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December, 2006

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December 31, 2006

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 felt the 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 something of 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 write.

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.

December 28, 2006

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.

December 25, 2006

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 of Christmas.

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.

December 20, 2006

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.

December 12, 2006

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.

December 11, 2006

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.

December 5, 2006 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.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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