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 »

Jan 282016
 
Innovator Showdown Semifinalists and showdown

2015’s Innovator Showdown, image courtesy of RootsTech

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. Continue reading »

Dec 142015
 

innocence lost illustration Innocence lost is supposed to be a traditional coming of age story. An assuming the mantle of adulthood story. A stripping of the naïveté of childhood.

For most, that maturity takes place over time. Too often, though, it turns on a dime. Everything changes as the bubble of invincibility pops.

OK, our youthful idea of invincibility was a mirage. But the mirage lent us a feeling of security in an out-of-control world. We knew bad things, even terrible things, could happen. However, until the shoe dropped very close to our backdoor, we were able to view the possibility through a protective gauze of denial.

Once you’ve experienced it, other stories of innocence lost evoke a deep empathy. Watching the news, we realize the victims’ stories could so easily be our stories. We can imagine, with an unhealthy vividness, the phone calls that came in the night. Or didn’t get answered.

A Story of Innocence Lost

Just the other week, a soccer buddy told me her 9/11 story. (We all have them you know. See post Remember When — Exactly, Precisely When). This story touched me more than most. In 2001, she was a recent widow. She and her three children had already lost any feelings of invincibility. Cancer took the person they most loved and doctors were powerless to stop it. My buddy, then newly widowed mother, took her three children to Disney World to give them a break from grief and to make new memories.

As she told me the setting for her little family’s story of innocence lost, the music of her life cued in my head. A bizarre call and response between a requiem and It’s a Small World, eventually drowned out by other happy Disney music.

Coming out of a ride—she didn’t specify which, but my imagination has it pegged as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride—she and other park attendees were told to exit the park. They were stymied by the sudden announcement that the park was closing. As park workers herded them into waiting shuttle buses, the worst thing she could imagine for inexplicable closing was a bomb threat.

She and other parents started asking the bus drivers which other Orlando attractions were open. (The music in my head slows. Disney tunes now play at slow speed, overlapped with a dun dum, dun dum à la Jaws.)

How terrible it must have been for park employees. Watching happy families go back to their rooms, knowing what the TV screens would show them. In my buddy’s case, she did get a hint. “Nothing is open. There’s been a terrorist attack in New York.”

By the time she got to her hotel room, she didn’t get the slow experience of hearing of the planes hitting the towers one by one. She didn’t see footage of people escaping and first responders rushing in. The towers were gone. The world was different. It was a place without bubbles: not even Disney World was exempt.

Your Turn:

What’s your story of innocence lost? Why was the story so poignant? How is it like other stories of coming of age? How does it differ? Go ahead—Write it down!

Nov 052015
 
NaNoWriMo to write your stories participant Logo

Need to stop procrastination or to jump start your creativity? Use NaNoWriMo to write your stories.

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. Continue reading »

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 »

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 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 162015
 
A couple trying to remember somethings and not others

Understanding why we remember some things and not others might help facilitate recall.

Have you ever wondered why you remember some things but not others ? Have you ever wondered why some things come back to you seemingly out of the blue? You think to yourself, “That’s funny, I haven’t thought about that in years.”

Actually, it’s better than funny. The science behind how memory works is fascinating and cool.

Obviously, “How Memory Works” is a topic far beyond the scope of a single blog post. But it is fun to take a look at what scientists call episodic or autobiographical memories—the events of our pasts.

The memories we have and are able to recall are critical to how we think of ourselves. Researchers Martin A. Conway and Christophe Pleydell-Pearce explain, “autobiographical memory is of fundamental significance for the self, for emotions, and for the experience of personhood, that is the experience of enduring as an individual, in a culture, over time.” Continue reading »