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?

Mar 072016
 
Paula Williams Madison and her definition of family

Paula Williams Madison puts the definition of family in a new light.

During RootsTech, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Paula Williams Madison, author of Finding Samuel Lowe: Harlem, Jamaica, China. Of course, there’s a lot more to Paula than authoring a bestselling memoir and a documentary by the same name. She’s the former top NBC executive for diversity.  She’s the winner of many awards, such as being listed among the “75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America” (Black Enterprise magazine) and one of “Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business” (Asian American Business Development Center).

Her long list of accomplishments don’t say it all. She’s also a warm and gracious woman—a pleasure to interview.

Here’s our interview. Paula had some helpful advice for family history writers. She talked about how to decide what to share and the meaning of family. 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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »