Story and Why
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The Life Story Library Foundation Memoir Writing Seminar
September 17, 2014
There are some pretty neat things happening in Utah involving personal history work. There are several active members of the Association of Personal Historians and the creation of the Life Story Library Foundation (led by founder and president Paulette Stevens) is resulting in some good work.
I met Paulette and some other Utah PH'ers (Personal Historians) a
couple of years ago when I attended a regional conference in Salt Lake
City. Stevens is vivacious and passionate about preserving life
stories. I consider her a kindred spirit. One of the upcoming events
you might want to take part in is a Memoir Writing Seminar, October
10-12. The featured presenter is Nan Phifer. She is a noted workshop
leader on memoir writing and wrote an excellent memoir guide that I've
been reading, Memoirs of the Soul.
The three day workshop is titled "Writing Meaningful Memoirs" and
Phifer agreed to lead it because of her interest in spreading the
message of the importance of memoir writing. Early registration
discount apply before September 22. You can get more information from this article featured on the Park Record and also at the Life Story Library Foundation site.
Going the Distance
September 16, 2014
Going the distance, be that a long distance run or accomplishing
any goal in life, is important to me. I know from my own experience
that the times I've wanted to quit or give up, yet persevered, have
been some of the best learning situations.
Sunday I ran another half marathon. That's 13.1 miles. This is a race I've done twice before, the New Mexico Chips & Salsa Half Marathon.
It's a scenic and flat course that winds through the North Valley
of Albuquerque. My time was not my best, or worst, clocking in at 2
hours 19 minutes. But that's about right for how I run. I am now 58
years old and 10 to 10:30 minute miles is just about right. This year
in training I tweeked a back leg muscle on a 12 mile run in early
August, and then I had a cold all last week, so my usual training miles
were cut back some. Frankly, I was a bit surprised how good I felt
through the race. Sure, I was tired and worn out at the end, but it was
such a beautiful morning and I had mentally prepared myself well the
night before and early that morning. So the run was a good experience.
Running and going the distance is part of a theme for a memoir I am
working on. I am focusing on the ten year period of 2003 to 2013.
During this decade there were several significant life experiences. I
started my long distance running in 2006 at the age of 50. My kids grew
into adults during this ten year span. Both my parents passed away. Two
grandchildren have been born.
My career went through changes, including finally abandoning radio
broadcasting for a new career in teaching. My faith has deepened. My
writing has matured.
The themes that will run (yes, run)
through this memoir are baseball (Boston Red Sox), family, work, faith,
music and running. Somehow each of these areas are touchstones
for a significant ten year stretch of my life.
The tough challenge for my memoir goal is to get it written, edited,
revised and published. I will find a service to print and bind it and
my intention is to share the book with others, perhaps even selling a
few copies. But the real goal is to finally have a finished memoir that
reflects on a period in my life. It starts by doing a bit of writing
nearly every day. It ends by crossing the finish line of a completed
narrative and thumbing through pages that I will help me better
understand those ten important years of my life.
Dog Days of 9/11
September 11, 2014
Every year on the anniversary of 9/11 I am in a reflective mood. Of
course, I am not alone, as all of us who remember the horror of that
day of terrorist attacks can't help but recall where we were when we
saw or heard the events that unfolded on that morning. The hijacked
airliners that were flown int the World Trade Center Towers in New York
City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C and Flight 93 that crashed in
Pennsylvania will forever be etched into the history of the United
What always moves me each anniversary is learning more of the heroic tales of those who helped amid the tragedy. Today on the Today Show
(NBC) I learned about a service dog that is believed to be the last
surviving search dog who worked at Ground Zero in New York City after
the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Bretagne (pronounced "Brittany") is now a
15-year-old golden retriever. She and her handler, Denise Corliss have
a fascinating and heartfelt story of their work both at the site of the
attacks and at other disasters. And they are still helping today by
visiting schools and encouraging elementary kids who struggle with
reading. Clearly, they both have huge hearts.
The compassion of Bretagne is amazing. During those "dog days" of 12
hour shifts digging through the rubble she not only worked hard, she
comforted many of the other workers who'd grown numb from the grisly
labor. She sensed when someone needed some comforting. See the story of
this heroic dog here.
September 9, 2014
After recently writing about how humor
helps I have continued to think about how important having a sense
of humor can be, both in life and in our life stories. The recent death
of yet another celebrity, Joan Rivers, certainly keeps this top of
mind. Joan was fearless when it came to comedy; no subject was off
limits. Her brash approach could offend, but she also found truth
in the "brass tacks".
A post on the blog of the Association
of Personal Historians speaks of the importance of humor in
personal histories. In What's So Funny
Ruby Peru expresses her views of how humor is important in our stories,
but warns against approaching it as "the funny parts". Rather, she
encourages storytellers to recognize the part humor plays in our lives.
She will expand on this topic at the upcoming APH Conference (Believe It...Achieve It! in St. Louis). Her
workshop "Laugh and the World Laughs With You: Humor in Personal
Histories", is to be presented October 23.
In her blog post she links to an interesting article by Joan Bauer from
The Alan Review. Humor, Seriously
quotes writer William Zinsser - "What I want to do is make people
laugh, so they'll see things clearly." That was clearly accomplished by
both Joan Rivers and Robin Williams, two comedy legends who've recently
September 3, 2014
Here's an excerpt from the new YLYS Newsletter that was sent out a
couple of days ago.
When writing about your life, or that of another, it is
important to get to the heart of the story. There are many important
things we want to include, especially messages for our loved ones,
passing on our values, and making a statement about what’s been
important to us.
That being said, some of this life story stuff can get heavy. Many of
the inquiries I receive from people wanting help preserving their
personal history include mention of painful experiences. Perhaps it is
abuse of some kind, or they’ve had great loss. Suffering is part
of our human experience. I’ve found that it can lead to lots of
At the same time, we need to be able to laugh, smile, chuckle, guffaw
and lighten up. Humor in a story can help in a number of ways. For one
thing, it can create common ground. We’ve all had suffering. But
we all enjoy a good joke or a funny antidote?
Flights of Fancy Storytelling
August 25, 2014
Shortly after last year's Association of
Personal Historians Conference in Washington D.C. (Capitol Reflections) the Washington Post published an
article listing some very good reasons for hiring a personal historian
to preserve family history. In particular, they highlighted how the
Lanning family used their intergenerational history of piloting planes
across the wild blue yonder to preserve their stories. They mentioned
how long they had wanted to do this, especially to preserve the life
stories of the patriarch of the family, 84 year old James Lanning.
Somehow they could never get around to it. This is one of the biggest
challenges to doing it yourself. It is time consuming and hard work.
Hiring a personal historian can be a significant investment. But can
you put a price tag on your own family story? Many people think of it
as priceless. Read Families
turn to professionals to document their stories and perhaps get
motivated to do something about your family history.
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
has a story to tell!
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