I was excited and honored to join Linda Joy Myers of the National Association of Memoir Writers to discuss how to writing your family story in your memoir on January 22, 2016. The initial airing was membership only, but Linda Joy has offered me an audio transcript for my readers.
This time next week I’ll be in Salt Lake City, walking around with a giddy feeling in my stomach. Having looked forward to and prepared for RootsTech for it for months, I’ll be trying to absorb all the family history, storytelling, and technical insight I can.
A highlight of the RootsTech conference will be the Innovator Showdown. Family history innovators from all over the globe compete for $100,000 in cash and prizes. For attendees, it’s like watching a Shark Tank for family history technology. In other words, way cool and fun.
Currently, there are twelve Innovator Showdown Semifinalists. By Thursday, February 4, that field will be narrowed to six. At that point, conference attendees get a big say in who wins the grand prize and bragging rights.
We Christians often struggle to counter commercialism’s sirenic come-hither calls as we begin our gift shopping. We’ve learned, over the years, at least in theory, how keep the hectic and to do lists from robbing us of the spirit of Christmas. We focus on the gift of the Christ child. And, as we shop, we contemplate gifts of the Nativity and their meaningfulness.
However, following the example of shepherds and magi before the manger is a tall order. How do we compete with gold, frankincense and myrrh?
Understanding the gifts placed before the manger thousands of years ago brings home the impetus to package the past for loved ones. Stories are gifts not available in retail stores, but that come from the stores of the heart.
The day after Thanksgiving has its own traditions. Leftover day. Get out the Christmas Decorations Day (my house). The ironic Black Friday.
It’s also StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening. Unlike Black Friday, when we’re encouraged to eschew all our thankfulness and contentedness, the National Day of Listening nurtures the feelings of gratitude.
Suggestions for National Day of Listening
For StoryCorps, listening is only the first step of the National Day of Listening. They also encourage participants to record and upload interviews to share with family and friends and StoryCorps followers.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you haven’t heard of, much less embraced, National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. (#NaNoWriMo on social media). It’s the extremely popular, “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.” Conceived as a way to motivate and enable writers to create a 50,000-word novel during the month of November, NaNoWriMo has grown to well over 300,000 participants.
In my opinion, too many people stumble over the “No.” Because fiction isn’t their thing, they think they can’t take advantage of the motivation, camaraderie, and writing tips that NaNoWriMo the ultimate procrastination breaker, offers. Of course, there’s a complementary WNFIN (Write NonFiction In November) which is run a little differently if you prefer to stick with other nonfiction writers.
Luckily, NaNoWriMo welcomes “rebels,” though the majority of participants are writing a novel. They even have formulated the Camp NaNoWriMo Guide to Rebelling. And, even though you might be in the minority, all momentum created by highly imaginative, productive novelists can be a powerful motivator.
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?
There are apps that will compile your Facebook posts into a book—like a personal version of World book Encyclopedia’s Yearbooks. It’s an interesting idea, but does it make sense to use social media to tell your stories?
If I were to compile my posts into a story, I’m not even sure I’d be interested in it. Last summer, for instance, I posted various pictures of birds, frogs, and turtles distributed between public confessions about lame-brained things I’d done. If I bore myself, how would readers receive it?
But perhaps that’s my fault. I wonder if people would be more invested if I put myself more “out there.” On the other hand, even though I’m willing to wear my heart on my sleeve in speaking engagements, books, and this blog, something about social media makes me more emotionally reticent. Baring my soul isn’t quite like putting my life story on a bumper sticker, but it’s on that spectrum somewhere.
Are you able to form emotional connections with family members you don’t remember? With ancestors? Or are they stubbornly one-dimensional, lying flat on the page?
Even when you have the basic facts of your relatives’ or ancestors’ lives, emotional connections to them often remain elusive. If you never knew them—have no memories of them—they are simply names, dates, and random facts.
Form Emotional Connections to Family Members via Empathy and Imagination
Luckily, we already have the tools we need to bond with these family members. They are the same tools that allow us to connect with anyone else: empathy and imagination.
I want you to like me. I want to connect with you. I hope to move you with my words, and with the heart and soul I put behind them.
I’m going to tell you secrets. I’m going to show you the side of me that I’d prefer to keep in the shadows, or better yet, in the closet. You’re going to come to know my darkest moments, to understand my fears.
Am I really suggesting you write like that? Yeah, sort of. Perhaps not in these words. Perhaps not even in second person. However, I am advocating putting your heart, pride, and maybe even your dignity on the line.
Cemeteries don’t deserve their spooky reputation. Sure, they’re full of dead people (cue my father-in-law’s obligatory joke about “people just dying to get in there”), but they’re more than that.
They are the final resting place of our grief, a place where we can go and pay respects, one of the places where we can grope for some sort of continued connection to loved ones. They’re that and more.
Cemeteries are places where long-forgotten stories intermingle.