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I’m not sure what made me reach for the book and then find
the long ago inserted bookmark and begin reading where I must have left
off after such a lengthy absence.
It’s not as if I hadn’t noticed William
Zinsser’s On Writing
Well before, or recently, stacked along
with the other books beneath the glass surface of the end table in the
living room by the fireplace. After all, each morning I reach
for the two or three books in the stack alongside, reading a paragraph
or a few pages from the A.A. “big book” and the
daily reflection from Norman Vincent Peale. My Bible is often
opened to the scripture reading for the day or to the
thought-provoking, heart-challenging and soul-stirring writing of Paul
and John’s letters or the four gospels.
But something called to me from Zinsser this morning. With a
cup of coffee I settled into the blue recliner and opened the book to
where it was marked so long ago. There, at the beginning of
chapter 22, I was quickly engrossed in his lesson to Trust Your
Material. The words rang true in my head and I
quickening of heart whenever I am motivated by a writer
“speaking the truth”. I suddenly want to
write, which is the best way to feel when writing. I realize
here on the final day of 2006 that I’ve started to take
writing for granted. Odd, because I don’t have all
that much to show for it. Yes, I’ve committed to
writing much more in the past two to three years than I previously
had. And yes, I have some actual finished work to show for
it. There is the ghost-written biography of Jeannette Morris,
but that’s 2005’s news. There is the body
of work contained in the Living the Solution and Your Life is Your
Story websites, but these sites have also become
obligation. And there is the short biography written for
Ahrend Walters, with the promise and expectation of a full-blown book
awaiting my responsibility, discipline and paid efforts to produce.
Zinsser re-awakened that cherished and completely blessed state of the
vocation. It aroused in me a desire to
create and that can be rare. If it actually induces me to
action and I then do write something – anything –
of substance the reward is its own. I don’t know
why I tend to romanticize the idea of “having
written” more than the act of doing so. But it is
similar to wanting to play a great guitar solo, paint a brilliant
landscape or hit the game winning home run. To dream is not
to do, but it is often the necessary precursor.
Whatever coincidence caused me to lift On Writing
Well from its
longtime resting place and began reading can now only be viewed as a
gift. He writes with power, truth, clarity and integrity and
with that magic combination of words that pulls the reader
along. And that is what I crave, both from writers and to
While my wife, Annette, slumbered on the couch nearby I continued to
read more from the book, especially enraptured by the chapter on memoir
writing. This is where I am currently most focused, the
business and the art of personal history. It’s odd
that the chapter Writing
About Yourself contains so many excellent
references to other writers’ memoirs. You might
think Zinsser would write more about his own experiences, but
he’s a smart teacher and knows that there are plenty of other
excellent writers to showcase. The excerpts were powerful and an
admonishment to me to not settle for sloppy writing, but to work at
this craft while maintaining the enthusiasm instilled by
Zinsser’s comments and instruction.
In concluding the chapter he powerfully states, “One of the
best gifts you have to offer when you write personal history is the
gift of yourself. Don’t forget that it’s
there and that it has great power. Give yourself permission
to write about yourself, and have a good time doing it.”
So, I have received a powerful gift on this last day of the calendar
year, one that can and should propel me into the next. I am
reminded that a talent is a gift. A gift must be accepted to be
received and only completes its giving when it is used in some measure
that contributes back to others.
In the post Christmas days when friends and family may still be
visiting have you spent any time telling old stories? What
kind of presents did you get or give - not just this year, but when you
were growing up? Do you have a favorite food, or one that you
hide under potato skins or lettuce?
Family histories are a growing trend. We all know this.
The gift of the stories of our lives is not to be missed.
Here is yet another article emphasizing the importance of
family histories as gifts, posted to the CNN web site. Go here.
The best gift to give on this Christmas is your time, attention and
love to others. You choose who to share this with, but I
think it is a blessing how whenever I truly get out of myself and spend
time concerned with others (family, friends and strangers) I get a
present, too! It is the gift that contains the true meaning
Remember that those of you who have "chosen" to be the family
historians have a responsibility that is very rewarding. The
scribes of our lives help us to connect to what really matters and
memories well preserved enhance our enjoyment of today and tomorrow.
Well, the Christmas holiday is nearly upon us. I've been
busy, as I'm sure many of you are at this time of year. It's
also a busy birthday month for my family. My son officially
becomes a teenager tomorrow! My sister has a birthday on
Christmas Eve, my Dad on Christmas Day and my dearly departed mother's
birthday is the day after Christmas. It will be bittersweet
this year. Oh, and I had a birthday on December 15th. No
biggie - the 50th was last
year. It was great to have my parents, my sister, her husband
and my nephew and niece visit on that one. It was also a
treasured memory of my mom before she became sick.
Here in New Mexico we enjoy Christmas traditions like Posadas, tamales
and farolitos. We also even had a snow storm hit yesterday
and it looks like Christmas.
I hope that your celebrations for the holidays are special and that you
make many strong new memories to go with your Christmas' past.
A little while back I wrote here about a new movie/documentary that
holds lots of promise for the field of "family history". 51 Birch Street (see website here) is the creation of Doug Block and about his
family. A review by Jim
Emerson at film critic Roger Ebert's website starts with "Every family has
its stories, the ones they tell and the ones they don't. Some are
repeated regularly at clan gatherings until they assume the shape of
myth. Certain details are amplified or embellished, while others fall
away with disuse, but with time the contours of the stories themselves
achieve a well-worn solidity. They, along with the unspoken assumptions
that support them, become the official version of the family's history."
The film has opened in select cities. It's not yet in my town
but I'm hoping to see it when it does. This looks like it is
worth seeking out.
Holiday traditions are part of our lives and our stories. I'm
sure there are probably certain things you and your family do around
this time of year. And some of these traditions are passed on
from one generation to the next.
I remember growing up how our house was always decorated for Christmas.
My parents had a collection of ornaments that stretched across the
years. Some of them were quite beautiful and passed down from
other relatives. It seems the artwork and detail from those
is often missing in today's Christmas tree ornaments.
My family moved around frequently when I was growing up. My
dad was in the Air Force so that was just part of the deal.
Despite all the different houses and living locations I still
get the same warm feeling about a decorated house.
Legacy.com is an online obituary service web site that I've written
about before (online
tribute sites). They have added an
intriguing new option titled a Moving Tribute.
It allows you to share memories of a family member, friend or loved one
with text, music, photos and even your own voice in narration.
You can view some of them here.