances are missing. For instance, others often know how we met our spouses. What they perhaps don’t know is how we initially felt about our spouse-to-be or significant other.

For instance, I recently read at the Henry Ford Museum that Coretta Scott King had misgivings about the prospect of marrying a preacher. She wasn’t sure she was cut out to be a pastor’s wife. Looking back over her life, that’s such a cool plum of information to understand. Such tidbits add great dimension and texture to stories, especially when others think they already know the whole story.

How we feel now

It’s especially fun to ask older folks how they feel about their long-time partner. If they’ve been married a quarter of a century or more, their stories of the heart are seldom told. A lot of things have become unsaid. It’s a nice chance for them to put their sentiments into words. Of course, the same applies if it’s our own story.

Ask for or Give Advice:

What advice would you give young couples starting out? Over what did you worry too much? What did you take for granted? What would you do differently? These make great interview questions as well as do-it-yourself writing prompts.

Rose bud Stories of the Heart as Metaphors

As much as I love metaphors, the metaphor of blossoming love, doesn’t work for the memory writer. Seldom does love move smoothly from bud to full bloom. It can explode into being. It can fade and re-bloom.

What metaphor works for the relationship you’re writing about? Fireworks that go forever? Fireworks over deep water? A trick birthday candle that can’t be blown out? A climbing vine that rises above adversity –or one that occasionally hangs on by its fingertips.

Your Turn:

You get the idea. Tell a story you’ve never told before or tell it in a new way.