Story and Why
"Your Life is Your
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Doing Life Without Parole
August 18, 2014
This blog, website and my personal history business all emphasize the
importance of preserving our life stories. Most of the people motivated
to do that are either wanting to record their stories for family and
friends, or perhaps to better understand their life. And a few are
hoping that their story will reach a wider audience, perhaps helping
them gain some fame as an author.
For the most part the stories of people's lives tackled from the
motivation of preserving personal history have a self interest, either
by the subject of the story or the family members who crave to know
more about loved ones.
Today I read about a reporter who is interested in getting the stories
of lifers, people convicted of life sentences without the possibility
of parole for at least 25 years. I think this can yield an interesting
perspective. What if your life of freedom came to an end and you knew
you would be behind bars quite possibly for the rest of your life? What
would you be willing to reveal to an interested writer? It can't be
easy to speak about crimes committed that lead to a life in prison, but
there could be redemption in the telling and certainly a lesson to
others. The Edmonton Journal
posted this story by their crime bureau's chief reporter Jana Pruden, The Lives of Lifers.
Williams Was A Manic and Majestic Comic and Actor
August 12, 2014
I remember watching Robin Williams on cable comedy specials in the
1980's and being amazed at his rapid-fire manic impressions and
hilarious, yet cosmic comedy insights. The man was a whirlwind onstage,
yet as his career developed we witnessed a nuanced dramatic actor who
could certainly be humorous, but also capable of delivering
performances of ringing truth.
The news that Williams died of an apparent suicide spread like wildfire
yesterday, thanks mainly to this age we live in where social media
can make us aware nearly instantaneously of breaking stories. I saw it
on Facebook first and yes, it shocked me. But it didn't take me long to
begin reflecting on his legacy. I knew he'd had a history of drug
and alcohol problems, that he'd found recovery and yet also battled his
demons of depression. Perhaps one silver lining from his passing will
be a heightened awareness of those struggling with such problems and
how there is both help and hope available.
We should also remember that he still found many opportunities to
help those who needed a laugh and a kind visit, be it deployed troops,
kids with cancer, or the homeless.
I certainly want to remember Robin Williams for the laughter he gave us
and to also appreciate his acting talent. Stories at NPR and the New York Times certainly helped me recall some of
those special moments. From the dramatic The World According to Garp and his
Oscar winning role in Good Will
Hunting, to the comedic brilliance of Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin, there is something to
enjoy from a wide variety of movies. Two films that especially resonate
for me were Good Morning Vietnam
and Dead Poet's Society,
probably because I've worked in both the radio broadcasting and
So long, Robin Williams. Carry that laughter into the afterlife. Thanks
for being seriously funny.
Self Awareness From a
August 8, 2014
"People who keep a journal often see it as part of the process of
self-understanding and personal growth. They don’t want insights
and events to slip through their minds. They think with their fingers
and have to write to process experiences and become aware of their
The above is a quote from the beginning of a very
interesting article by David Brooks (online at the NY Times), Introspective or Narcissistic? The
gist of the article is that for many of us we learn more about
ourselves when we can see our lives with some distance. This is the
gift that life story writing and, in particular, journaling, can give
If you are like me, you are well aware of how easy it is to rationalize
my actions or fool myself. Shakespeare's Hamlet has the line, "To Thine
ownself be true" and when it comes to life examination (which is
certainly part of memoir writing) this is particularly important.
Brooks goes on to point out that we can also oversimplify our self
analysis or become obsessed - both leading to less than the truth about
us. Of course, our truth comes from knowing ourselves and ruminating
about life, including journal or diary writing, can help us get some
emotional distance. I know how important it is for me to do some
journal writing whenever I am restless, irritable or discontent.
Another great insight from this article refers to the value of
narrative writing (another way of saying life story). "We should see
ourselves as literary critics, putting each incident in the perspective
of a longer life story. The narrative form is a more supple way of
understanding human processes, even unconscious ones, than
If you are looking for a great computer journaling tool, I highly
recommend DavidRM's The Journal
Clues to an Estranged Father's Life
August 5, 2014
Jordan Jayson works for The Huffington Post. That's an online site
where I often find interesting stories, but they are usually written
about people "in the world", not stories that give insight into the
personal life of their staff. However, Jordan's story about finding her father's iPhone
after he died and how it gave her clues to his life was a very poignant
Her father passed away in the Virgin Islands, a destination he'd
moved to many years ago. As a result Jordan had almost no contact with
him for 25 years. She never got the chance to see him and say goodbye
face-to-face before he died, but when she discovered his iPhone after
his passing she was able to piece together a number of digital clues
about her father's feelings for her as well as bringing up a number of
old memories. She found some recipe apps that reminded her of when her
family would order Chinese take-out. She also saw some pictures that
showed how he looked in his final days. And she was able to peruse
music on his phone and see that he also received daily jokes to his
email along with the type of news and sports he was following.
Although she didn't get personal closure she did get a better
understanding of her father. It wasn't a written life story, but she
was able to put together some pieces of the puzzle. It's an interesting
tale that could only have happened in our digital time with our
Below the Waterline
August 4, 2014
I live in the desert, so it is unusual for us to get a lot of rain,
especially enough to cause flooding. But it can happen, and it did a
couple of days ago when a thunderstorm dumped enough water on downtown
Albuquerque to flood streets. A few unfortunated motorists tried to
cross some of those streets and their cars suddenly became amphibious.
Flood waters can be scary and damaging. It can also be exhilarating, as
long as you aren't in danger. I recall a summer many years ago in
Oklahoma. I was attending the University and that summer we had a lot
of rain! My roommates and I sat on the porch of the house we had rented
one morning and watched the water rushing down our street.
It was as if a river had suddenly replaced our residential road.
Last year I reported on a story of a flood in Colorado and how a family's
portrait had been swept away in it, yet was miraculously recovered.
Do you have memories of floods? Sometimes they can be devastating,
sometimes less so, but they usually make an impression. This is
particularly true if you have belongings that get caught below the
waterline. Try writing about such an experience and see where the
memories take you. If they come "flooding back" then perhaps you've
discovered some material to add to your life story.
Tips to Help
Gather Memories of the Elderly
July 31, 2014
We all have family members, friends and aquaintances who are in their
golden years with a lifetime of memories. They have experiences to
share, but sometimes they need encouragement to share them. Eve Pearce
has contributed an article with some helpful tips and I included it in
the July Your Life Is Your Story
newsletter. You can subscribe
to receive it free to your email, but it is also posted online.
Writing About Hardship
July 28, 2014
I've been reflecting this past week about hardship, difficulties and
troubles. The life challenges we face, big and small, can often make up
the bulk of a memoir or life story. Everything from large issues like
abuse, death of loved ones, wars, poverty and diseases to the smaller
and more mundane issues like broken appliances, lost car keys or petty
arguments can be fertile ground for exploring how we live and, more
importantly, how we deal with life on life terms.
What has prompted such musing? It's a subject we all consider and deal
with, the stuff of hard times. Writing about hardship can provide
insight and perspective. We need this reflection. Such musing could
yield something grand. For Charles Dickens it became the sweeping
tapestry forming the backbone of the classic and aptly named
novel, Hard Times. But it also can be
the subject of a personal essay, journal entry or memoir. Jessica
Handler, personal historian, recently posted about her own experience
with family in Three Tips for Writing the Tough Stuff in a Memoir.
She bravely wrote about the loss of two sisters in her first memoir and
has written more on the subject. It's a good article for encouraging
those of us who become timid about delving into life's difficulties for
our own stories.
There is a lot of hardship and hard times going on in the world right
now. Conflicts and tension in the Middle East, Central America and
between Russia and the United States can make any of us who follow
the news uneasy. But these things happen and whether our hardships are
part of a global story or of a more personal nature I know that
exploring our feelings and writing our truth about hard times makes us
stronger, wiser and provides a better story to share with others.
Feel Older and Younger
July 21, 2014
Nostalgia is defined as a sentimental longing for something in the past
that we associate with happy memories. It can be triggered in various
ways, by seeing an old friend, remembering a special date, historic
event, seeing an old advertisement, hearing a favorite old song or
watching an old TV show or movie.
It was easy for me to feel nostalgic yesterday. July 20 is a an
important date in world history and also in my personal history.
Forty-five years ago men walked on the moon for the first time. Even
though I was just a teenager in 1969 I remember our family gathered
around the black and white television set watching at Neil Armstrong
made his memorable first step onto the moon.
Sixteen years later, in 1985, I married my wife, Annette. We've stayed
together and I can say I am still "over the moon" about her 29 years
later. Reminiscing about these two events reminds me of my youth. So
even though I am a number of years older, I feel younger as I recall
the summers of 1969 and 1985. Isn't it interesting how nostalgia can
make you feel both older and younger?
For those of you who grew up in the 1950's you might enjoy this
interesting short video from A Diamond Films titled Lost in the Fifties - Another Time,
Another Place. I spotted many things I remember, from Elvis
Presley to the fear of communism, food products, television shows and
fads and fashion. You can watch this video here. Maybe it will make you feel
both older and younger.
is Not Quick and Easy
July 17, 2014
I do a fair amount of editing of other people's writing. It is not
quick and easy. Nevertheless, I always appreciate it when people hire
me to edit their writing. This is because we all need to have help with
our writing. Nobody does it perfect. All good writers (you know, the
ones you read and quote) have their writing edited.
While it is true that you, the writer, can come up with clever wording
and heartfelt insight in your writing, there is often a need to
restructure, or reconsider what you've written. Another pair of eyes is
invaluable. An editor will help catch grammar, punctuation and spelling
mistakes. But they will also be helpful in how your writing flows and
whether it is vivid enough or descriptive.
Today I was reading a post on the Memoir Network written by Denis
Ledoux, How Memoir Editing
Works. I've worked with Denis before and he is good at what
he does. He is a gifted writer, speaker, coach and editor. I thought
his insight on how he approaches memoir editing had good points. He
also runs into the challenge of editing properly, realizing it takes
time and several reviews. His approach is a three part process. You can
read his article here, along with others as part of the free basic
membership at the Memoir Network.
And you might consider signing up for his some of his services,
including the premier membership option, the Memoir Authority.
Animating Past Interviews
Cultural Icons - Blank on Blank and Storytelling
July 14, 2014
Over the years there have been many interviews of famous people by
journalists. Some of these we've heard, but many are tucked away and
could be easily lost if not preserved and presented by someone.
Someone, for instance, like Blank on Blank, a multimedia nonprofit with the
simple mission of taking unheard oral history interviews and bringing
them to life on radio, YouTube and other platforms. This is an
interesting way to present storytelling.
These raw journalist interviews are edited and produced with music and
animation. The list of interview subjects is varied and fascinating:
JFK, Carol Burnett, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Bono and Merryl Streep
are a sampling. They are not long (averaging about 5 minutes), but
quite revealing. A very worthy project supported by PBS Digital Studios
I first learned about this project from a FaceBook sharing of a link to
one of these interviews, this one of Princess Grace Kelly. In it she
recalled her first meeting with the future president. She visited John
F. Kennedy in his hospital room in the mid-1950's following his back
surgery. JFK's wife, Jackie, came up with the idea and Ms. Kelly
introduced herself as the new night nurse. JFK knew, of course, who she
really was, a famous movie star. The interview goes on to describe what
she thought of Kennedy as a dynamic and youthful president, something
unusual in America. And she reflects on his death and legacy.
has a story to tell!
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