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"Your Life is Your Story" Blog Archives
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Your "Scary" Story
It is Halloween, a holiday dedicated to spookiness and scary stuff, as
well as treats like candy. People dress up in costume and you can
celebrate being "someone else".
One of the traditions of this day is to tell or hear "ghost" stories
and other tales that are scary. We are intrigued by the otherwordly and
this time of year there are certain celebrations or occasions to honor
and remember those who've passed on - died and gone on to whatever is
next. Mexico and Latin America recognize Dia de los Muertos, the the Day of the Dead or "All
Souls Day". Christians have "All Saints Day" on November 1 and moved it
to this time of year as a response to the pagan festivities of
Halloween (All Hallows Eve).
Does your family have ghost stories they retell? Perhaps you've worked
somewhere that is considered "haunted". Billie Frank, Santa Fe Insider
Travel Examiner, shares her story of working at a
hotel in Santa Fe that is supposedly visited by the ghost of a nun who
lived there when the Sister's of Loretto had a Catholic girl's school
on the grounds. Many people have commented about the mysterious
presence of Sister George.
Those scary stories can be interesting, amusing and engaging to share.
But I am also thinking today about those parts of our story - our past
- that we fear to share or even investigate. Some of that
past may not be appropriate to share, but when you are writing your
memoir or life story those things that you have fear about are often
important to investigate. Where has fear held you back? And
what are the circumstances when you face up to your fears? What
happened? How did your life change when you took a path through the
fear (not around it)?
it was a childhood fear of the dark or something under your bed - or a
greater fear of the unknown such as facing a difficult illness or
taking on a new career - recalling those "scary" stories and recording
them in your life story can be important. Now, perhaps many years
later, you have perspective. You can see how you grew when you faced up
to your fears. You can see how those experiences help you face new
fears. And sharing this part of your story can be helpful to others who
are facing similar fearful situations.
Cooking His Dad's Last Meal
It can be great when family members who've been estranged eventually
get together again. A particularly poignant tale about renowned chef
Thomas Keller preparing his father's last meal is a case in point.
Ed Keller was a towering former Marine drill sergeant and apparently
quite the character. Father and son reunited after decades apart and
"Big Ed" would show up at one of Thomas' restaurant to regale staff and
customers with stories. Unfortunately, a car
accident broke his neck and left him a paraplegic. He wasn't
expected to live more than a couple of months. But the son, along with
his longtime companion, provided for him and the medical care he needed.
Thomas Keller, one of the world's great chefs, fixed his father's
favorite meal of barbecued chicken and a lovely strawberry shortcake
with a shot of Grand Marnier, one last time in the spring of 2008. The
next night his father passed. The New
York Times Story, What the Last Meal Taught Him, has the touching details.
Getting It "On the Record"
It is one thing to have great stories to share with family and friends.
Many of us hear them at gatherings and often they get better with time
and the re-telling. But if the "authors" of those stories die without
the stories being preserved (orally, written down on video) we usually
lose them. At the very least we lose the "first-hand" telling.
The local paper here in Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Journal,
published an article about personal historians and preserving the
It appeared in this month's Mature
Life magazine (here). Rick Nathanson spoke with a
historians in New Mexico, including myself and Genevieve Russell of StoryPortrait Media.
It is gratifying to see media coverage grow about life story capture
and preserving your personal and family history. Those of us working in
this field continue to educate the public about what we do and why. The
opportunity to work with a professional to finally save your stories is
now greater than ever.
Where you live certainly has an influence on your life - and your life
story. Over the years I've lived in many houses. This was especially
true growing up. Dad was in the Air Force and we moved frequently when
young. We inhabitated our share of base houses, but also had some times
living off-base. Sometimes this was because there weren't any houses on
the Air Force base available and we'd be on the waiting list. Other
times it was because Dad was deployed so we lived with the "civilians".
Base houses are built in blocks and like track houses are neighborhoods
of pretty much the same structure, look and size. Military dependents
have their own culture and as kids we'd all relate to moving around a
lot. It made it difficult to create longlasting friendships, but most
of us kids were also pretty resilient and quick to make new friends.
Some people have had the experience of growing up in one house for
their entire childhood. Maybe there were multiple generations in the
house. This provides a center of family history ready to be mined. We
can learn a lot about our personal history by the houses we lived in.
Here's an interesting article from the Muscatine Journal about a big home built in 1896 that was
recently saved from the wrecking ball - and just in the nick of time.
An enjoyable short personal history book by Sharon Melton Lippincott, The Albuquerque Years - My Life
As a Preschooler, includes significant
details about the modest home she and her family lived in when she was
a little girl. She recalls the layout, the various rooms, what the
outside was like and ties memories to it. She even includes sketches of
the floor plan as she remembers them. I think writing about where you
lived and what those abodes were like are great ways to spark memories
and make for good content in your story. Find out more about Sharon
Lippincott at her The Heart and Craft of Life Writing site.
Happy day after National Day on Writing!
Somehow it flew below my radar (maybe I'd better get my radar checked),
but I discovered today
was National Day on
Writing. The day was initiated as such by the National Council of Teachers of
English (NCTE) to encourage more writing (more here). That's always a good thing. You can visit the National Gallery of Writing, an online repository of writing created
to accompany the special day. The United States Congress also got into
act and officially declared October 20, 2009 as the innaugural National
Day on Writing.
Thanks to an email from NAMW
- The National Association of Memoir Writers - I found out
about this special day. Granted I didn't know until this morning when I
checked my email. Monday was a blur of activity and I didn't get online
much. But, Better late than never. The NAMW encourages you to write your
story and to write from your heart and I heartily agree. Personal
historians who specialize in life story capture are typically lovers of
the written word. I certainly count myself in that category.
The official day may have passed, but everyday is a good day to write.
If you haven't yet, go ahead and start. Write a poem, a short story, an
essay, or a speech. Write in your journal. Heck, write an email!
Putting words together is a useful skill and you might find you have a
knack for it. As Linda Joy Myers, President & Founder of NAMW
shares, "Writing is a way to know ourselves better, to live twice, to
savor all over again the life we are living and have lived. It can also
be healing, inspiring, and spiritually uplifting."
Ok, I know it's been a week since my last entry. Things have been quite
busy and I'm going through "blog withdrawal". However, amidst all of my
activity was the Duke
City Half Marathon I ran on Sunday. Those of you
who visit on a regular basis know this has been in support of cancer
research. Team in Training is the organization that I trained
raised money for the Leukemia
& Lymphoma Society. I highly
recommend them to anyone who wants to try an endurance event, such as
running or walking a half or full marathon, cycling, triathlons and
more. Great people and a great cause.
During the run on a beautiful Autumn day in Albuquerque I thought
frequently about why I was doing the run. I ran in memory of those
who've battled cancer. Rob, my brother-in-law, died of Leukemia in
1989. My mom passed from pancreatic cancer in June of 2006. And my best
high school friend's brother succumbed to Leukemia in March of this
year. Yes, cancer claims lives. But progress is also being made thanks
to the fundraising through such organizations as Team in Training.
I also thought about the great stories of triumph. Many keep up the
fight against their cancer and endure great hardship and they inspire
us. Mike McCarthy
is one of them. He was diagnosed with chornic
lymphocytic leukemia in 2000 and has dealt with many rounds of
treatment. He's been in remission and he runs quite well. He's even
done the fabled Boston Marathon. He's about my age and I never met him
before joining Team in Training three years ago. We got to talking and
discovered we both went to High School in Upstate New York and both ran
cross country. Turns out we probably ran in some of the same meets for
our respective schools. Talk about your "small world"!
Our race on Sunday was also dedicated to the memory of Michelle
Duesterhaus Tang. She was a dear friend of our running
She recently lost her battle to cancer - in fact, just one week before
our race on October 10. I hope you read her obituary - here. But know that her story is
even bigger because of the way she lived, her dignity in her disease
and the inspiration she gave others.
This is the lesson of this blog posting. Live life with gratitude for
each day. Live it fully. Don't squander your precious moments. Share
your amazing journey and memories. You have a story to tell and your
family, friends - even the world - wants to know it!
As I was on my morning run I got thinking about my WQ. It's what I
refer to as my Willingness Quotient. Like many people I sometimes have
trouble getting started on projects. Or continuing to make progress.
The key to getting into action for me is often finding the willingness
How do you generate this? Is there a special formula?
Well, I can't say there is a magic bullet. But experience has taught me
that if I just start doing whatever activity I am supposed to I often
find that I get involved and motivated. The action spurs me on - this
is especially true with writing. But getting started is hard. When it
is I find it important to gauge my WQ. If I'm having
trouble finding the willingness I remind myself that it only takes a
little bit to rev me up.
Regarding your life story work - set small goals. Do something for your
project on a regular basis. Measure your progress. Remind yourself how
good it feels to have recorded or written about a special memory. And
be assured that your willingness will create action - and action feeds
results. And if you need a coach, consultant, motivator or ghost writer
consider the many benefits. Personal historians like to do this kind of
work and we will keep you on track and even help you find some
willingness to keep going.
Sometimes is just comes down to being willing to be willing.
APH 2009 Annual Conference
year's Association of Personal Historians annual conference will
be held on October 21-25, 2009 at the Radisson Hotel-Valley Forge/King
of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
I would love to be there, but circumstances are such that I will not be
this year. However, I am watching the preparations through the email
exchange and social media activity of the APH members. It is
always a great event and if you are someone interested in working in
the field of personal history you would find it very advantageous to
Since it is just a little over a week till the event you would want to
finalize your travel plans and register for the event. I promise to
pass along some news as I get it from attendees.
For more information, go to the conference page on the APH site.
What's the Wiki on Personal Historians?
The term personal historian is still one that raises eyebrows when I
tell people I am one. But once I get talking and explaining about life
story capture most think it is a great idea and occupation.
I came across a WikiAnswers
to "What do you need to do to become a
personal historian?" and it includes some excellent insights (here).
Personal Historians work in a number of ways. There are lots of options
from books to video to websites and more.
It wasn't hard to be inspired for my morning run today. The Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is underway
and there were many
colorful balloons to see as I ran 3.5 miles.
My shoes are getting a bit ragged. I've logged easily a couple of
hundred miles with them since signing up five months ago with Team in Training to fundraise
for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I
will run a half-marathon on October 18 here in Albuquerque. And it is
good to once again be helping to fight blood cancers.
battle against cancer is fought on many fronts. Most people know
someone who has cancer. I was touched today via email. A fellow
personal historian is currently battling breast cancer. I don't
personally know Susan T. Hessel. But I see her posts to the Association
of Personal Historians (APH)
ListServe. And I visited her poignant and
often hilarious blog where she writes about her life, her cancer, and
most recently about her "advance directive" (the next step in a living
will). She will be on the PBS show Now
this weekend - from an interview she did speaking on the subject of
advance directives (more here). She is an inspiration
and it confirms to me once again the
quality of human being that is attracted to life story work. Surf over
to her "Pinky Pie" blog.
Where the Boomers are Retiring
Fall is in the air and the migratory pattern of geese and other birds
is such that you may likely be seeing them flying overhead. The
migratory pattern for retiring Baby Boomers is the gist of an article
It seems that much of the affluent segment of now-and-future retirees
want a place in the country. The highrise in an urban center is not for
them. They want scenic vistas, places to roam and the pace of small
town life to enjoy their golden years.
Researchers are predicting that by 2020 the population of 55- to
75-year-olds in rural areas will nearly double from 2000, swelling to
more than 14.2 million. This can mean opportunity for those who will
cater to them in the country. It also means small towns will need to
keep up their medical facilities as well as preparing for a growing
involvement from the largest demographic in our American society.
With school back in full swing here's an idea that I'd like to see more
schools and centers of education consider: a history of their school.
This type of project could take a variety of shapes. A class could do
it as a project and focus on their class over the years, or a group of
classmates could reminisce about their experience at a school. Schools
could tell the story of how they came into existence and where the
future is leading them. Colleges adn Universities might be bigger and
more sophisticated histories. But the little school house down the
road, or the history of a growing school district would be very
different. Lots of ideas (spurred on by a discussion from some fellow Association of Personal Historian members).