Story and Why
"Your Life is Your
© Tom Gilbert
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Keeping Memories of Passed Ones Alive
April 28, 2016
So much death of prominent people this year has me reflecting more on
how we preseerv our stories and our legacies. For one thing, we all
need to consider passing on our values and life lessons regardless of
our celebrity status. Every life is important and everyone has a story.
Beyond that, there is the opportunity and responsibility of the
surviving family members and friends to keep the memory alive for those
who have died. Allison Gilbert (no relation) has published a book that
gives tips for this. Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive
is what she calls "a roadmap for discovering fun, creative, and
inspiring ways to remember the family and friends we never want to
One idea was to create some games that memorialize the passed loved
one, such as personalizing a deck of cards with photographs of various
family members. Or be more creative and create a board game about the
person who died and include highlights of their life. This kind of
project is often done as a variation of a book report in school and I
can see how it would work for a personal history project.
You can also take old clothing and make table runners, throwrugs or
pillows. My mother-in-law made pillows out of shirts of her recently
deceased husband and I know my wife treasures that keepsake of her dad.
You might also want to create a shadowbox to frame significant items. Or put up an online memorial. After reading the APH Blog post
by Allison Gilbert I got an idea of creating a "thought for the day"
book that could include sayings, events, or other reminiscences, one
for each day of the year. I personally enjoy reading daily
inspirational books and this could be a nice variation on that theme.
Personal History is Powerful
April 21 2016
Being able to know the stories of your family members, especially
elders and ancestors, is powerful. It is personal to you and that
almost always makes it more important to you. Yes, world events that
impact us in meaningful ways happen. But the stories of how our
relatives and close family members lived, where, when and what mattered
to them, is priceless.
The Association of Personal Historians (APH) is an organization that furthers the efforts of collecting the life stories of people (The Life Story People).
Many members from around the world can work to make your story come to
life and be preserved as a legacy for your children and future
A couple of powerful ways to show this are through video and audio. A
short video piece that tells you more about the process and benefits of
having your family/personal history preserved is available online here.
You can also listen to a podcast produced by the APH that has Steve Pender (Family Legacy Video, Inc.)
discussing what personal history is with some prominent members of APH:
Linda Coffin (APH Executive Director), Sarah White (outgoing APH
President) and Bill Horne (incoming APH President). They have a wealth
of experience and knowledge to share and I think you'd enjoy hearing
it. The podcast link is here.
Remembering Jackie Robinson Through Rachel Robinson
April 15, 2016
Today is Jackie Robinson Day. Every year Major League Baseball honors this great player who was much, much more. His number, 42, is the only number retired across all teams and on this day all
players wear the number. Jackie Robinson is remembered as the player
who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. It was
long overdue, but the struggles for civil rights have always been
overdue and ongoing.
Celebrated documentarian Ken Burns features Jackie Robinson's spouse, Rachel, in a documentary that debuted on PBS this month (Jackie Robinson - A Film by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns & David McMahon).
She is still alive and at 93 "looks 70 and has all of her marbles and
some of mine!", according to Burns. The point made in the documentary
is that Jackie Robinson is one of the handful of key players in the
United States history and that Rachel was very much a part of the
story. Both endured a lot of prejudice and persecution and their
courage and stamina cannot be underestimated.
Resonating with a Life Story
April 11, 2016
What causes a person to resonate with someone's life story? That's an
important question for anyone writing a memoir who desires wide
readership. In order for people to care about your story there needs to
be a compelling story. Yes, it also needs to be well written, but if
you don't have a story that people care about it won't matter how
beautiful or dynamic your prose is.
So, what causes a reader to care about your
story? Take a look at what really matters to you in the story (and
stories) you are writing. What makes the subject matter so important to
People relate to stories that have a big theme, perhaps a universal
one, such as finding lasting love, overcoming a major health challenge
and making a difference in the lives of others.
One of the popular trends these days is the issue driven memoir. An
example can be a story dealing with addiction, such as struggling
in the throes of alcoholism. If the writer faces the truth of their
struggle and then has a story of how they dealt with the hardship it
can very easily resonate with others. It can be tricky, because your
story needs to have honesty without boasting. Show how you came through
to the "other side". That is a triumph, but often one that leaves
scars. I love the idea of the sacred wound. That is, the toughest
challenges we deal with can cut deep, but they can also lead us to some
kind of redemption.
I've often contemplated the idea expressed in this post. It was brought
to the forefront today after listening in to a webinar hosted by Brooke
Warner and Linda Joy Meyers of NAMW (National Association of Memoir Writers)
about "addiction memoirs". They presented the free webinar to help
people understand the power of these type of memoirs and to create
interest for a class they are teaching. The class will include an
exploration of two bestselling memoirs: Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story, and Koren Zailckas's Smashed. You can get more information at www.WriteYourMemoirInSixMonths.com.
Merle Haggard was a Real Country Outlaw
Aprl 7, 2016
Country singers often sing of hard times, hard living and heartbreak.
But usually they are using their imagination. Perhaps they've had some
lost loves and maybe an occasional run-in with the law, but few
actually have a life as colorful as their songs.
Not so with Merle Haggard. When he sang, "I turned twenty-one in prison
doing life without parole" it wasn't that far off the truth. As a young
man he was convicted for petty crimes and did prison time, so "Mama
Tried" certainly had an autobiographical tone. Reportedly after
seeing Johnny Cash perform a prison show at San Quentin where Haggard
was serving a five year sentence for burglary, he decided that writing
and performing country music would be his path. He had already taken up
guitar and singing, influenced by country singer Lefty Frizzel.
Haggard, ended up doing it better than just about anyone. Along
with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, you can consider
Merle Haggard a real country outlaw.
Merle Haggard passed away yesterday, April 6, at the age of 79. It was
his birthday - what a day to die on! To me that always is a sign of
something special, at least after a long life.
Haggard transcended country music and became something of a music icon
in America. Sure, he had "Okie from Muskogee" that made fun of hippies
and smoking marijuana. I was attending the University of Oklahoma about
the time that song was popular and bristled at the lyrics. But years
later I came to appreciate and admire Merle Haggard's songwriting and
lengthy repetoire. He was valued and admired by rock bands (The
Grateful Dead), modern country artists (Toby Keith and Brad Paisley
among them) and even toured with Bob Dylan.
It is only April, but already this year a significant number of artists
have died. You can certainly include Merle Haggard among them. There
are many well-written obituaries and tributes online, but I found the
one by Terence McArdle for the Washington Post to be really good - Merle Haggard, revered country singer of common man anthems, dies at 79.
CBS Sunday Morning on Boomer Grandparents, Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper
April 5, 2016
I continue to be a fan of CBS Sunday Morning
as they continually provide quality stories. Case in point (really, two
cases) was this past Sunday when they aired a couple of good stories
that resonate with personal history and legacy.
The first was about the growing trend of grandparents caring for their grandchildren. Boomer grandparents play mom and dad part-time
shared stories from both the youngsters and their elder grandparents
about spending time together. Many parents these days must work
fulltime and child care is very expensive. On top of that, the quality
of love and care that you get may be good, but it isn't the same as
having the love and sharing of values from a grandparent. Plus, it
is very meaningful for the grandparents. "Granny Nannies" can be really
special, even though it takes a lot of energy to keep up with young
ones. My wife watches our two young grandchildren during the week and
can attest to that.
The other story was about Gloria Vanderbilt, daughter of Reginald
Vanderbilt and the legendary wealthy family. She has had quite a life,
but her son is also in the spotlight. Anderson Cooper is a well known
television broadcaster (CNN and CBS 60 Minutes). Together they are
sharing their stories about their lives with each other, even things
that might normally be kept secret. The result is a book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss (Harper Collins), along with an HBO documentary, Nothing Left Unsaid.
How interesting that Gloria, at the age of 91, decided to collaborate
with her 48-year old son on this wonderful bit of family history. See
that story online here.
Building Bridges to Connect Lives and Stories
March 29, 2016
a world where people are too often building walls it is important
to recognize that life stories can build bridges that connect us. A
family history or life story can connect younger generations with their
elders. It can connect people who share similar values. Our stories can
bridge the gap between cultures and help people recognize that despite
our differences we have many things in common.
Building bridges for the better good is better than building walls out of fear of the other.
One of the wonderful ways to build bridges so that people can connect
is through the use of art. There are many artistic activities that
allow for sharing lessons, values and stories. An organization based in
America’s heartland of Lincoln, Nebraska is using the arts to
help facilitate the creation and sharing of life stories and spiritual
growth. The Hildegard Center For the Arts have recently
developed: Art Bridges – Lesson Plans for Enrichment, Growth and Healing.
| read more |
A Typical Response for Information to Help with Your Story
March 22, 2016
I get a lot of emails from people wondering about what kind of help
they can get to write their story. They also want an idea of what it
costs. These are good questions for those investigating how to get
their story done. I answer these requests and I thought it might be a
good idea to share a typical response.
This is what I wrote to someone who is interested in knowing more about
creating their life story. They are doing their own writing:
Thank you for your email and your
interest in knowing more about creating a life story. I am a sole
proprietor and do this part time as I am a full time school teacher at
this point in my career. My specialty is to coach someone who is doing
it themselves and/or co-write or ghost write. I don't get involved in
the book layout or publishing, although I know others who do it and can
help point people in the right direction. Basically, I like teaching how to write, editing or doing the writing.
has their own rates. I work on a $50/hour rate which is more than fair
for this type of work. It is an investment of a lifetime (pun intended)
to preserve your life story and leave a legacy - your words, values,
experiences - for others, especially family members. Think about what
you would pay to have a memoir from a beloved relative (parent,
grandparent, great-grandparent, etc).
The amount of work
that gets done in an hour depends on what it is. Heavy editing of
difficult to understand and poorly written text is slow going versus
someone who writes well, but needs some feedback and additional eyes.
I interview someone each hour translates to about 15 hours of work -
the questions, interview, transcription and then writing/shaping the
Others to investigate: The Memoir Network, The Association of Personal Historians.
I hope this information is helpful.
"Everybody has a story to tell"
Hopefully this gives you an insight into the process. I recognize it is
just the beginning. If you work with a personal historian you want to
begin a dialogue, ask questions, see samples of work and feel
comfortable with ability as well as a good working relationship. Keep
in mind that goes both ways. Personal Historians want a good
interaction with clients because life story work is intensive and can
take a long time. I've got more information about life story resources here.
has a story to tell!
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