May 192015
Laugh at yourself

Whether or not everyone else is laughing at you, “Laugh at yourself” makes for great writing.

That misquote from B.J. Neblett didn’t go over so well with my mom when my Dad said it to her in the mid-sixties. Mom had a great sense of humor, but she didn’t like being teased. I often wonder if it’s because my uncle Joe teased her so much when they were young. Or was it her reaction to teasing that made it so much fun for my uncle to tease her? I digress.

This not-so-gentle nudge to laugh at yourself is good life advice. But, it’s more than that. In my opinion, it borders on a memory writer’s and family historian’s imperative.

The story in question when my dad encouraged my mom to “lighten up” was about the only time (to my knowledge) that Mom received a “ticket,” or traffic citation.

Mom was cited for passing a stopped school bus.

This was, in her view, a case of mistaken identity or police hallucination. There was no way that she, a law abiding citizen, substitute elementary school teacher, and trained social worker would pass a stopped school bus. Righteously indignant, Mom and her passenger (her friend Nell) went to court to assert her innocence. She took it as a personal affront when the judge dismissed her appeal of the police officer’s charge.

“Lady, I don’t think you would have seen the bus if it were pink with purple polka dots!” he told her in front of the court.

Much to Mom and Nell’s chagrin, the rest of the world found the judge’s words—and delivery—hilarious. And, I admit, Daddy’s “Lighten up” was tinged with more than a little gloat and was probably badly timed.

 Laugh at yourself as you write.

“Laugh at yourself” is good advice. If you read this blog, you know I’m a big advocate of avoiding perfection—or appearances thereof. Though “Authentic” is a buzzword now, it’s true that authentic people are easier to relate to. You connect with your loved ones when you drop all pretenses. When you laugh at yourself, you engage your readers or listeners. We’ve all been there, we can imagine ourselves in your situation.

Mom wasn’t so comfortable hearing my dad tell stories on her that depicted her in a bad light. She’d much rather tell them herself. Which is also a valuable take-away.

 Tell Your Version.

Grab the reigns and tell the story yourself. If people are going to laugh at you, you might as well have them laugh with you, or at your storytelling. If you feel uncomfortable, imagine you’re explaining the situation to a trusted confidant.

And don’t shy away from a story that family members have heard before. Chances are, they’ve only heard a version of it, but not your version! As you tell your story, you can include the back story and important details.

In my mother’s case, perhaps folks heard that Ellen and Nell were driving down the highway, so engrossed in their gossiping that they didn’t even notice a stopped school bus. But, if Mom had a chance to tell the story, it might unfold differently.

I would love to have a chance to ask her how her testimony as well as the police officer’s testimony unfolded. Did she tell her story first? Was there a sinking realization that she was wrong even before the judge issued his “pink with purple polka dots” decree? Was the judge laughing with her and Nell or was he sarcastic?

If she were telling the story, I’d know these facts. (She probably did, but hearing it as a little girl, my memory only clung on to the purple polka dot part and how mad she was at Daddy for gloating.) Sadly, she never wrote it down!

Family Historians’ Takeway.

For family historians, the “laugh at yourself” adage has further implications. If at all possible, we want to tell the story from the embarassee’s viewpoint.

First, it appears kinder. We’re not gloating, at least not publicly. For instance, since my mom’s not around to tell her version, I have to throw in the part about her normally being a careful driver. And, I even toy with adding in the defense that her friend was an animated and engaging conversationalist. I spent many hours in the back seat as Mom and Nell drove here and there. I can still hear Nell’s voice in my memory, her soft southern accent rolling from emphatic to indignant to hilarity in the space of a few sentences.

Secondly, it’s a better, more engaging story. Adopting the embarassee’s viewpoint goes hand-in-hand with all sorts of great storytelling techniques. Setting. Characterization. Timing.

 Your Turn

Go ahead. Laugh at yourself. If everyone else isn’t already, it’s because you haven’t told the right stories.

What stories have you left untold? (Comments please! I’d love to hear them.)

May 062015
Emotional furniture of your memories of your first home

As you write about memories of your first home (or any other place), include some emotional furniture.

When I first heard the prompt “Write about your memories of your first home,” my first reaction was, “Oh yeah, write about the place I can’t remember.” I wasn’t alone. The woman next to me offered aloud, “My first home after I got married?” She grew up as a military brat. She couldn’t even remember the number of home she had lived in, much less any details about the first one.

Of course, she was right. There’s several ways to adapt this prompt into something that will resonate with you and your readers. The point is to get your memories to paper and to connect with others through your stories. For instance, in addition to writing about your actual first home, Continue reading »

Apr 162015
Author Judith Fein emotional genealogy

Author Judith Fein writes about emotional genealogy

Today, I’m particularly pleased to present a guest post by Judith Fein and her concept of emotional genealogy.

When I gave my first talk about the power of Emotional Genealogy, I wondered if anyone would be able to connect to what I was speaking about. To my surprise, audience members asked questions for over an hour, and then they continued with personal questions for another half an hour.

You may be wondering what Emotional Genealogy is. Briefly, it involves examining how the behaviors of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents influenced who we are and how we are in the world. And it doesn’t matter if we knew them or not. Continue reading »

Mar 122015
Writing with you heart on your sleeve

Writing with your heart on your sleeve helps your readers to connect with you. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

One of the most rewarding parts of sharing your memories and stories is those moments when the big picture comes alive. When you see in someone’s reaction that you connected. Writing with your heart on your sleeve increases the likelihood of that happening.

The memory collector has a different role than the average narrator. You’re part of the story. You add context. When you expose your more vulnerable side, you allow readers to see the world through your glasses.

It comes down to building trust with your readers—your loved ones. The better they know you, the more they will trust your vision—your filter—of the stories you’re telling. More importantly, writing with your heart on your sleeve helps form that palpable the connection with your readers. Continue reading »

Dec 302014
Breaking through Writer's Block

Five great ideas for breaking through writer’s block

I’m often asked, “Where do you recommend people start when they’re recording their memories.”

Sometimes, however, it’s not the starting that’s the issue. At the beginning, with a little brainstorming, ideas come down like the proverbial cats and dogs in a rainstorm. Then they don’t. That’s the problem. You encounter the “What do I write?” blues.

Breaking through writer’s block is important. Once coming up with ideas is difficult, it’s a slippery slope to procrastination. Continue reading »

Dec 042014
Wendy Parmley Shares Hope after Suicide

Author Wendy Parmley shares her story of finding Hope after Suicide — here in this post as well as in her recently released book.

I’m excited to have author Wendy Parmley share her insight with Treasure Chest of Memories readers. Wendy is an advocate for suicide prevention as well as for the support of loved ones left behind after a suicide. In this post, along with sharing her story of finding hope after suicide, she also opens up about the roles of her faith and sharing her story had in her physical and emotional healing.

I began writing my book nearly three years ago following a bicycle accident which left me unable to return to my nursing career because of the continued effects of a traumatic brain injury. During those dark days when I couldn’t get my brain to work, God spoke to my heart. I knew what my new work would be. My new work would be to tell the story of my angel mom – the story of her life, the story of her death, and the story of my healing journey. Continue reading »

Dec 012014
Tethered to the past

Tethered to the past: the ropes can keep us safe or tie us in knots

Tethers or connections? The past is an integral part of our future. When we write memoirs, memories, or histories that create a positive connection with the past, it grounds us. When the past colors our existence to the point that the present and future are drained of reason, it’s a tether to be broken–or at least loosened up a bit.

How are You Tethered to the Past?

There’s an apt German expressions for those times when you are torn about an event: “One eye laughs; the other cries.” Continue reading »

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. Continue reading »

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 »