Story and Why
"Your Life is Your
quality family history and life story news, views, methods, products,
...and whatever else catches our fancy
past entries - see the blog
Doing Something Everyday that Scares You
February 27. 2015
A widely circulated quote, usually attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, states that you should do something everyday that scares you.
If you are writing a life story or memoir, this is terrific advice.
Most of us want to skirt the dark and scary stuff of our past, but you
Confronting the truth of your failures, mistakes, abuse, addictions and dark sides - whatever it is that you might not want to reveal - can often be really important material.
Now I must caution you that there should be serious thought given to
this. If you are out for revenge and wanting to strike back at those
who hurt you by putting it in your story you might just make things
worse. I believe there can be great power and opportunities for healing
and revelation when we are honest about our pasts and willing to
embrace our shadow sides and forgive others. At the same time, there
can be psychological trauma for some people when digging up past
events, be they shame, abuse, war experiences, crime and so forth. So
seek the advice of qualified counselors if and when necessary.
Bravery is courage in the face of fear. There may be some things you
want to do in your life that are frightening. This can also be fertile
material for your writing. For instance, there are plans by a Dutch
company to eventually send people on missions to Mars. Starting in 2024
they plan to send the first group. Here's the kicker: it's a one way ticket. No coming back. If the mission is successful you will live out the rest of your days on the Red Planet.
Despite this, Mars One
had over 200,000 applicants and they've now narrowed the field to 100.
This includes a New Mexico man, Zach Gallegos, a University of New
Mexico graduate with experience working with a Mars rover(story on KOAT.com).
I can imagine the story of being one of the first humans to
travel to Mars would be a great adventure tale with lots of fear facing.
Ashes to #Ashtag and Making Your Mark
February 18, 2015
I got a few looks from people in the grocery store today. I'd finished
my day teaching 5th graders and I was picking up a few things before
heading home. One woman realized pretty quickly that the black
cross-shaped mark on my forehead wasn't because I was slipping on my
hygiene. I heard her mutter, "Oh right, I forgot it's Ash Wednesday".
is a day when many Christians begin the season of Lent with repentance,
fasting, thoughts of how to change and not be so selfish (never an easy
task) and with ashes on their forehead remember that someday we die.
Jesus is the model and leader for Christ-followers. He walked a path
that leads others to a way of self-sacrifice and compassion for others.
But not everyone is used to seeing people walking around with ashes on
their forehead, even though signs of repentance are an ancient practice
in many cultures. More people are discovering ashes on the forehead via
social media with a slew of "ashtagged "selfies" showing up today on
Instagram and Twitter. A sign of the times.
Many people opt for cremation when they die and the ashes are often
interned or distributed as seen fit by the deceased, family and
friends. I've been reading Anne Lamott's terrific new spiritual memoir,
Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.
One of the things she recounts is her long road to forgiving her
mother, years after she'd died. She kept her mom's ashes in an urn on a
shelf in a closet, but eventually moved her out of the closet but not
yet to a final distribution ceremony. Not until she could travel her
own journey of reminiscence and forgiveness. It was a powerful story.
How we make a mark in life is part of our journey. Your legacy may or
may not be recalled depending on how you live and whether you
preserve and share your life story.
A Woman Walks the Natchez Trail With Her Father (not her first choice)
February 12, 2015
Not Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trail
is not a history lesson, although the Natchez Trail was once a heavily
traveled trail by foot, horseback and wagon and included the likes of
Daniel Boone and Meriweather Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark expedition
fame). Nowadays, it is a scenic byway that you can travel by car and
stretches from Natchez, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee.
Andra Watkins is the author of the above mentioned memoir. She wanted
to become the first living person to walk the 444 miles, just as
pioneers before her did. She would walk 15 miles a day. She couldn't
find anyone to go with her except for her 80-year old father, who
really didn't want to go along and, as it sounds from reading about
this book, not the best traveling partner. Their journey is the story
of the book, although the premise was to try to find out how and
why Meriweather Lewis died. That happened in 1809, just five years
after the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition (Thomas Jefferson
commissioned them to explore the land the US got in the Louisianna
Purchase). Was the death of Lewis a murder, suicide or something else?
Historians continue to debate it.
I haven't read the memoir, but I plan to because I love what I've
already heard about this story. Family relationships can be
dysfunctional, but Watkins
brave decision to reveal her truth about this journey with her
father is a tale that might teach us a lot about relationships and
Memorable Family Feuds
February 9, 2015
I often get emails from people that want to write about their life and
part of the story are feuds and problems they have had with family
members. I think most people can relate to that, even if you are, like
me, on good terms with all family members.
Cowbird (a fascinating story-telling site) is currently partnering with Narratively, an online platform
that shares untold human stories, on a seed for a storytelling project
about family feuds. Funny, poignant, wild or unbelievable - they would
like to hear from you if you have a story like this to share. | more info |
February 5, 2015
They call it the "largest family history event in the world!" They are the organizers (FamilySearch) of the annual event known as RootsTech. Genealogy is a big deal for a lot of people, especially for LDS members, better known as the Church of Latter Day Saints. RootsTech
is a family history and technology conference being held in Salt Lake
City from February 12-14. Salt Lake City is the main home of the LDS
Church. Regardless of your religious affiliation, it appears the
conference has a lot to offer people interested in family and life
story research, genealogy and personal history. APH (The Association of Personal Historians)
will be well-represented, so if you are attending seek out their booth
to find out more about how you can pursue a family history project.
Write it Once, Twice, Three Times or More
February 2, 2015
One of my favorite things about Groundhog's Day
is the movie of the same name. In it the Bill Murray character is a
jaded meteorologist frustrated at having to cover the annual Puxatawnie
Phil event for his television station. Will he or will he not see his
shadow? However, that's not the main point of the movie.
The plot revolves instead around the meteorologist waking up day after
day and it is the same day - Groundhog's Day all over again. At first
he's confused and then frustrated, but eventually he gives in to the
situation and begins to work living the day over and over to his
advantage. He ends up enlightened and with a different and more
positive perspective on life.
I have a suggestion for those of you are doing your own writing about
your life. Pick a particular time in your life, something that was
special and meaningful and sit down and write it as a short story. Then
put it aside. The next day sit down and write it again. Don't look at
the previous version. Write the story fresh. And then on the third day
do it again. Try it for a week straight. What might get revealed after
writing five, six or seven versions, one per day, can be revealing. You
will notice how the story becomes more vivid, deeper, richer and
purposeful. At least that's my prediction. You won't know until you
try, so create your own "Groundhog's Day" loop with a portion of your
life story and see how it can help you develop your writing. Revision
is good and important and this could be an fun way to do it.
War Memoirs - Celebrating Heroes or Glorifying War?
January 28, 2015
Here's a tough one. People who publish memoirs of their experience in
war give us insight into the incredible difficulties and horrors of
war. But at the same time, do they run the risk of glorifying war? It's
a tough question that comes into play if you are talking about war
A very popular movie out now, American Sniper,
tells the story of Chris Kyle, one of the most "celebrated" military
snipers in history. He had 160 "kills" and ironically, he himself was
shot and killed, but not in combat, rather at a shooting range in
Texas. The film is based on Kyle's autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History.
I am not saying Kyle wasn't a hero. And I am not trying to create a
controversy. I am just echoing concerns that have been shared by
people. See a blog posting on the APH Blog
for more, as well as another controversial subject - whether writing
about someone's deciline from Alzheimer's or other dementias is an
invasion of their privacy.
The Cause of Addiction May Be Very Different Than What You Think
January 22, 2015
There is no question that there is a problem with addiction in our societies. Alcohol,
drug, gambling, sex and other obsessions affect a lot of people. But
what really causes someone to become an addict? Is it the power of the
chemicals? Or could it be a need to connect to something, a need the addict has not been able to fulfill in a healthy way?
I read an interesting article related to this question today - The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think by Johann Hari. I saw it recommended by another member of the Association of Personal Historians (April Bell),
but also from some of my friends on Facebook. The idea of
isolation and poor living conditions lending themselves to situations
that might promote addiction is an intriguing one.
The subject resonates with me because some of the most interesting life
stories, to me, are those of people who've battled addictions and found
recovery. Whether it is a 12-step group, a new purpose grounded in a
loving relationship, or a connection to our natural tendency to find
faith in something bigger, the stories of recovered/recovering
addicticts are powerful. Many of them contain life lessons for all of
us, not just other addicts. This is one of the great gifts of an honest
story about overcoming a major challenge. It can give us hope and
promote a greater compassion for our fellow human beings.
Writing Your Life Story Can Improve Your Happiness
January 21, 2015
I've seen more than one article about the benefit of life writing
narratives or keeping a journal. Studies have shown that real health
benefits and mental wellness can come from regular writing about your
life and experiences. Psychologist James Pennebaker (info) has conducted research and makes some recommendations.
An article published on The New York Times (Writing Your Way to Happiness
by Tara Parker-Pope) brings up the subject again. The author makes the
point that writing about your life, and then (importantly) going back
and revising it, helps you look more honestly at situations, challenges
and experiences. And it can add to your wellbeing, positive outlook and
even make you happier. It makes sense to me, because when we reflect
about our lives it frequently helps us see that we've done many good
things that matter. Some people worry that reminiscing about their life
will make them sad, but it seems the opposite is more likely.
So, sit down and write about your life! Or start looking around for
help. There are many willing and able personal historians who may be
able to help you. Research more with articles I've written, such as Writing My Life Story, and check out the Association of Personal Historians and The Memoir Network.
Your Perspective Frames Your Memoir
January 13, 2015
One of the definitions of perspective is "a particular attitude toward
or way of regarding something; a point of view". When it comes to
crafting a life story perspective is critical. Your point of view
frames your memoir.
Perspective is related to perception (see below),
but it is not the same thing. We all need perspective when it comes to
our life stories. How you view your past, present and future has a lot
to do with what you will include in your memoir. Your point of view is
influenced and formed by experience, beliefs, what you've been taught,
along with all the biases you bring to each situation. Chew on
that. Can you see how your perspective on life, family, people, society
and the cosmos will strongly contribute to how you will tell your life
One of the profound things about humans and perspective is that we can
change our point of view. Sometimes we need to see things from a
different perspective. It is quite a revelation when we discover and
relate to another's point of view. Sometimes that is a powerful agent
Reading biographies, memoirs and other life stories can help you with
this. Try to understand the point of view of the author. Get inside
their perspective and look around. You certainly don't have to agree
with another's interpretation or viewpoint of life, but it helps
broaden your horizons when you can see things from another angle. That
should also give you pause to consider the slant you are putting on
your own story.
has a story to tell!
© 2003 - 2015 All