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Read about quality family history and life story news, views, methods, products, links, services

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

June, 2016

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Your Own Personal Biographer

June 29, 2016

Creating a personal history takes a certain amount of work. There are memories to mine, life experiences to reminisce and reflection on what your life has meant to you and others.

Some people call it memoir, others life story. Or you could consider it your biography. Write it yourself and it is an autobiography. Whatever term you use, the idea of preserving your life in print can be a very good one.

Story Terrace is a service in the UK that does this kind of work. They use the marketing line, "Everyone's personal biographer". I was alerted to their web site recently and I thought Caolan Blaney's article How to Write A Good Biography had many excellent points. It included different approaches to conducting an interview. This is important because people respond differently when being interviewed depending on the reason and their personality.

The article also included some good points about the writing process. Should you hire your own personal biographer you are going to want to be able to confide in that person and trust that they can reveal the you that you want people to know.

If you are considering being interviewed for your life story it is a good idea to put some thought into the kinds of questions you will be asked. Over the years I've gathered a list of questions that are valuable. Not every question is used in every interview and I do prepare my questions after I get an idea of the type of project the client wants. You might want to read The Right Questions to give you more insight into a personal history interview.

Life Vigilance

June 27, 2016

I find it more and more important that we have what I would call life vigilance. We must consider the importance of recognizing how each day we have is special - perhaps even our last day.

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OBITS Documentary Celebrates Lives

June 23, 2016

The New York Times legendary obituary desk has, over the years, churned out an incredible amount of well researched and crafted written obituaries. These obits (as they are known in the industry) are less about death and more about celebrating the lives of the subjects. Many of them are researched for years before the subject actually dies. How do you think they get celebrity obits in the paper so quickly?

A documentary about the NY Times work, OBIT, is showcasing at the AFI DOCS Film Festival, June 22-26, in Washington D.C. I can't attend, but I'll be watching for a chance to see this documentary down the line.

You can view a trailer from Topiary Productions, Inc. here.

Experience Life and Live to Write About It

June 21, 2016

How do we remember all the significant things that happen in our lives? How do we recall what was going on when we were 7, 12, 15, 21, 30, 40, 50, (shudder) 60 and beyond?

I don't have a photographic memory. But I do have a camera in my phone. Most people do nowadays. Back in the day we had to work at taking pictures. You had to bring the camera along and it wasn't quite so instant, unless you were using a Polaroid.

Today we live in a world where the technology gives us instant access to record and share our experiences. This is good and bad. Not everything is "share worthy". But how fantastic that we can quickly preserve and share when we want to and think it is worthwhile.

Tom Gilbert with silly selfie of grandkids June 2016Yesterday my wife and I took our two young grandkids to the local nature center. We hiked around and had a picnic lunch. It was a scorcher here by the afternoon, so it was good that we did it all in the morning.

I journaled about it later in the day. I told the kiddos how much fun I had. We talked about it, I took some pictures, gave it some social media love and hopefully it was memorable for the grandchildren. I know that taking the time to both experience life and taking the time to write about it helps. I have a record of the day and someday in the future maybe it will be part of a bigger story.

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What Dads Like

June 18, 2016

Tomorrow is Father's Day. To all the dads - I salute you! There is no operating manual for being a father, just as there isn't for mothers. It's all trial and error, although we can get tips from others (if you are fortunate, that's your own parents).

Tom Gilbert and familyAs a father of two grown kids and now a grandfather twice over I can tell you what I like about being a dad. I like seeing my kids develop, grow and meet life challenges. I like that they talk to me. I like that I learn from them.

I also like knowing that my wife and I have helped keep a family line going and that through all the ups and downs we've had a great deal of love and enjoyment. I like reminiscing about that, looking at old photographs and sharing those memories.

I came across a thoughtful post about the two sides of fatherhood from John Fischer of "The Catch" (Nice Try, Dad). It's got a religious angle, yes, and also some terrific points such as learning how to trust and showing up, knowing we are less than perfect.

Dad -Tom Gilbert - Red Baron
My dad liked to fly. It's the main reason he joined the Air Force right out of college. He signed up the morning of June 15, 1951 and got married that afternoon. Mom always gave him a hard time that she came after the Air Force.

Dad had quite a few experiences flying bombers and jets in his 26 year career. They even nicknamed him "The Red Baron", which he liked a lot. He passed away in January of 2012. You can read a bit more about him in my tribute, The Pilot Who Flew on Eagles' Wings.

Think about what Dads like and have a Happy Father's Day!

Driving the Band in a Van

June 17, 2016

Every since the beginning of the world, the beginning of time
Somebody said that the road is his, somebody said no it's mine
Some folks are born 'neath the sign on the road, close enough to leave it all behind
Fall together like the Rock of Gibraltar, guitars and drums inside, Ford Econoline

Chuck Prophet's song Ford Econoline is a classic road song. For anyone who has played in a band and had to travel far distances to gigs with all the members and gear stuffed inside a van this song should bring back (fond?) memories. Even though I was never in a band I've done plenty of driving around the country and can relate to the song.

Summertime is here and a lot of people are hitting the open road. Road Warriors all have their tales of traveling the highways and byways. Some of these stories are great material for your life story.

If you know my background as a former radio DJ (1976 - 2008) you maybe aware of some of my adventures in that business. It included a lot of driving, often to concerts to see various music acts. My life itinerary has always included the joy of music and seeing it live when it is done right is pretty much a spiritual experience.

One of the iconic road trips I took was to see the very first US Festival in September of 1982. This very expensive event was held for just two years and was the dream of one of Apple's founders, Steve Wozniak. Big festivals have since become big business (Coachella, Bonnaroo and a myriad others), but in 1982 that wasn't the case.

I drove from Albuquerque to the Bernalillo, California concert site, across the desert and alone with a bunch of cassettes and little money. I was the night jock for Rock 108 KFMG at the time and the trip was part vacation and part "I'll do reports back to the station from this historic event". That's how I convinced the station to buy my tickets for the three day huge concert that included groups like the Police, Talking Heads, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Santana, the Kinks, Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac (to name but a few of the artists).

It was a long three days with me sleeping in my car and meeting a lot of "new" friends and doing what people do at big rock concerts. Neither I nor my radio station was connected enough to get me press credentials and a place to stay, so I roughed it. But it had a lasting effect on me, most of which was positive.

I really love Chuck Prophet and his songwriting is very gifted. In his song Ford Econoline he evokes the spirit of traveling in a van, without much money, but enjoying the ride. And he flashes back on those times with a jovial reminiscence. More of the lyrics include this appropriate-to-personal-history verse:

Crisscross the country in a two-tone job, it was a 1985
Mile after mile it was burning oil, we couldn't keep it alive
Laid out flatter than a Chinese rug, when she went her way I went mine
Oh all these memories like dirty plates, stacked up in the sink of time
Ford Econoline!

Gun Violence Again - What Can Be Done?

June, 13, 2016

I am saddened by yet another horrific episode of killing through gun violence. A nightclub in Orlando, Florida where 50 people were shot dead and more than that many injured by a man who chose to take the lives of people.

Bad things happen in the world. That is a given. And it seems that gun violence is almost common place. Mass killings should not be common! I can say the same for hate. 

Good things also happen. Somehow good even comes out of bad, out of the evil of a mass killing. People are now helping comfort those who are suffering from the loss of loved ones. People gave blood in Orlando, many waiting hours to do so. Vigils are being held around the country. Compassion is coming forward to plant its flag in the middle of this cruel battlefield of gun violence.

Maybe you are struggling with this and wondering what can be done. I know I am. It is not simply guns and gun violence that is the problem. It is the problem of evil, the evil that kills, whether physically or emotionally. I wrote an article today about having an awareness of the sometimes fragile thing we call life. Life Vigilance is a call to living one day at a time with a real appreciation for our daily gift.

Writing about the importance of life is one thing. Doing something that specifically addresses moving forward from gun violence and trying to make the world a better and safer place is more important. PEACE TALKS RADIO had a program nearly two years ago that is very timely and I encourage you give Working for Peace after Gun Violence a listen.

Goo Goo Dolls - Boxes
(A Song Reflection)

June 10, 2016

The Goo Goo Dolls, a pop-rock band that has been around for many years has a new song that speaks to the subject of friends and memories. It's a good song and helps to remind us the importance of preserving some personal history.

Goo Goo Dolls "Boxes""Boxes" includes the lyrics: "We'll have tiny boxes for memories / Open them up and we'll set them free / There'll be bad days and some hard times / But I'll keep your secrets, if you keep mine"

Maybe that last line doesn't sound like there's a sharing. But I see beyond that. Yes, certain intimate times together demand privacy and "secrets", if you will. The knowledge that we hold some private things between us, guarded secrets, can also mean there is great trust and friendship. And preserving and sharing our memories, including the ones we don't keep hidden or tucked away, reminds us of the journey we've shared.

The song goes on to sing in the chorus: "You are the memory that won't ever lapse / When twenty-five years have suddenly passed / Wherever you take me, it's clear I will go / Your love's the one love that I need to know / Your love's the one love that I need to know"

Reflecting on songs that speak to me of life and insight, love, loss, joy and gain are important to me when I consider my own life story. Perhaps that is true for you. The songwriter, like the poet, has a keen insight and a way of expressing truths that we need to hear and share.

There's Magic in Your Story

June 9, 2016

The best way we learn anything...or for that matter, teach through storytelling.

Telling stories uses our imagination and engages our senses. It is a powerful way to convey lessons, values and experiences. From "Winnie the Pooh" to the "Trojan Horse", there is magic in stories that is very powerful. And that magic is in your story too!

Whenever I have written about a significant event in my life I have found relaying the experience in story form is always more impactful, both for me and for those who read the story. Two of the most profound examples are separate stories about my parents when they died. In Opening Death's Door I recount how spending the final week with my dying mother drew our family closer together and also showed us how much dignity can be exhibited in the very painful and intimate experience of death.

When my father passed away a few years later I wrote about his tough and soft sides, including a harrowing Vietnam air mission that planted seeds for his spiritual conversion (see The Pilot Who Soared on Eagles Wings).

Storytelling can be magical and you can find the magic in your own life story. Read how Personal Historians do this with an APH blog post by APH member Marjorie Turner Hollman (Finding the 'Story Magic' in Our Work).

New Mexico Primary and my primary duty

June 7, 2016

We live in a democracy with the opportunity to elect our representatives. This is not to be taken lightly, despite the objections and criticisms we have of the "system". Yes, it is not perfect. But we do get a voice.

The final primaries of this election year are upon us. A big one in California today. Also in my state of New Mexico. I cast my vote this morning and I feel good about my civic duty, what you could call my primary duty for today. It's important, even if I am not thrilled with what appears to be our eventual Presidential candidates for the general election in November.

As far as how this relates to our life stories, consider the various elections you have lived through. Do you recall your first time you voted? What memories and associated feelings come to you from that time? Have your political views evolved or changed over time?

Apathy is the enemy of many a thing. We should participate in society, not just on the large national or global stage, but in our local communities and neighborhoods. A truth I hold self-evident is that we are all part of community. We should not live in isolation. This means respecting the rights of others, of all people, and to remember that how I want to be treated is how I should treat others. That rule has been golden for centuries and is as important as ever in the often contentious time we live in.

Muhammad Ali - Three Time Heavyweight Boxing Champ and Social Activist 

June 4, 2016

He battled opponents and won the Heavyweight boxing crown three times. Brash, poetic and a bigger than life personality, Muhammad Ali (once known as Cassius Clay), he had battled Parkinson's for years and had been hospitalized this week for respiratory problems. Now the self proclaimed "Greatest" has died at the age of 74.

Ali certainly left a big legacy. He was not only a legend in the ring, he spoke out against racism, was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and was memorable when he surprised the world by lighting the torch at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta even though he was shaking from the effects of Parkinson.

This yet another titan who has passed away this year. You can find an abundance of tributes and news stories online, including this CNN report.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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