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).

For instance, Gretchen Rubin points out in Psychology Today that anticipation is a major component of the happiness generated by an event. We anticipate, savor, express our gratitude, and look back and reflect. Likewise, in an aptly titled article, Anticipation Plays A Powerful Role In Human Memory, Brain Study Finds, Science Daily reports, “the simple act of anticipation may play a surprisingly important role in how fresh the memory of a tough experience remains.”

I’ve seen both sides of anticipation this summer. On the happy side, anticipation of meeting my son in Europe has carried me through the 90 days of missing him (not that I’m counting). Because his internship in the Netherlands is unpaid, he’ll need a loan to get him through his senior year of college. A condition—well the only condition we’ve actually discussed—of that loan is that he’ll travel with his mommy for two weeks at the end of his internship.

It’s probably not the most fiscally sound decision I’ve ever made, but as the flight day approaches, I’m giddy with excitement. I’ve obsessively planned our itinerary, taking over 700 ancestral events (births, baptisms, residence, deaths, and burials) into account in deciding what to see. I’ve booked cozy-looking affordable B&Bs, and calculated travel distances. I corresponded with friends I haven’t seen in 20 years and planned visits. I’m so excited that sometimes my feet don’t actually touch the ground.

Some anticipation is dread.

Stories of dread can matter as well.

As I helped my dear friend set up our church’s fellowship hall for her mother’s funeral reception, I saw that dread first-hand.

The event had, in one sense already transpired, but the final goodbyes were yet ahead. That dread expressed itself in the siblings’ painstaking efforts to make the goodbye meaningful. They bought orchids for each table and carefully re-potted each one. Mementos, collectibles, and photos were lovingly placed on the display table. Each item highlighted their mother’s personality and the importance of relationships and family to her.

Perhaps focusing on the smaller details gave them a respite from contemplating the big, heartbreakingly final, picture. But those of days drawing together, planning, and seeing to is a part of their family history. They matter because they illustrate the family dynamic.

Write about moments of anticipation.

These moments of anticipation are stories—stories often lost. They’re stories of how we cope and what makes our hearts sing. They’re stories of how our emotions are mixed, not just internally, but with family members.

Try writing about anticipation in your family’s life. These might include:

  • A child going away to college
  • A move
  • A trip
  • A wedding
  • A new baby on the way
  • Waiting for a diagnosis
  • Waiting for a doctor’s appointment after receiving lab results
  • Throwing a party
  • Waiting for a visitor to come
  • Frantically cleaning and cooking for family coming to visit

Your Turn

When has anticipation colored days, weeks, or months of your life?

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 »

May 192015
 
Laugh at yourself

Whether or not everyone else is laughing at you, “Laugh at yourself” makes for great writing.

That misquote from B.J. Neblett didn’t go over so well with my mom when my Dad said it to her in the mid-sixties. Mom had a great sense of humor, but she didn’t like being teased. I often wonder if it’s because my uncle Joe teased her so much when they were young. Or was it her reaction to teasing that made it so much fun for my uncle to tease her? I digress.

This not-so-gentle nudge to laugh at yourself is good life advice. But, it’s more than that. In my opinion, it borders on a memory writer’s and family historian’s imperative.

The story in question when my dad encouraged my mom to “lighten up” was about the only time (to my knowledge) that Mom received a “ticket,” or traffic citation. Continue reading »

May 112015
 
My mom birthday party genius

My mom the birthday party genius

Why Mom wanted to make my dreams come true and what that has to do with a birthday party.

A Mother’s Day Tribute: This mother’s day I decided to practice what I blog and write down one of my favorite memories of my mom.

The day of my Cinderella birthday party seems like a fairy-tale. That is if a story without separation of a family, drama, conflict, and drama can qualify as a fairy-tale.

I’m guessing it was my 7th birthday. Mom didn’t have a big budget, but she made up for it in enthusiasm. And she did it without Pinterest! Continue reading »

May 062015
 
Emotional furniture of your memories of your first home

As you write about memories of your first home (or any other place), include some emotional furniture.

When I first heard the prompt “Write about your memories of your first home,” my first reaction was, “Oh yeah, write about the place I can’t remember.” I wasn’t alone. The woman next to me offered aloud, “My first home after I got married?” She grew up as a military brat. She couldn’t even remember the number of home she had lived in, much less any details about the first one.

Of course, she was right. There’s several ways to adapt this prompt into something that will resonate with you and your readers. The point is to get your memories to paper and to connect with others through your stories. For instance, in addition to writing about your actual first home, Continue reading »

Apr 102015
 
Write about average and it comes alive

When you write about average, others look at the details and see something a lot more compelling than simply “average”.

Average gets a bad rap. Well, not so much a bad rap as not enough rap. We seldom hear about him or her.

For instance, you never see Average’s mom post about his achievements on Facebook. “Congratulations to my son Average who achieved something that most kids achieve.” Instead, we see the parents of Average’s friends posting about their kids achieving all the things Average tried to achieve, but fell just a tad short. “Congratulations to my child Superior who achieved something momentous. My kid is wonderful beyond belief and worked so hard. #mykidisintheroomwithme #Imjustanattentionwhore.”

Okay, the hashtags are imagined, put in my head by a hilarious teenager. (I’m withholding her name to protect the snarky.) But the post isn’t imagined. Its equivalent passes through our news feeds on a regular basis. Continue reading »

Apr 032015
 
Are you a cousin? Are you related to AJ Jacobs

At RootsTech, we all held up “I am a cousin” signs. We’re all related to AJ–and to each other! (Photo credit RootsTech)

Because it’s not really about AJ and me. It’s about the fact that we’re all related—by blood, adoption, and marriage. Well, in a way it’s about AJ, since he’s the one organizing the Global Family Reunion. 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.