Jan 082016
 
Happy New Year: Year End Letter

My wish for each of you …

Holidays make a great time to share stories. There’s no question about it. When we’re thinking of loved ones—or better yet spending time with them—stories connect us and express our bonds.

But it’s not just stories that we tell. There’s something about that calendar page turning over, the new digit on the end of the year, that makes us want to provide some sort of a recap. A snapshot in time. In fact, the chapter in my book about compiling a holiday or year end letter is titled “Easy Snapshots in Time.”

So, I should be able to pull together a “Happy New Year” letter, originally meant to be a Christmas letter. This year, I’m struggling with the concept. As people draw together, celebrate together, and look forward to the New Year, I want to be included in their thoughts. But I’m torn about whether or not their plunge into the New Year should include reading a litany of my family’s year. Perhaps I’d be better off just telling them a story that reflects us in a moment of time. 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 302015
 
Manger scene- stories worthy of the nativity

Read how our stories are as precious as gold, frankincense and myrrh, making them gifts worthy of the Nativity.

We Christians often struggle to counter commercialism’s sirenic come-hither calls as we begin our gift shopping. We’ve learned, over the years, at least in theory, how keep the hectic and to do lists from robbing us of the spirit of Christmas. We focus on the gift of the Christ child. And, as we shop, we contemplate gifts of the Nativity and their meaningfulness.

However, following the example of shepherds and magi before the manger is a tall order. How do we compete with gold, frankincense and myrrh?

The answer?

Understanding the gifts placed before the manger thousands of years ago brings home the impetus to package the past for loved ones. Stories are gifts not available in retail stores, but that come from the stores of the heart. 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 »

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 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 »

Jun 112015
 
Happy Fathers' Day Story

Your Fathers’ Day Story might not fit the card shop mold, which is all the more reason to tell it.

Fathers’ Day isn’t always about the idyllic childhood or the perfect nuclear family.  Not everyone has a fathers’ day story worthy of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The lucky among us (including me) celebrate and remember the strong men that were positive influences in our lives. We give the ubiquitous tie or black socks to replace the ones that the washing machine ate to the men we love. We barbecue dad’s favorite meat on the grill. And yes, we spend time at the card shop deliberating. Continue reading »