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Doing Something Everyday that Scares You

February 27. 2015

Do something everyday that scares youA 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 shouldn't.

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  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".

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 by Andra WatkinsNot 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 challenges.

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 "heroes".

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 story?

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 of change.

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.

 Everybody has a story to tell!
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