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© Tom Gilbert

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July, 2020

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Longtime Jeopardy Host Alex Trebek Releases Memoir

July 28, 2020

Alex Trebek Jeopardy Host MemoirMany people have enjoyed watching the television game show Jeopardy. It is the type of game show you can play along with at home, shouting out your "what is...?" questions to the various category "answers".  It tests your knowledge on a wide variety of things. One of the benefits is that you can actually learn something. As a lifelong learner and current educator that is something I love.

Much love has been shown the past year for the longtime Jeopardy host Alex Trebek who has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He's been open about his treatment and both brave and vulnerable about his prospects. That is also something I love, for he is showing others how to face such a challenge with dignity and grace.

Trebek has just released his memoir, aptly titled The Answer Is...Reflections on My Life. This USA Today article tells you more.

Rolland Love Memoir Has Hilarious Insights Into Ozark Living

July 22, 2020
Rolland Love Born Dead on a Winter's Night
I have known Rolland Love for over eight years. I actually met him through this life story website. He's a very interesting, funny and caring man who promotes others preserving life stories. But he also does a lot more than that. He's an avid fisherman, historian and writer. Many of my past students fell in love with our classroom reading of some of his books, such as The Blue Hole.

Rolland Love patterns a lot of his stories about the wilds of the Ozarks on his own life experiences. In his memoir, Born Dead on a Winter's Night, he has some pretty hilarious escapades. Messing around in the barn with his brother (kids don't try it at home!), fighting the varmints that kept invading the family garden, or dealing with the challenges of using an outhouse. He's been posting some excerpts free on his Facebook page. Check it out.

Writers like Rolland Love show us that their own life experiences can bring us laughter, joy and a shared understanding of how we can go through life facing obstacles and challenges while embracing the journey.

John Lewis, Humble Titan of Civil Rights

July 19, 2020

Congressman and civil rights titan John LewisJohn Lewis lived a good life and fought the good fight. He was a titan of civil rights, one of the original young African-Americans taking a stand against Jim Crow Laws in the South in the 1960s.

John Lewis died on Friday, July 17 at the age of 80 from pancreatic cancer. He fought that, too, and even in the late stages of the disease he was still actively engaged in promoting civil liberties. The resurgence of the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and others this year was something he was proud to support.

John Lewis served as a congressman from the state of Georgia for over 30 years. Former President Barack Obama said he stood on the shoulders of John Lewis, and rightly so, as Lewis, like Martin Luther King, Jr and other freedom fighters, was courageous and relentless in his pursuit of a more just America for all people. He was recognized as a leader at an early age and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington and in 1964 was heavily involved in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Non violent protesting wasn't something he just gave lip service to. He lived it, perhaps best illustrated by his leadership of 600 orderly and peaceful protestors for voting rights across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. Alabama state troopers brutalized them in an event known as "Bloody Sunday".

The Congressman's official government website has a bio that speaks to his dedication and determination over the years. You can also find numerous stories online paying tribute to this great, yet humble man. I have been moved by reading many of them testifying to his words and actions. Just this morning there was a wonderful piece on CBS Sunday Morning about John Lewis and they included an earlier interview with him standing at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Some people believe a fitting tribute to him would be to rename the bridge in his name. I agree.

A timely documentary about the man, John Lewis: Good Trouble, has just been released.

Here's a wonderful quote from John Lewis about legacy: “Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation. What legacy do you want to leave behind?”

The 10,000 Conversations Man

July 17, 2020

Rob Lawless, 10K FriendsRob Lawless is a young man who is doing something bordering on a lost art. He is the founder of Robs10KFriends and his mission is to have one hour conversations with 10,000 people. Ten thousand strangers, mind you, that he endeavors to meet and sit with them and mostly listen.

Almost none of us does that anymore. Hardly anyone has the patience for a conversation that long and certainly not with someone we just met.

Why is Rob Lawless doing this? His answer is that it is a truly meaningful way to live his life. It has become his fulltime job. He loves the sense of community he had in college. He worked for a while as a financial consultant, but deep down he desired to find a way to really get to know others and to help them if he can. He calls his one hour encounters a conversation and likens it to two old friends catching up who just haven't met yet.

He loves doing it and has been on his quest since 2015. With the coronavirus he is now doing the interviews remotely, but for years he would meet the people in person, take a picture, and sit and get to know them. He says he is just opening the door to a possible new friendship. He is not recording the conversation, there are no notes and he's not working from a list of questions.

On an interview program (The Debrief) he was asked more about the process. Most of the people he meets randomly and some of them have become friends. He says there is no forced agenda or structure, simply two people spending an hour together and getting to know each other. He has learned a lot from doing this, especially to be more grateful for the life he has and a wider appreciation of the various paths that people are on. What a remarkable project!

I personally find when I am interviewing people for their life stories that just listening closely and having a real conversation is a much better way to go about the process of gathering information for their stories. It makes it more relaxed and real.

Discover more about Rob Lawless and his fascinating project at Robs10KFriends. Be sure to check out his blog and also the great press he is receiving. I applaud what he is doing to help make people's interactions more purposeful and meaningful.

The Power of Perseverance

July 15, 2020

Overcoming any life challenge takes perseverance. A recent news story illustrates this in a powerful way.

Rehan Staton is just 24, but he has had his share of struggles. When he was just 8 his mother left his family and then his father lost his main job. His dad ended up working various jobs, sometimes three at a time, to help make ends meet for Rehan and his older brother.

School wasn't Rehan's thing and he had a tough time in middle school. But he turned to boxing and did very well, winning numerous competitions until a rotator cuff injury ended that activity. They didn't have insurance to cover the cost of recovering and that put Rehan in a funk. He'd dreamed that his ticket out of poverty was to go pro.

Fortunately he had others rally around him and help him. Even when his grades were not strong enough to get into any college he didn't give up. He went to work at a sanitation company in Maryland. He impressed the company with his commitment and effort. The owner's son went to bat for him and helped him get into Bowie State University. Rehan applied himself and even continued working early morning and late afternoon trash collection shifts while earning a 4.0 grade point average.

The struggles continued, but so did the perseverance. The outcome is that Rehan Staton applied for law school and was accepted at a number of prestigious universities including Harvard. This story has gone viral. He was even on the Today Show (story here) this week.

The power of perseverance can and does pay off as illustrated by this inspirational story. I am excited to see what is ahead for Rehan Staton and I believe his story can help others who are facing tough circumstances. I am reminded how important it is to not give up, but also to let others help you on your journey.

Jim Bouton, Ball Four Author, Gets Biography

July 11, 2020

I've been a baseball fan all my life. As a kid I played organized ball and also stickball in the streets with the neighborhood kids. Baseball to me is the greatest sport.

At the same time I have come to understand that professional baseball, like other professional sports, is a business and that a game designed to generate large sums of money isn't the same thing as chasing fly balls down on a little league field. The reality of that in this summer of Covid 19 puts a whole new spin on the ball. We "might" have a 60 game season starting in a couple of weeks if enough players stay healthy.

Jim Bouton, author and baseball pitcherNevertheless, I still love baseball. But I also love life and admire people who care about living lives full of passion and purpose. Even better if they are willing to put their thoughts, ideas and opinions on paper. Jim Bouton was a major league pitcher who was also thoughtful and willing to stick to his opinions. Ball Four was the greatest baseball book I ever read. Hilarious and insightful. Really much more than a sports book.

It's been 50 years since it was originally published. Bouton updated it a few times over the years. He was outspoken and that definitely ruffled some feathers. The Yankees never did invite him to any Oldtimers games. But he was also somebody who spoke his truth and a lot of sports writers enjoyed interviewing him back in his playing days.

Bouton passed away a year ago (July 10, 2019), but he left his mark. A just published biography by Mitchell Nathanson, Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original, delves into the backstory of Ball Four. Reportedly it also gives us a much greater insight into the Bouton who granted Nathanson multiple interviews and instructed him to try to be as honest as he was when writing about baseball. I haven't read it yet, but it sounds like a worthwhile book for those of us who appreciated Bouton's off-beat and on-point look at life and America's pasttime at a time when there was a lot of change happening, the turbulent and trippy 1960's. One can only speculate what Bouton might have thought about the summer of 2020.

Memoir and Imagination

July 7, 2020

Memoir has been defined as factual stories about someone's life. Further, it is considered a writing form that covers a specific aspect of the writer's life. This gives the writer a freedom to better explore the themes that have been influential in their life. Unlike an autobiography that follows a chronological timeline a memoir might take a particular period of life and focus on challenges faced and lessons learned.

I find that more liberating. Facts and details are still important, but reasons, motivation and purpose also come into play. But how important is it to be truthful?

The truth in your memoir is important, even vital. Stretching the truth to the point of fiction moves a memoir into the territory of novel. Presenting a novel as the truth can land a writer into some hot water as James Frey, author of the best-selling A Million Little Pieces discovered when he first passed off his story as memoir and later was caught up in a scandal when it was discovered much of it was fabricated. The book has since been marketed as a semi-fictional novel. See the Wikipedia article for more.

Jim Carrey, the comedian who parlayed his funnyman persona and antics into a successful movie career, has just released a memoir of sorts, Memoirs and Misinformation. He states from the beginning that the story, co-authored with Dana Vachon, is a novel. Carrey is the protaganist facing his fantasies and demons as a movie star still seeking ultimate meaning and success beyond dollars and adoration. It is based on much of his life and sounds pretty entertaining.

Mixing fact and fiction certainly can be entertaining and clever. But caution should be exercised if your goal with a memoir is to present a truthful life story. Does everything you write have to be perfectly factual? I don't think so. After all, memory can be selective and sometimes we can't remember every detail with precision. However, it does seem to me important that you aren't deliberately distorting things, especially for ulterior motives.

I believe memoir can be a valuable journey of discovery. Your truth is what you honestly discover and present to your reader. Using your imagination to enhance the story and make it more readable should be acceptable. Just don't stretch the facts beyond what really happened.  Too much imagination and you no longer have your story. 

If you are contemplating writing a memoir, or have already begun the process, keep in mind that this will take real work and time. But it can be done. I have frequently found inspiration and detailed help from the many articles and resources presented by The Memoir Network.

Calling Forth A Different Kind of 4th of July

July 4, 2020

Independence Day 2020. But clearly this is not a typical 4th of July. This year we are dealing with one challenge after another. The pandemic fallout affects us socially, economically, physically, mentally, emotionally, and it appears even politically.

Time to focus on more than hot dogs, flags and fireworks.

If we are to be the United States of America then it takes a group effort. Diversity means that not all is the same. We can celebrate some differences and find strength in pulling from different perspectives.

But we must not let our differences divide us so that we don't work together to finally help bring about the ideals upon which our nation was founded.  

It is good that we are raising awareness along with raising American flags. Action needs to follow, the kind of action that results in more caring for each other and more helping each other. It should be apparent that requires sacrifices. It means we don't take advantage of others for our personal gain. Anyone who is against a vision of equal rights regardless of race, creed, gender or human dignity does not represent the vision of a country that is supposed to uphold self-evident truths that we are all entitled to liberty and a pursuit of happiness.

It's getting late, but it is not too late to call forth a different kind of 4th.

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