Nov 232015
National Day of Listening Logo

The National Day of Listening encourages us to “Ask Great Questions. Share Great Stories.”

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. Continue reading »

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 222015
Social Media to tell your stories with likes and dislikes

Does it make sense to use social media to tell your stories? Will it help you find the audience the episodes of your past warrant?

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. Continue reading »

Sep 212015
Cemetery photo with saying representing a fata morgana

The stories of the past aren’t a fata morgana, they’re just waiting for you to give them voice.

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. Continue reading »

Sep 142015
Telling your own story illustrated by handwritten journal

Do you have to decide between telling your own story and telling family stories? I think not.

Deciding whether to tell your personal memories versus family stories is the memoirist’s version of “Who ya gonna call?” (Cue Ghostbusters music in the background.)

Perhaps the question is wrong. You don’t have to decide between telling your own story versus telling family—or even ancestor—stories. This isn’t a case of choosing “All of the above” because you’re not sure of the correct answer. Continue reading »

Sep 082015
What I did on my summer vacation picture from childhood

Remember having to write “What I did on my Summer Vacation” essays? Well, sharpen those pencils

Where did the opportunity to tell all your peers “What I did on my Summer Vacation” go? Here in the USA, as September rolls around, it’s not just the kids that are in back-to-school mode. Everyone is looking forward. They’ll ask you, “How was your summer?” but it’s clear that a monosyllabic or few-syllabic response is preferred. “Fine.” “Hot.” “It went fast.”

When you do have an adventure to talk about, not many people are geared to listen.

That’s why you should be writing, not waiting for someone to ask!

Narrating—or the opportunity to narrate—“what I did on summer vacation” is a lost art. 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 042015
Anticipation marked on a calender

Anticipation of the big event can make a great story.

In the aftermath of major events, anticipation is often overlooked. If we get around to preserving the story, we capture the event itself. Seldom do we go into the preparation, the excitement, and the looking forward to—or dreading—of the event.

Anticipation is part of the story too

Because anticipation–or dread–affects our memories, it’s often a part of the story—a part that will help readers understand us better (or the family member or ancestor we write about). Continue reading »

Jul 292015
Selective reading of history -- words crossed out

Is there a selective reading of history in your family? How do you deal with it?

As southerners have debated whether the Confederate flag represents hate or heritage, several articles have addressed the idea of a “selective reading of history.” Which is, when you think about it, something families are really good at doing.

A selective reading of history isn’t quite a revision of what happened. It’s an intentional focus on some facts and a brushing-under-the-rug of other events. As storytellers, we play a role in selecting what’s told and what’s kept mum. Admittedly, sometimes the selective reading of history is appropriate. There’s a “truth” of the story that needs to come through loud and clear, unobscured by complicating details and the noise of side stories

However, other times, those of us recounting the family’s history slowly become aware of the crumbs lurking under the carpet. We feel uncomfortable as we sense them crunching under the family footfalls. Continue reading »

Jul 022015
Hometown context - a graphic of houses along a river

Adding hometown context can help your stories come to life

Your hometown comes to represent much more than the place you grew up. It’s your version of your state and country.

When we write about family members, ancestors, or ourselves, it’s important to give readers a glimpse of that hometown context. It helps explain worldview, values, and traditions. It helps them understand the personalities involved in our stories.

For instance, my hometown still colors my perception and understanding of events, even though I’ve now lived away from South Carolina as long as I lived there. It’s part of me. Though I’ve lived in the mid-west for over twenty years, I still consider myself a southerner. Continue reading »