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                     ...and whatever else catches the fancy of personal historian Tom Gilbert

July, 2016

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You Don't Have to Agree to Listen

July 31, 2016

Let's face it - as soon as we disagree with someone it becomes really hard to listen. We get defensive, on edge, start blocking out what they are saying and considering our counter response. It reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live skit with Jane Curtin and Dan Akroyd (here).

So how do we listen when we disagree? This was on Benjamin Mathes' mind as he stood outside the Republican National Convention holding a "Free Listening" sign.

He wrote a great post about this and one of the key points he made was that we need to first get the story about the person we disagree with (their biography, where they are coming from) so you can open up the real possibility of understanding.

We don't have to agree in order to listen. Asking someone to tell you their story, how they came to their point of view, is much more respectable than lashing out with your counterpoint and can help both parties grow. As Stephen Covey's 7 Habits teach, as well as the prayer of St. Francis, "seek first to understand, then to be understood".

David Bald Eagle - An Amazing Life by a True American

July 28, 2016

I learned about a remarkable man who passed away last Friday at the age of 97. This man lived an extraordinary life. Some of his experiences included being a musician, professional baseball player, champion ballroom dancer, rodeo cowboy, movie stunt double, actor, tribal chief and war hero.

David Bald Eagle - an amazing lifeThe biggest clue in all of that is tribal chief. Here was a real American. This Lakota man, David Bald Eagle, has left quite a legacy and, I think, example for the rest of us. In his amazing life he had plenty of heartbreak including parachuting behind enemy lines in the Normandy invasion during World War II and being shot so severely he nearly died. In fact, the first medics to reach him left him for dead, but fortunately sometime later British troops came across him and discovered a faint pulse and saved his life. He was apparently a very brave soldier. I think one of his heroic acts was re-enlisting. He'd been discharged on December 7, 1941. That's right, Pearl Harbor Day. When he got the news about the Japanese attack he immediately signed back up.

He met an English dance teacher while in the Army. After the war they were married. Tragically she was killed in a car crash while pregnant with his first child. He became somewhat suicidal and would do incredibly risky things, such as race car driving, skydiving, bareback bull riding and working as a stunt double in the movies. The thing is he was so good at these death-defying activities that he became quite successful.

He did find another love of his life years later, marrying a young Belgian actress. They raised a large family on a ranch on the Cheyenne River Reservation. He became a tribal chief. And he passed on the history and stories of the Lakota people to younger generations, keeping their legacies alive. There is a very good article about him on NPR.

This man showed what it means to live a full and meaningful life.

Live Storytelling Popularity Keeps Growing

July 25, 2016

The craft of live storytelling is as old as, well, people talking to each other. Much of history has been passed down orally. And someone who can spin a good yarn will almost always have an audience.

Sharing elements of your life story to others in a live talking event is a growing phenomenon.  The Moth, a New York City nonprofit founded in 1997, has been credited with the current popularity of live storytelling. In Tuscon, Arizona there are some groups who are discovering they are building both community and empathy with others by sharing elements of their personal experience in live storytelling environments.

Odyssey Storytelling is one of these groups. "People are hungry for real stories, told from the heart," relates executive director Jen Clark. One of the positives she sees is how the relating of our stories helps break down stereotypes, something our culture truly needs, as evidenced by much of the divisiveness we are witnessing these days (see more with article at

It can be intimidating to get up in front of people, especially strangers, to reveal personal antidotes about your life. But it can also be empowering. As a 5th grade teacher who also engages in personal history work I am always encouraging the development of presentation skills. We need to be able to express ourselves and the power of storytelling is helpful in many areas of life.

Mentors that Matter

July 18, 2016

If you are fortunate there have been people in your life who've had a positive influence, perhaps even a life-changing impact. Thank goodness that such people exist!

Stories of You Books is a publishing company looking for short (1000 words) essays about those teachers, coaches, friends, parents or mentors who have been a good role model and inspiration on a person's life. Do you have such a story to share? Your mentor that matters could be well known or not. They might be someone you've never actually met, except through reading and learning about them. It's possible it could even be a fictional character from a book or story that changed your life.

The plan is to publish an anthology, The Mentor that Matters, sixty stories picked from the submissions. I am not connected to this project in anyway, but I think it is worth sharing the information. The deadline to enter is August 15. Give this some thought as you might have a story about a helpful person in your life that could inspire others. There is no entry fee or cost to submit; there will be no payment to authors chosen. However, you could benefit from the exposure, get two complimentary print copies and contribute to a lasting legacy while paying tribute to someone who impacted your life for the better.

Details are available here.

Liminal Space Puts You on the Threshold of Real Change

July 13, 2016

There are certain times in our lives when real change can occur. Usually these are times when we are taken out of "business as usual" and we suddenly see things differently. It is as if we have a new pair of glasses, a vision of reality that is clearer, more pristine, than we realized.

This breakthrough in experiencing life is not always a happy occurence. People get shaken to the core by loss and tragedy. This can also bring about an awakening in our perceptions.  And while we may feel we are seeing things clearer we also may be shaken in our understanding of what it's all about.

When you are on the doorstep of such change you are on the threshold of something special. Suddenly you are more open to the way things are. It is what it is now means something more than a glib cliche.

People who know a lot more about this than me indicate that this "standing on the threshold of real change" is called being in liminal space. All true transformation takes place in this space. When you are between the familiar and unknown real change and growth can occur. Letting go of what we are certain of can be unsettling, but it can also be freeing. You might feel a little crazy, but in the end I have found these experiences have been profound.

I know that when I have been in liminal space I've found my writing is deeper, richer, and more insightful. In a word, real.

Not all of our life story writing can be so dramatic, insightful or "heavy". I don't think any of us could handle being in liminal space all of the time. But I do hope that you experience it sometimes. And when you do, pause and take some time to reflect on what you are going through. It just might lead you to a greater insight and appreciation for your life journey.

Debut of the Babe

July 11, 2016

On this date in 1914 one of the greatest baseball players of all time made his Major League debut.

Babe Ruth debuted as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox

Born George Herman Ruth, but forever immortalized as Babe Ruth, he was a young lad of 19 when he pitched in his first game for the Boston Red Sox. That's right, Babe Ruth the pitcher. Later he would become renowned as a great hitter, the "Sultan of Swat" and the "Great Bambino". But on this day he was a pitcher facing the Cleveland Indians and he lasted seven innings and got the win, 4-3.

He also batted and was 0 for 2.  No matter, the Red Sox weren't looking for an offensive star. They bought him from the Baltimore Orioles early in that summer for his pitching potential. He was a fresh-faced naive kid so his teammates nicknamed him "Babe". Over the next few seasons Ruth was a great pitcher and twice a World Series Champion for Boston. His hitting was also developing, but clearly Red Sox owner Harry Frazee didn't fully appreciate the legend-in-the-making he had when he sold him to the New York Yankees in 1920. The rest, as they say, is history with Ruth becoming a great home run champion and slugger, the Yankees a dynasty, and the Red Sox suffering the "Curse of the Bambino" and not winning another World Series until 2004.

What you may not know about Babe Ruth was the hardship of his youth. He could easily have slipped through the cracks and never had a chance at baseball. He was one of eight children, but only he and a sister survived infancy. He was such a naughty boy who skipped school so much his parents sent him away to an orphanage, St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys. (See This Day in History  and 10 things you didn't know about Babe Ruth for more.)

Clearly not every life story is as remarkable as Babe Ruth's. But the important events of our lives are many and varied. You have a story, too. Have you considered saving it? You can get started with the first step of getting more information on how to begin.

Write, Rest, Revise, Repeat

July 7, 2016

Doing writing on your life story can be tedious. Nevertheless, it is important to stick with it and it is beneficial to have a regular schedule to write. At the very least, you should set some writing appointments. The discipline that results from regular writing sessions will result in more progress than writing when you feel like it.

A warning, however, that obsessing over your writing is not a good idea. Most first and early drafts are not going to be the best writing. That's where revision comes in. And revision comes later, not immediately following a draft. It's important to rest before you revise.

Denis Ledoux of The Memoir Network adressed this  in a recent article, Linger With Your Story - It's a Good Habit to Develop. He makes the point that many people write too fast in the sense that they rush the finished writing process. As a result they often don't get the full story or the depth that they could. Quality of the manuscript suffers.

I like to write, rest, revise and then repeat that process. Eventually you do have to decide that a piece of writing is done. But it might take several revisions. Giving some breathing room between writing and revisions allows you to come back to your writing with "fresh" eyes. That can often give you more insight with your story. You might remember more details. You can add more description and detail. You can make some choices about what more to add, and just as important, what to take out.

When you approach your writing with a plan to write, rest, revise and repeat you will inevitably create richer stories. Give it a try.

Summer Camp Then and Now

July 6, 2016
Summerp Camp
I remember going to summer camp. It was something I did every summer, but there were a few times I got to go. Sometimes it was with the Boy Scouts. Other times it was through a youth or church group. It always was an enjoyable experience and once in a while I get nostalgic about the camping, games, horseback riding, swimming, singing around campfires and telling ghost stories.

Just taking the time to write about a summer camp experience starts to bring up memories. Isn't it interesting how the very act of writing helps with this. If you find it challenging to write about your past you might try some free writing on a topic like the time you went to a summer camp (or a similar experience). Of course, making a Memory List is always a terrific helper.

Apparently there is a growing market for people to revisit the good times of a summer camp experience by going to camp as an adult. These camps offer the nostalgia of a traditional summer camp, but they add some grownup twists. We're not talking "Survivor", but it looks interesting. Sometimes they are called "summer retreats". The business is growing for grownups who long for a getaway, but it's not inexpensive.

An article in The Guardian, Summer camp with an open bar: retreats for stressed-out adults are big business, tells you more about some of the pros and cons of adult summer camps.

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