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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 States.

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.


Laughing Matters

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 passed away.


Humor Helps

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 growth.

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 don't we all enjoy a good joke or a funny antidote?

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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.


Seriously Funny, Robin 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 teaching professions.

So long, Robin Williams. Carry that laughter into the afterlife. Thanks for being seriously funny.


Self Awareness From a Distance

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 feelings. "

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 you.

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 rationalistic analysis."

If you are looking for a great computer journaling tool, I highly recommend DavidRM's The Journal - more here.

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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.