Story and Why
"Your Life is Your Story" Blog Archives
quality family history and life story news, views, methods, products,
...and whatever else catches our fancy
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
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.