Nov 172014
 
Conversations that matter

Family gatherings aren’t just great opportunities for bonding. It’s also a great time to have conversations that matter.

Family gatherings are the perfect time to start conversations that matter —and to collect stories. After the bird or ham has been carved and the casserole dishes scraped empty, we loosen our belts. And, often, we loosen our tongues.

This holiday, as Aunt Ida and Grandpa start to exchange familiar stories, make the most of the time with your loved ones. Jump (calmly and unobtrusively) into action.

Draw out New Information

Instead of simply laughing, nodding, and adding stories of your own, draw out new information by asking questions and listening carefully.

Getting the Details

Often, we know the gist of the stories. What we don’t know is the exactly where and the approximate when. As stories come out, ask follow-up questions. This isn’t just to nail down the story and convert an oral history into a somewhat more accurate written one. Those details often lead to new stories or sub-plots, and greater context.

Collect New Stories

The familiar stories cover a lot of ground, but not everything. Ask questions to ferret out new information and little known stories. Crestleaf.com’s 30 Family History Questions You Need to Ask Your Older Relatives is a great place to start.

Caveat: It always helps to go in with a plan. Jot yourself some notes so you know the questions you want to ask.

Take Notes

Pull that notepad out of your back pocket—or use the one on your smart phone, and record the details.

Start Conversations that Matter

Having meaningful conversations will allow you write stories that forge bonds. Go beyond the who, what, and where. Ask your loved ones deeper questions and start conversations that matter. Later, when you record their stories and memories, in addition to passing down information about relatives, you’ll be extending connections to those individuals.

For example, you could ask older relatives:

  • When you were a little girl/boy, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
  • When you look at your grandchildren (great-grandchildren), what are your hopes and dreams for them?
  • What worries you about youth in today’s society?
  • What do youth today have that you wish you’d had?
  • When you look back at your life, how do you think your values differed from those of your parents or grandparents?
  • When was the first time you knew you wanted to marry your future spouse?
  • If you had one do-over, what would you redo?
  • What was your proudest moment?

Keep it going:

Help for recording conversations that Matter

Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life has further tips and resources for preserving memories and stories that matter

Don’t limit these conversations to the dinner table. They can happen anytime you’re spending time with loved one–cooking, fishing, looking through old photos, or just watching TV.

Give a gift that gives back. Give your loved ones a fill-in book memory book or a guide to collecting memories like Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. (Hint: You can combine the guide book with a journal or inexpensive digital recorder.)

Nov 112014
 
Telling your family story

How do you tell your family story?

What is your family story? As much as we talk about the importance of  passing down family history, we seldom define what that a family story is. Is your family story a compilation of all the individuals’ on your family tree? Is a story that takes place under one roof? Alternatively, is it a story that took place over generations?

Your family story can be any or all of the above, or it could be something else entirely. Continue reading »

Nov 072014
 

band-aids Exploring the concept of retouching the past brought an odd memory of my paternal grandmother to mind. At the time, it seemed like a little thing. In retrospect, however, it was the spark that started conversations and led to the telling of less than flattering stories.

My sister and I were sitting on grandma’s front porch, helping her snap beans. Like most little kids, the big topic of conversation on my mind was my most recent boo-boo. I brought it up to her, showing her my finger with the flesh-colored latex badge of courage wrapped around it.

Grandma was nonplused by what she called my “boxed band-aid.” She thought using band-aids was wasteful. “In fact,” she told me “Jane [name has been changed because I can’t remember it] across the street is such a clever, ingenious child. Rather than using store-bought band-aids, when she has a cut, Jane uses a little piece of tissue and some scotch tape. That’s all you need.” Continue reading »

Nov 042014
 
Retouching the past

Retouching the past: Is it helping you tell your story or is it changing your story?

We’re in an age of retouched photos. We remove blemishes and correct lighting and exposure. We can even remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, and eliminate extra chins. We can… But should we?

Retouching the Past or Telling Who We Are?

When we write our memories and stories, retouching the past is tempting—maybe even necessary. Retouching stories, just like re-touching photos, can be a way of drawing attention to what really matters and eliminating extraneous details. Unless it’s integral to the story, maybe we can leave out that Miss May had three hairs growing out of the mole at the side of her nose and that each hair grew in a different direction. Continue reading »

Oct 162014
 
man plans god laughs Laura Stay at home mom

I imagine God got quite a giggle from my plans, which didn’t include becoming a stay at home mom.

Recently, I published a post about writing about Things You Didn’t Know, particularly those things that you never dreamed of happening. You know, The Road Less Expected… Following my own advice, here’s my explanation of how I became a stay at home mom instead of a wildly successful female executive.

Up until I had my first child, I thought of myself as a career woman. I wanted to be a mom too, but I scoffed at the idea of becoming a stay at home mom. My dream was to have perfect kids who’d play contentedly while I clambered up the corporate ladder. However, I was unprepared for love and corporate politics. Continue reading »

Oct 022014
 

forgetful personal historian For someone who is all about preserving stories, my memory sucks.

Just the other week my mother-in-law told me a story about a family ring. Apparently, my husband found the ring in the summer cottage and, assuming it wasn’t valuable, gave it to me to wear. My mother-in-law had to have an awkward conversation with my then boyfriend, telling him that she wanted the ring back.

I was appalled at the fact that this episode rang zero bells of familiarity. However, it never occurred to me to doubt the veracity of her story. She simply wouldn’t make up that type of thing—especially as she was in the process of re-gifting the ring to me. Continue reading »

Sep 302014
 
Lists are not just for Santa

Lists aren’t just for the big guy with presents. Start making your own.

My scattered brain loves lists. They calm and organize my distractible why-did-I-come-into-this-room brain. When my brain isn’t preoccupied with finding my glasses or coffee cup, lists feed my creativity.

Lists can be the memory-collector’s best friend. To illustrate this point, I found myself making a list about making lists.

Lists help you remember

Lists, if you don’t forget where you put them, are more permanent than memory. They can become an Idea Bank to store your ideas. (Hmmm… That’s a section of Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. ) Continue reading »

Aug 212014
 
Throw back Thursday

Throw back Thursday: My boys and I

I keep seeing my life—well at least the last eighteen to twenty years of it—flash before my eyes.

It’s probably because my nest is emptying next week, as my youngest heads off to college. Everywhere I go, sweet memories creep into my peripheral vision, denying me focus. Part of me is sad that they’re just memories, that times have changed and the kids are grown. Part of me is grateful for their presence, however ephemeral. I like playing the old filmstrips.

Passing a soccer field reminds me of all the practices and games. As I ride my bike through a park, I remember countless days on the hiking trails, looking at bugs, running from bees, and ending up on the play structures. I remember watching my kids and their playmates swing and slide while talking to the other moms. Continue reading »

Jul 222014
 
Writing about bullies of childhood

Writing about bullies is a way to open up your past to your readers.

Writing about bullies doesn’t come easily. We want to put that behind us. We wonder, “Who wants to read that?”

Probably most people.

Whenever we get together and share memories and stories, encounters with belligerence, arrogance, or outright bullying invariably come up. It’s always a compelling story.

Our listeners commiserate. They respond with their own stories. This happens when we write too. When we write about bullies and persecutors, we connect with readers and start conversations. We see new facets of each other’s personality. Continue reading »

Jul 172014
 
Use Fiction to tell true stories

It’s not just either or. You can also use fiction to tell true stories.

How do you communicate your story without having to tell it? One way is to use fiction to tell true stories. Writers often use this tool when they (or their editors) feel that real life fails to produce great literature. (Julie Schumacher’s Turning Real Life into Fiction explains some of these quandaries.) Continue reading »