Sep 152016
 
Beauty and family Stories--like painting a mask

Often when we tell our stories, beauty and family stories go together. But should they?

Do beauty and family stories go together? Should they? When we leave a photographic record for prosperity, we’re all smiles. Why not do the same for our legacy of family stories?

Most of us want to present ourselves in a positive light. Maybe not quite perfect, but normal. We want to cover the blemishes. We may not be the Cleaver family, but we keep mute about the family disfigurements, the bad times. Continue reading »

Jun 272016
 
Silver linings behind broken hearts

Are there silver linings behind the heart-break in your family stories?

Last week, however, a friend showed me how to look for silver linings.

The news is often disturbing, but in the last couple of weeks the horrors that some people will inflict on others makes me want to run and hide. Only I don’t know where I’d go. Continue reading »

Jun 042016
 
Daddy with childhood dog

Animal stories reveal character. Think about your family members and which animal stories you could tell.

My neighbor Frank likes to say that the way people act around dogs shows what type of person they really are. He’s right. Animal stories reveal character. Frank has never gone so far as to say that if someone doesn’t like dogs, they have questionable friendship potential, but I suspect that thought has crossed his mind.

How Animal Stories Reveal Character

John Grogan’s memoir, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog is a great example of how animal stories reveal character. In Your Life is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir, Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann explain the popularity of the yellow lab as a character. “One of the reasons Marley is such a beloved character … is because Grogan reveals his dog’s flaws as well as his joys.” The same holds true for the author. We don’t just love Marley. Continue reading »

May 272016
 
What else have you lost quote by Havelock Ellis

What else have you lost? How did that loss teach the fine art of living?

Grief often rears its dark, draining head, not just when someone dies.  The onset of many life crises is the loss of something. A relationship, a value, a sense of purpose.  We’ve all experienced a loss of a pet or cherished object (See Writing Your Lost and Found Story.) But what else have you lost during your lifetime?

Loss of a Relationship, Sense of Identity

A loss of a relationship can also entail a loss of an identity. Our worldview changes when life chooses to make an illegal U-turn.

Recently, a friend of mine when through a time of anguish that makes me feel neurotic grieving over my perfectly normal empty nest. Her 20-year-old daughter disappeared from a rehab facility in a major city many hours away from home. For two eternally long months, there was no sign of her child.

Finally, by chance, driving along a major thoroughfare in her own city, she spotted her daughter. The reunion was also a moment of heartbreak. My friend has a hard time talking about it. Though she temporarily located her daughter, my friend’s world had shifted on its axis. In addition to missing her daughter’s physical presence in her home—in her life, the shroud of adulthood that her daughter now possesses limits her ability to help her child who suffers from mental illness and addiction.

When have you had to make peace with a new version of “normal”? A divorce, job loss, or career change can also spark feeling of a loss of identity. How did you right yourself? How did you regain your sense of self? These make great stories, stories with the power to connect across generations.

Innocence Lost

Another friend tells of her pre-teen loss of innocence. The Oakland County child killer and the panic he instilled in the entire Detroit metro area robbed her and her friends of carefree afternoons, riding bikes to each other’s houses. Of going out to play out from under the anxious, watchful eyes of their parents. The bubble of invincibility that buffets children against the horrors of the adult world popped. In its place came an imagination that ran rampant. It colored not only her own development, but the eventual choices she would make as a parent.

Loss of Physical Ability, Memory

There are things that our mortal, frailer-than-we’d-like-to-admit bodies cheat us out of as well. They betray our still active minds by refusing to work, or at least work as well as we’d like. They force us to fight disease instead of those life battles we want to mount.

Perhaps you’ve had to bear helpless witness as a particularly cruel disease causes a family member to misplace memories, even their sanity. Past moments, even the recognition of loved ones, fade into oblivion. Consider writing about these moments of heartache; they tell stories of love and devotion.

What else have you lost?

Along the road, whether by virtue of physical maladies or of the life sh** that happens, we lose things. Intangible things. Confidence. Independence. Hope. Faith. Courage. Our groove.

Don’t you think these moments are important to share? What would you want your loved ones, especially those of future generations, to take away from your story? Of course, they’ll be touched by your loss, but they can also learn from your healing or your renewed perspective. Perhaps they’ll even discover that resilience isn’t inborn, but something that can be gathered along the way, even on the roughest, dirtiest roads.

Havelock Ellis is quoted as saying, “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” Let your loved ones know how you did that.

May 132016
 
Lost and found story- letters spelling out Lost

What’s your lost and found story. (Letter images by Leo Reynolds. https://is.gd/LU27zB)

“How could we have lost something so precious?” my friend lamented to her husband. Dusk approached. She, her husband, and various friends had searched throughout much of the previous night and all that day for their elderly little dog that had wandered off.  Their story is still unconcluded and it’s hard to watch it unfold.  But it made me think. We all have at least one major lost and found story.

Perhaps it’s a lost object that still sticks in your craw. Perhaps you’ve had an experience analogous to the finding the prodigal son.

Writing about things lost and found

Whether there’s a happy ending or not, stories of things lost or lost and found make compelling narratives.  In fact, such stories are easy to find all over the Internet.

Most of us have been there. For instance, there was the 10 minutes during which my then 5-year old was missing at the Salt Lake City airport. I can still remember the panic I felt and the way that I wanted to strangle the slow-to-take-it seriously airport security guard.

Elements of your lost and found story:

1. What went missing? (duh)
Object, person, pet, or other.  It may have simply disappeared or was stolen.  Wallet, military metal, vacation or wedding pictures all come to mind, but you can take a creative twist on this topic.  One example is Kannaki’s “My Mother’s Shoes.”

2. Why did it matter to you?
This could be obvious, such as in the case of a five year-old, but it isn’t always. Perhaps the crucifix that went missing had been passed down from your grandmother, a life-long devoted Catholic. Perhaps it had brought you comfort on numerous occasions.

3. How did you discover it (he or she) was missing?

4. How did you feel about it at the time? What was your state of mind?
In the case of my friend, her word choices are telling.  The rest of us consider her little dog as “gone missing.” We use a blameless phrase. Repeatedly, I’ve heard her say, “I lost my little dog.” She’s shouldering the responsibility, way more than she should.  What happened in your story? Did you feel responsible? Victimized?

5. What measures did you take? Posters? Letters? Flyers? A reward?

6. Who helped you search? Were they actually helpful?
I can’t help remembering that security guard blithely pointing out every young boy in plain sight.  “Is that him?”  “What about that child?”  Me nearly yelling, “Get on your radio!  None of these children are wearing a dark blue shirt with a rhino on it!”

7. How did the story turn out?
Of course you have to of the outcome. But that doesn’t have to be the way the story ends.  Instead, you can talk about silver linings, what you learned, any insight that might be applicable to the rest of your life.

8. How do you feel looking back?
We can often reconcile ourselves to events only after time has passed.  For instance, after my parents died, my sister and I were never able to locate my father’s wedding ring, which he kept on his key-chain.  It used to keep me up at night, wondering what clever hiding place he thought he’d found shortly before he took his trip. But over time, hope has diminished. After all, it was a material thing. I’ve made an uneasy peace with the loss.  What about you?

Your Turn:

What your lost and found story? How have you told it? How have you shared it?

 

May 042016
 

A time for change quote A time for change often hits us from behind. The change is either inevitable or beyond our control. I’ll confront such a time on Mother’s Day when I watch my eldest son walk across the stage at his college commencement ceremony. A lot of things will be commencing, including his job search and our wrapping our heads around the fact that he won’t be coming home to roost any longer.

Adjusting to change

Those times in which we adjust to a new normal are important to write about. Tell the story of what happened and whether or not you were prepared for the change.  Did you embrace your new role or did you grieve for the past?

Was it (or is it) a slow change that you saw coming from years away?  Aging, ravages of chronic disease, and kids growing up too fast all come to mine.  How did you try to prepare yourself? Did you put your head in the sand until you had no choice but face reality or did you obsessively research, read books, and consult friends?

Sometimes drastic life changes sneak up on us. We get a phone call and hear of the change—a fait accompli.  (I hope if this happened to you it was for winning a lottery.)

In Handbook of Stressful Transitions Across the Lifespan, T.W. Miller writes, “Life transitions can provide a productive time to introspectively understand ourselves.”  These transitions also bring an opportunity to explain ourselves to others.

Was life suddenly divided into a before and after as surely as if that date was tattooed upon your forehead?  How did you deal with the shock?  Looking back now, how do you feel about the before? What have you learned about moving forward?

Time for a change

Sometimes we come to a realization that it’s time to make a change. We’ve stagnated. Screwed up. We’re looking for a new beginning or have gathered up the gumption to pursue a dream.  Such changes don’t always come easily.  Pulling ourselves off of our current path and onto a new one can be excruciating. For instance, checking into rehab to begin a life of recovery often takes hitting rock bottom first. Other times, accepting change can mean voluntarily kissing a lot of things that you love goodbye, such as moving to a new place or starting a new career. Going back to being the new kid on the block.

Small Changes

A time for change doesn’t have to be huge to make a significant story. I love remembering how my Dad decided to stop smoking right after he met his grandson for the first time. Longevity suddenly mattered.

There are changes we all make for the better—learning to be more accepting of people, more forgiving. We mellow with age. That mellowing makes a great story.

Your Turn: A time for Change

When have you experienced a time for change in your life? Have you written about it?

Apr 142016
 

Bumper sticker covered car

Do you have something to say about yourself? Image by RHoch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

How do you tell people who you are? How would you give them a bumper sticker synopsis of yourself? (Of course, you could ask why you’d want to do that as well. As Rob Walker argues, “…bumper stickers are about declaration, not dialogue.” But let’s put that aside and indulge in the exercise. Consider it a brainstorming activity.)

What Would your Bumper Sticker say?

If you could tell the world who you are in just a few words, what would you say? If you were forced to have a bumper sticker—even if you’re anti-bumper sticker like me– what would you put on it? 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 »

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.

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 »