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.
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.
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. )
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever had moments of extreme confidence—times in which you knew that what you were doing was right? As a person who, on her best days, still lacks confidence, such occasions of complete certainty have been relatively rare. On the other hand, the scarcity of those times makes them doubly precious.
The circumstances of knowing what you were doing was right make for great stories to share and pass down. They can give your readers great insight into your personality.
Homes are the settings for our stories. With the passing of years, we become emotionally attached to the building itself. The house itself is akin to a repository of the thing that happened within its walls. Years ago, I saw a van stop on my street to disgorge a group that stared wistfully at my house. Since my house is relatively unremarkable, I immediately knew they were former residents of my home. My husband and I went outside and heard stories come tumbling out of each of them. We received an education about things that happened in this house during the fifties and sixties.