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 »

Jul 082016
 
Invisible illnesses and daily pills

Chronic and invisible illnesses can separate from family members that need to hear our stories

If you’re like me, chronic and invisible illnesses come towards the bottom of the list of things you’d like to write about yourself. It’s not just immersing yourself in the negativity. Although the term “invisible illness” applies “to any medical condition that is not outwardly visible to others,” according to Social Work Today, some illnesses (heart disease, cancer) seem to generate support from loved ones, while others leave sufferers socially isolated.

Many with invisible illnesses frequently encounter people who, although they’ve never had a license to practice medicine feel beholden to second guess other people’s health status or dispense dismissive medical advice. 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 162016
 
Truth and Accuracy scrabble tiles

How do you deal with the elusiveness of truth and accuracy in memories and family stories?

The fallibility of memory can make truth and accuracy hard to come by. Competing versions of the same stories—the same memories—dance and whorl around family tables every get together. One person remembers it was a Sunday in July. A sibling insists it was in October and a Sunday.

How do you decide which version is true? What details are accurate? Perhaps a better question is how do you decide if the details of the story are worth fighting about.

Often the answer lies in understanding the difference between truth and accuracy as well as your own role as storyteller.

Truth versus Accuracy 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 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?

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 082015
 
bond with readers via heart on page

How to bond with readers starts by putting your heart on the page.

Dear Reader,

I want you to like me. I want to connect with you. I hope to move you with my words, and with the heart and soul I put behind them.

I’m going to tell you secrets. I’m going to show you the side of me that I’d prefer to keep in the shadows, or better yet, in the closet. You’re going to come to know my darkest moments, to understand my fears.

Am I really suggesting you write like that? Yeah, sort of. Perhaps not in these words. Perhaps not even in second person. However, I am advocating putting your heart, pride, and maybe even your dignity on the line. 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 »