Mar 282016
 
Your audience matters empty seats

Thinking about your audience can make you a better storyteller.

Whether you’re writing your own memories or writing your ancestors’ stories, thinking about your audience matters. Who you are writing for will affect the way you write. For instance, thinking about your audience will impact your choice of formal or informal voice as well as how in-depth your stories will be.

Writingcommons.org explains it well in their article, What to Think About When Writing for a Particular Audience,

Consider how you talk differently to young children than you do to your professors. When communicating with a child, you may use simple language and a playful or enthusiastic tone. With your professors, however, you may try out academic language, using bigger words and more complex sentences. Your tone may be more professional than casual and more critical than entertaining.

Continue reading »

Feb 172016
 
Leaving footprints behind - quote

Written words — leaving footprints behind

“Take only pictures; leave only footprints.” It’s a National Park mantra and humbling thought. Perhaps I can walk through a forest or up a mountain and leave only footprints. Any residue of my visit will be brushed away by the wind. The flora and fauna are indifferent to my passing. Leaving no footprints behind, I offer no nutrition, pose no threat.

That sense of insignificance that’s exhilarating in nature feels different in a city. Can I walk a city block or mile, and leave no impression? Use no resources but air, leave no imprint behind? That goes deeper than anonymity. Would I want to pass through life as a mere voyeur, a non-participant? Continue reading »

Jan 252016
 
Plot of your family story in library

Looking for the plot of your family story?

Christopher Booker postulates that all stories encompass only seven plots. It’s interesting reading and makes me wonder if the same is true of family stories. If you had to choose, how would you describe the plot of your family story? (Hint: You don’t have to choose just one, plotlines are like roots—they love getting tangled up.)

As the number of ancestors grows exponentially, so do the plots. One line of the family might embody a completely different narrative than the other. And, rather than intertwining, those plots might have collided in an epic crash.

Why do I ask? Should you try to shoehorn your family’s past into a common boot?

Of course not. But… As you chase down individual stories in your family tree, often a larger story of the family comes to light. An identity. For those just getting to know it, explaining the overarching plot of your family story can frame your family’s history eloquently. Continue reading »

Nov 162015
 
candle flame is like writing in the face of tragedy

Candles are not the only expression of grief; writing in the face of tragedy adds your story to others’.

Friday the thirteenth, November 2015 is another date etched into humanity’s collective consciousness. I find myself loath to knit the yarns of horror and heartbreak from Paris and Beirut into just another how-to, just another Monday morning post.

But I also know part of processing an event of such magnitude comes by way of telling the stories, and hearing the stories told. Perhaps that’s why we find ourselves unable to turn away from news coverage after a tragedy. Our eyes are glued to the metaphoric train wreck. Without the repeated images, our consciousness refuses to accept the unthinkable—the unacceptable. Without the repeated telling of the story, denial overwhelms us.

Writing in the Face of Tragedy

Whether or not we’re a direct victim of a tragedy, we’re often deeply affected in the aftermath. For many of us, reaching for pen and paper is a natural response. Perhaps that’s why so many people post their sympathy and solidarity with victims of social media.

It’s strange. We have an urge to reach out with words, particularly in those times when words fail us.

These moments of hearing the news and processing events become large tick-marks in the timeline of our lives. Looking back, we’ll know by heart where we were and what we were doing at the precise time of that mark. From it, stories unfurl.

When tragedy is personal, those tick-marks indicate the point at which our timeline is no longer a straight line. They become a geometric point indicating the origin of a curve or angle. An unexpected bend in the life of a family or society. Not so much the beginning of a road less traveled, rather a case of the road no longer visible on the horizon.

Whether a personal tragedy that doesn’t garner much press or a huge societal event, we have an inherent need to tell our part of the story. Succumb to that urge. Tell it. Grief, shock, horror, empathy, and sympathy need expression. Whether or not you choose to share what you write, writing in the face of tragedy can help you process your feelings and your response. (See also Write about Memories: It’s Therapeutic! ) In her post Healing through Writing, Stephanie Frogge MTS quotes a survivor describing the power of words on paper, saying writing “helped me to catalog and classify the pain; not that it took the pain away, but it was my way of wrestling it to the ground.”

As you wrestle with your pain, you connect with others who have similar struggles. Your story might not be significantly different from theirs. However, it’s the story’s significance to you that sets the bar. Our parallel stories connect with the same feelings others have felt in the face of such dark moments.

Tragedy isn’t an individual event. It’s collective. It’s an opportunity to reach out and connect. Writing during the aftermath or in the face of tragedy allows you to add your personal threads to the tapestry of how we coped.

Nov 022015
 
Lincoln Cathedral facade looking for bond with 20th great grandmother

Gazing up at the Lincoln Cathedral’s facade, I tried to imagine it as my 20th great grandmother would have seen it.

Visiting Lincoln (UK), I wanted an emotional bond with my 20th great grandmother. Foolish as it sounds, I wanted to get a feel for her life. I wanted to know her a little.

Unlike London, which has changed so much over the centuries, Lincoln felt like a place where my forbearers might materialize. As my son and I munched on sandwiches in Minster square, the echoes of centuries of footsteps were almost audible. I could imagine my 14th century relatives, walking through the gates and looking upon the Lincoln Cathedral’s already centuries-old beautiful façade.

A horse-drawn carriage pulled up, taking on a mother and son for a city tour. The boy was sporting a wooden shield and sword as well as an impish smile. I wondered how many times that scenario occurred in the 558 years between my 20th great grandmother’s death and my birth?

Can such basic human experiences roll the centuries away? Continue reading »

Oct 262015
 
Learned to adventure from daddy with picture from past

I learned to adventure from this man who was content to lay in the floor and let a little girl tweak his nose.

I learned to adventure from my dad. He taught me to keep a life-long sense of adventure, but he never said a word to me about it. He lived it.

Daddy was no Sir Richard Shackleton or Indiana Jones. He wasn’t into any type of bodily discomfort—or risking his life. His explorations didn’t take him too far astray from soft beds and hot showers.

He was an adventurer nonetheless.

In my “Learning to Adventure from Daddy” article for YourLifeIsATrip.com, I remembered how Daddy’s adventuresome spirit impressed me while I was an intern in Germany. Part of moving me from Köln (Cologne) to Homburg-Saar involved renting a manual-transmission BMW and teaching me to drive as he took in the castles, fortresses, and vineyards along the Rhine River. Continue reading »

Aug 312015
 
What would my ancestor think of me? At Losely Park in Surrey UK

As I visited the former home of Sir George More, I wondered, “What would my ancestors think of me?”

What would my ancestors think of me?

I had my doubts recently, as I traipsed around the UK, seeking out locations where my ancestors lived and died. As I visited Loseley Park in Surrey in England, the manor home where my ancestors enjoyed an aristocratic life-style in the 17th century. Family members not only hob-nobbed with royalty, but also acted as treasurer for Henry Frederick, the then Prince of Wales and served in Parliament under King James.

As I embarked on our trip, I planned to visit “ancestral sites” more in an effort to “feel the dust of my ancestors’ shoes,” rather than to research. (I was traveling with a son who is not into genealogy.) As we drove up the long winding road to the estate, I realize they my ancestors probably seldom felt the dust of their own shoes. They would have had staff to prevent most dust-ups, and were their footwear to acquire undesirable soil, said staff would have removed the dust or other offending matter. Continue reading »

Aug 112015
 
resolution - book with the end

In stories, as in life, it’s the need for resolution that keeps us turning pages

I’m tickled to present a guest post from my long-time (not old) friend Lori Schweers about resolution.

Recently I found myself in the middle of an all-out Grey’s Anatomy binge-fest. I blame the Texas summer heat which forces me to seek refuge indoors in the comfort of air conditioning and ceiling fans on high. I blame the fact that I had painters in my house that needed supervision. I blame my dogs because they needed company while the painters were painting. I blame the recently cut cable service which left Netflix as a viable option for entertainment during the heat. I blame raising young children in the 2000’s when the show started for never watching a single episode.

But really I should blame my love of resolution.

Each 42 minute episode of Grey’s ends with a dilemma in the storyline. Hence my need to seek the resolution of said dilemma in another episode. Which ends 42 minutes later with…another dilemma. I’m embarrassed to admit how many episodes I’ve binged on despite the completion of the painting project.

A podcast called, “Undisclosed” has an astounding 20 million listens (yes, MILLION according to the Facebook page). The podcast is a follow-up to NPR’s podcast, “Serial” that tracked the case of Adnan Syed who was sentenced to life without parole 15 years ago. “Undisclosed” follows the finer points of the case in hopes of discovering critical information that could prove Syed’s innocence. Once again, those of us who are hopelessly addicted to the story are searching for resolution.

Our lives are multi-layered stories with tension and dissonance and a yearning for resolution. We live in the tension of waiting for a medical diagnosis, children to grow up and fly away, employment to begin, vacations to commence, a loved one to come visit, a wayward child to find their way home and even the simple resolution of a dissonant chord played in a musical piece. Our heart’s desire is to know the rest of the story and have life’s mysteries solved and answered. It reminds me of my favorite movie, “When Harry Met Sally” and watching Harry (Billy Crystal) always read the end of the book first to decide if he even wants to read the story.

Since being married, my husband and I have endured three (a couple lengthy) rounds of unemployment. My comment each time was that it would be so much easier to bear the wait if we knew how long it would be until the unemployment would end. I want to be like Harry and read the end while stuck in the middle or at the beginning. Hanging out in life’s waiting room is uncomfortable and tense. But yet, it is a part of everyone’s story in big and small ways.

Last week I finished A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Miller likens our lives to a story narrative. It made me wonder what kind of story I was telling with my life and I can’t help but ask, how can I live a better story? How do I live well in the tension of dissonance, problems, and unanswered questions until resolution comes (if it ever comes)? That’s a tricky question.

Honestly, I don’t have a good answer. I probably have more questions than answers most of the time. I have always appreciated others who are authentic in their struggles. There’s hope in walking alongside those who are living in the tension of the unknown, but living good stories by loving others well during difficulties. I can say that my faith helps during times of waiting. I have a deep belief that there is a purpose to difficult times and waiting for resolution. When I look back at those crazy hard days when answers seemed out of reach, I can see how my character was being forged into something better and tougher. Writer Philip Yancey says, “I have learned faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” Wise and true words.

I am sure that all the hours I’ve wasted invested binging on Grey’s Anatomy will never bring resolution to Meredith and Dr. McDreamy’s story. But I do have faith that living a good story – even in the middle of dissonance and tension – will eventually bring a satisfying resolution.

Lori is the wife of Craig, mom of two grown sons and mom to two spoiled fur-kids of the canine variety. She is a coffee snob and chocoholic who enjoys writing about her observations of life from an empty nest in Texas suburbia. You can find her most current blog musings at https://blackbirdsandwildflowers.wordpress.com.

 

 

Jun 232015
 
Train track represents get back on track

Read how to get back on track if you’ve gotten side-tracked from your writing or storytelling project.

Read how to get back on track if you’ve allowed yourself to get sidetracked

Procrastination and distraction are two of my best talents. In fact, I’ve been exercising them quite a bit lately! Which makes it seem like a great time to write about how to get back on track. Continue reading »

Jun 112015
 
Happy Fathers' Day Story

Your Fathers’ Day Story might not fit the card shop mold, which is all the more reason to tell it.

Fathers’ Day isn’t always about the idyllic childhood or the perfect nuclear family.  Not everyone has a fathers’ day story worthy of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The lucky among us (including me) celebrate and remember the strong men that were positive influences in our lives. We give the ubiquitous tie or black socks to replace the ones that the washing machine ate to the men we love. We barbecue dad’s favorite meat on the grill. And yes, we spend time at the card shop deliberating. Continue reading »