Nov 202014
 
Looking at Venus de Milo, do you marvel at her beauty or yearn to hear her story? Source: Wikipedia.

Looking at Venus de Milo, do you marvel at her beauty or yearn to hear her story? Photo source: Wikipedia.

Traditionally, beauty is something flawless and unmarred. However, when it comes to writing your stories, such perfection is boring. (That’s why I avoid it at all costs!) Telling meaningful stories is a process of finding beauty in the scars and sharing it with others.

We have a natural tendency to cover our scars. Perhaps it comes from our need to protect what is precious to us. A scar on our child’s face reminds us of some harm that we failed to shield him from. A chip on the coffee mug that we got on our honeymoon serves as unwelcome reminder that we’re no longer young and unfettered. And, perhaps it’s because we’re hardwired to appreciate symmetry.[1]

However, it’s a curious double standard. We never look at an ancient, craggy tree and think, “Wow, that’s too bad. I bet it was beautiful when it was young.” We wonder about the scars and admire the tree’s survival. Continue reading »

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.)

Oct 102014
 
Aiming and putting down roots

Putting down roots isn’t a random decision.

The place we choose to settle and put down roots has far reaching (no pun intended) consequences. It’s the community our children call home. It’s the environment in which they form their worldviews. Frequently, it becomes the place children and grandchildren choose to start putting down roots. In other words, it’s something that will matter to future generations. But it’s often a story left untold—especially when it comes to our ancestors. 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 142014
 
where to start telling your stories

Where to start is a personal question–the answer varies from person to person.

Interviewers frequently ask me, “Where should people start if they want to write down their memories?” Although I sense a little disappointment with my “It depends…” there’s no pat answer on where to start. It is—and should be in my opinion—a personal decision.

That said, it’s easier to start some places than others. Here’s a list of good ways to start

Start with what comes easy.

This is actually the underlying logic of my book, Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. It progresses from the easy to more difficult. 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 152014
 
A typical day in your life

Describing a typical day can deepen connections.

Your story does not have to be extraordinary to be worthy of the written word. In fact, memorializing a typical day can be the key to connecting with loved ones.

I remember my younger son’s fourth grade teacher pulling me aside to describe my son’s “spacy” behavior. “Welcome to my world,” I told her. Although I sympathized with her, a part of me was grateful for someone who understood—viscerally understood—life with my son.

We hear “Walk a mile in my shoes!” with good reason. Experiencing the dust around another’s feet and the rhythms of their daily life promotes understanding and empathy. Continue reading »

Jun 302014
 

Various Roots Roots by Another Mother…

When we think of roots, we think of family trees. If we’re from a loving, supportive family, we think of those roots supplying stability and nourishment. If we’re from an atypical—or even dysfunctional—family, we think of them as hidden, dirty, cavorting with worms and grubs.

Those roots are great to write about. But, we have other roots. Some of them have nothing to do with family. Bear with me as I beat the metaphor a little longer. Continue reading »

Jun 262014
 
Steelers Sports Traditions

Steelers sports traditions are so strong in our family that we’ve added something to our family crest.

Many families have traditions that center not around the dining room table, but rather the television set. Other families have built their sports traditions around a particular section of the local ballpark or stadium. It’s easy to look over such sports traditions when we’re documenting family stories. However, sports traditions are often imbued with deep emotional connections.

Team Traditions

Even though we live in the Detroit area, my kids grew up watching the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is a continuation of my husband’s childhood traditions. In his family, fall Sunday afternoons meant tuna fish sandwiches, a Steelers game, and a nap. I vetoed the tuna fish part, but we continue the rest. Although not together physically, my husband, his parents, and his siblings’ continue to root for what used to be the home-team together. Continue reading »