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The "Your Life is Your Story" Blog

© Tom  Gilbert

Read about quality family history and life story news, views, methods, products, links, services

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David Bald Eagle - An Amazing Life by a True American

July 28, 2016

I learned about a remarkable man who passed away last Friday at the age of 97. This man lived an extraordinary life. Some of his experiences included being a musician, professional baseball player, champion ballroom dancer, rodeo cowboy, movie stunt double, actor, tribal chief and war hero.

David Bald Eagle - an amazing lifeThe biggest clue in all of that is tribal chief. Here was a real American. This Lakota man, David Bald Eagle, has left quite a legacy and, I think, example for the rest of us. In his amazing life he had plenty of heartbreak including parachuting behind enemy lines in the Normandy invasion during World War II and being shot so severely he nearly died. In fact, the first medics to reach him left him for dead, but fortunately sometime later British troops came across him and discovered a faint pulse and saved his life. He was apparently a very brave soldier. I think one of his heroic acts was re-enlisting. He'd been discharged on December 7, 1941. That's right, Pearl Harbor Day. When he got the news about the Japanese attack he immediately signed back up.

He met an English dance teacher while in the Army. After the war they were married. Tragically she was killed in a car crash while pregnant with his first child. He became somewhat suicidal and would do incredibly risky things, such as race car driving, skydiving, bareback bull riding and working as a stunt double in the movies. The thing is he was so good at these death-defying activities that he became quite successful.

He did find another love of his life years later, marrying a young Belgian actress. They raised a large family on a ranch on the Cheyenne River Reservation. He became a tribal chief. And he passed on the history and stories of the Lakota people to younger generations, keeping their legacies alive. There is a very good article about him on NPR.

This man showed what it means to live a full and meaningful life.


Live Storytelling Popularity Keeps Growing

July 25, 2016

The craft of live storytelling is as old as, well, people talking to each other. Much of history has been passed down orally. And someone who can spin a good yarn will almost always have an audience.

Sharing elements of your life story to others in a live talking event is a growing phenomenon.  The Moth, a New York City nonprofit founded in 1997, has been credited with the current popularity of live storytelling. In Tuscon, Arizona there are some groups who are discovering they are building both community and empathy with others by sharing elements of their personal experience in live storytelling environments.

Odyssey Storytelling is one of these groups. "People are hungry for real stories, told from the heart," relates executive director Jen Clark. One of the positives she sees is how the relating of our stories helps break down stereotypes, something our culture truly needs, as evidenced by much of the divisiveness we are witnessing these days (see more with article at tuscon.com).

It can be intimidating to get up in front of people, especially strangers, to reveal personal antidotes about your life. But it can also be empowering. As a 5th grade teacher who also engages in personal history work I am always encouraging the development of presentation skills. We need to be able to express ourselves and the power of storytelling is helpful in many areas of life.


Mentors that Matter

July 18, 2016

If you are fortunate there have been people in your life who've had a positive influence, perhaps even a life-changing impact. Thank goodness that such people exist!

Stories of You Books is a publishing company looking for short (1000 words) essays about those teachers, coaches, friends, parents or mentors who have been a good role model and inspiration on a person's life. Do you have such a story to share? Your mentor that matters could be well known or not. They might be someone you've never actually met, except through reading and learning about them. It's possible it could even be a fictional character from a book or story that changed your life.

The plan is to publish an anthology, The Mentor that Matters, sixty stories picked from the submissions. I am not connected to this project in anyway, but I think it is worth sharing the information. The deadline to enter is August 15. Give this some thought as you might have a story about a helpful person in your life that could inspire others. There is no entry fee or cost to submit; there will be no payment to authors chosen. However, you could benefit from the exposure, get two complimentary print copies and contribute to a lasting legacy while paying tribute to someone who impacted your life for the better.

Details are available here.



Liminal Space Puts You on the Threshold of Real Change

July 13, 2016

There are certain times in our lives when real change can occur. Usually these are times when we are taken out of "business as usual" and we suddenly see things differently. It is as if we have a new pair of glasses, a vision of reality that is clearer, more pristine, than we realized.

This breakthrough in experiencing life is not always a happy occurence. People get shaken to the core by loss and tragedy. This can also bring about an awakening in our perceptions.  And while we may feel we are seeing things clearer we also may be shaken in our understanding of what it's all about.

When you are on the doorstep of such change you are on the threshold of something special. Suddenly you are more open to the way things are. It is what it is now means something more than a glib cliche.

People who know a lot more about this than me indicate that this "standing on the threshold of real change" is called being in liminal space. All true transformation takes place in this space. When you are between the familiar and unknown real change and growth can occur. Letting go of what we are certain of can be unsettling, but it can also be freeing. You might feel a little crazy, but in the end I have found these experiences have been profound.

I know that when I have been in liminal space I've found my writing is deeper, richer, and more insightful. In a word, real.

Not all of our life story writing can be so dramatic, insightful or "heavy". I don't think any of us could handle being in liminal space all of the time. But I do hope that you experience it sometimes. And when you do, pause and take some time to reflect on what you are going through. It just might lead you to a greater insight and appreciation for your life journey.


Debut of the Babe

July 11, 2016

On this date in 1914 one of the greatest baseball players of all time made his Major League debut.

Babe Ruth debuted as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox

Born George Herman Ruth, but forever immortalized as Babe Ruth, he was a young lad of 19 when he pitched in his first game for the Boston Red Sox. That's right, Babe Ruth the pitcher. Later he would become renowned as a great hitter, the "Sultan of Swat" and the "Great Bambino". But on this day he was a pitcher facing the Cleveland Indians and he lasted seven innings and got the win, 4-3.

He also batted and was 0 for 2.  No matter, the Red Sox weren't looking for an offensive star. They bought him from the Baltimore Orioles early in that summer for his pitching potential. He was a fresh-faced naive kid so his teammates nicknamed him "Babe". Over the next few seasons Ruth was a great pitcher and twice a World Series Champion for Boston. His hitting was also developing, but clearly Red Sox owner Harry Frazee didn't fully appreciate the legend-in-the-making he had when he sold him to the New York Yankees in 1920. The rest, as they say, is history with Ruth becoming a great home run champion and slugger, the Yankees a dynasty, and the Red Sox suffering the "Curse of the Bambino" and not winning another World Series until 2004.

What you may not know about Babe Ruth was the hardship of his youth. He could easily have slipped through the cracks and never had a chance at baseball. He was one of eight children, but only he and a sister survived infancy. He was such a naughty boy who skipped school so much his parents sent him away to an orphanage, St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys. (See This Day in History  and 10 things you didn't know about Babe Ruth for more.)

Clearly not every life story is as remarkable as Babe Ruth's. But the important events of our lives are many and varied. You have a story, too. Have you considered saving it? You can get started with the first step of getting more information on how to begin.


Write, Rest, Revise, Repeat

July 7, 2016

Doing writing on your life story can be tedious. Nevertheless, it is important to stick with it and it is beneficial to have a regular schedule to write. At the very least, you should set some writing appointments. The discipline that results from regular writing sessions will result in more progress than writing when you feel like it.

A warning, however, that obsessing over your writing is not a good idea. Most first and early drafts are not going to be the best writing. That's where revision comes in. And revision comes later, not immediately following a draft. It's important to rest before you revise.

Denis Ledoux of The Memoir Network adressed this  in a recent article, Linger With Your Story - It's a Good Habit to Develop. He makes the point that many people write too fast in the sense that they rush the finished writing process. As a result they often don't get the full story or the depth that they could. Quality of the manuscript suffers.

I like to write, rest, revise and then repeat that process. Eventually you do have to decide that a piece of writing is done. But it might take several revisions. Giving some breathing room between writing and revisions allows you to come back to your writing with "fresh" eyes. That can often give you more insight with your story. You might remember more details. You can add more description and detail. You can make some choices about what more to add, and just as important, what to take out.

When you approach your writing with a plan to write, rest, revise and repeat you will inevitably create richer stories. Give it a try.


Summer Camp Then and Now

July 6, 2016
Summerp Camp
I remember going to summer camp. It was something I did every summer, but there were a few times I got to go. Sometimes it was with the Boy Scouts. Other times it was through a youth or church group. It always was an enjoyable experience and once in a while I get nostalgic about the camping, games, horseback riding, swimming, singing around campfires and telling ghost stories.

Just taking the time to write about a summer camp experience starts to bring up memories. Isn't it interesting how the very act of writing helps with this. If you find it challenging to write about your past you might try some free writing on a topic like the time you went to a summer camp (or a similar experience). Of course, making a Memory List is always a terrific helper.

Apparently there is a growing market for people to revisit the good times of a summer camp experience by going to camp as an adult. These camps offer the nostalgia of a traditional summer camp, but they add some grownup twists. We're not talking "Survivor", but it looks interesting. Sometimes they are called "summer retreats". The business is growing for grownups who long for a getaway, but it's not inexpensive.

An article in The Guardian, Summer camp with an open bar: retreats for stressed-out adults are big business, tells you more about some of the pros and cons of adult summer camps.


Your Own Personal Biographer

June 29, 2016

Creating a personal history takes a certain amount of work. There are memories to mine, life experiences to reminisce and reflection on what your life has meant to you and others.

Some people call it memoir, others life story. Or you could consider it your biography. Write it yourself and it is an autobiography. Whatever term you use, the idea of preserving your life in print can be a very good one.

Story Terrace is a service in the UK that does this kind of work. They use the marketing line, "Everyone's personal biographer". I was alerted to their web site recently and I thought Caolan Blaney's article How to Write A Good Biography had many excellent points. It included different approaches to conducting an interview. This is important because people respond differently when being interviewed depending on the reason and their personality.

The article also included some good points about the writing process. Should you hire your own personal biographer you are going to want to be able to confide in that person and trust that they can reveal the you that you want people to know.

If you are considering being interviewed for your life story it is a good idea to put some thought into the kinds of questions you will be asked. Over the years I've gathered a list of questions that are valuable. Not every question is used in every interview and I do prepare my questions after I get an idea of the type of project the client wants. You might want to read The Right Questions to give you more insight into a personal history interview.


Life Vigilance

June 27, 2016

I find it more and more important that we have what I would call life vigilance. We must consider the importance of recognizing how each day we have is special - perhaps even our last day.


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OBITS Documentary Celebrates Lives

June 23, 2016

The New York Times legendary obituary desk has, over the years, churned out an incredible amount of well researched and crafted written obituaries. These obits (as they are known in the industry) are less about death and more about celebrating the lives of the subjects. Many of them are researched for years before the subject actually dies. How do you think they get celebrity obits in the paper so quickly?

A documentary about the NY Times work, OBIT, is showcasing at the AFI DOCS Film Festival, June 22-26, in Washington D.C. I can't attend, but I'll be watching for a chance to see this documentary down the line.

You can view a trailer from Topiary Productions, Inc. here.

 

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