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February, 2020

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 All the Presidents' Memoirs

February 17, 2020

On this Presidents Day I got to thinking about the tradition of memoir and autobiography writing by past presidents. They all seem to want to preserve and influence their legacy by writing about their time in office.

We have had a lot of different men hold the highest office in the land and with varying degrees of impact and success. The eye of the beholder always plays a factor. If you liked a particular past president you are not going to judge him too harshly. By the same token, if you disliked a president it will not be easy to change your opinion.

Lovers of history like myself are more likely to be curious to learn more and to try and understand the former leaders by reading about their lives as viewed through their personal reflections.

Some of the memoirs mentioned as most prominent or "best" by those who study such things include Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant which focused more on his time as a military officer in the Civil War than it did his time in the White House, The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson featuring a lot of insight into one of our founding fathers and an arguably powerful writer, and A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety by Jimmy Carter which has the author recalling more than just his four years in office as he has accomplished a lot in the many years since then. 

I've seen a couple of strong mentions for the memoir of Calvin Coolidge. He is not remembered as a particularly important or strong president, but his personal insights into losing his son while serving as president and his powerful writing skills  have garnered praise.

You can read more about this subject with NPR's contributor Steve Inskeep and "Can a Presidential Memoir Really Give An Honest Picture?" and "Presidential memoir writing tips for Obama -- from other past presidents" by Craig Fehrman posted to the Washington Post.

Make a Statement to Hook the Reader

February 11, 2020

"With her last gasping breath she squeezed my hand. And the room filled with light."

"He slammed his fist on his desk and demanded in a barely controlled voice that I better tell him the truth and tell it right now!"

"I gazed out over the immensity that was my view from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, the light dancing off the mesas as the day dawned. And I thought this was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen."

I just made up those three scenarios, although the first and third actually are inspired by events in my own life. Did you want to know more?

When people start reading about someone's life you have to grab their attention right away.

This is true with any story. Make me want to read more.

Is your life that interesting? Yes, it probably is. Somewhere at some point in your life something happened and if you can tell that story in a way that gets people to sit up and take notice and want to know more you are hooking the reader.

You don't have to be a great writer to tell your life story. But you do need to have a sense of how to tell a story. Creating some drama and reeling in the reader is important. You have the life story. I - and other writers - have the ability to help bring that story out of you and in a way that will grab the attention of those reading the opening lines.

Make a statement to hook the reader. And then give us the rest of the story.

A Full Measure of Living and Giving

February 9, 2020

Some people think the highest honor goes to those who lay down their lives for others. Sacrificing our own safety in order to save others is a quintessential definition of heroism.

I was watching CBS Sunday Morning today and one of the segments was about William Pitsenbarger, an Air Force pararescue man who saved several US soldiers in the amidst of an ambush during the Vietnam War. Pitsenbarger was lowered through the jungle trees from a Huey helicopter and proceeded to evacuate wounded warriors. Then he stayed behind, refusing to get back on board, and ended up being killed in the battle. But not before saving several men. 

William Pitsenbarger was just 21. He was eventually posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, but that was a story in itself that took years, until 2000.

A movie made on an independent budget by Todd Robinson is just now in theaters. It took twenty years to make the movie. Despite a neglible budget Robinson was able to get several big name actors to portray surviving veterans. Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, William Hurt and Peter Fonda (in his last movie role) among them.

I have not yet seen The Last Full Measure, but I intend to.  Movies can be a powerful vehicle for storytelling, just as our life stories can inform us and help us appreciate our lives for their value, purpose and lessons.

Sometimes movies and films are just escapism. There is so much money involved in big picture making. But sometimes film is able to help us transcend that and see the beauty that is our world and our lives, even amidst the horror and heartbreak we often encounter. The recent passing of Kirk Douglas, one of the last heroic Hollywood icons, was able to do this with much of his acting. Actors help tell the story, but so do writers and so do everyday ordinary people who have a story to tell. I'll be thinking about that as I take in the Academy Awards program this evening. Today

Everybody has a story to tell!
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