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© Tom  Gilbert

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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.

A Year for 2020 Vision

June 29, 2020
A Year for 2020 Vision
2020 has become the “Year of the Pandemic”. But the trials and tribulations brought about by the worldwide Covid 19 virus are only part of the story.

Unrest over racial injustice, police brutality, economic inequality, a struggle for civil rights for all and the very welfare of our planet in the face of ongoing climate change consequences are putting “pain and obstacles” right in our face.

Never in my lifetime have we had a year with so much upheaval. Yes, some of these problems have been around for a long time, but it appears that it’s coming to a head. We may not want to see it. It can be hard to look at the truth of what needs to change and what needs to be done. But we ignore it at our own peril. Thus the sage saying, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

How ironic that this is all happening this year. 2020 vision is the term for visual acuity, the clarity or sharpness of vision measured at 20 feet. If you have 20-20 vision you don’t need corrective lenses. You have good eyesight. This year we really need to see clearly.

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Fateful Feedback From Foo Fighters Father

June 25, 2020

This is a followup to Father's Day. I came across an essay written by Dave Grohl, the musician (drummer with Nirvana, guitarist/frontman, et al for the band Foo Fighters) where he delves honestly and openly into his sometimes frustrating relationship with his father. As a rebellious punk rocker kid he gave his more conservative dad some difficult times.

His father, James Harper Grohl, was an award-winning journalist with many other talents. He was a sometimes actor and a classically trained musician. He was also quite conservative. And they had some difficulty over the years communicating. Man, I could really relate to the essay

In reading it my own challenges talking with my father came to mind. He was also conservative, highly intelligent and a rockstar Air Force bomber and fighter jet pilot. We had a few clashes. But mostly we just had a hard time communicating. I really wanted to have some honest and nurturing conversations with my dad. That admittedly was probably hard for my dad to see given my often rebellious attitude.

My pop passed in 2012, but something from Dave Grohl's essay struck me - reminded me - that my dad did eventually reach out and "talk" in a richer and deeper way. It was just that the talking was through letters and emails. We never did have the face-to-face, heart-to-hearts. But the writing, all after my mom passed away in 2006, was thoughtful, supportive and encouraging, in the best way that my father could do that.

In Grohl's essay he relates how his father didn't think Dave would amount to anything as a rebel rocker. Until Dave wrote an achingly powerful, tear-stained note to his father that brought about a newfound respect from his dad and made an opening for a relationship that eventually grew in depth and love. He got the validation he was seeking and it came in the form of a few simple, written words, a response to Dave's angry "I'm leaving home and I'll show you!" note.

His father wrote, "Your writing has punch, David. Punch is power!" As Dave relates, it was validation, much needed as a "fledgling writer" and aspiring music artist.

We all need to hear encouragement and honest feedback from our parents. We need it from our families, from teachers, from mentors and even from our critics. It is something I've personally valued. It is something that I hope I am doing for others as well.


Faith of Fathers 2020

June 20, 2020

"Teach your parents well, their father's hell will slowly go by
And feed them with your youth, they seek the truth before they die"
-- Crosby, Stills and Nash

Let's face it, Father's Day, like virtually every holiday or significant calendar date since March, is different this year. Different because we are dealing with so many impactful situations, from the coronavirus to renewed calls to reform systemic racism and the protection of the rights of all people regardless of race, color, creed or gender.

What does it mean to be a father this year? It's a question I am asking myself. And my answer is to double down on the values I hold dear. I can't hold those values without a faith that it all matters and is part of Something Bigger.

The great life lesson happening this year is that we are continuing to face struggles and persecution. We are continuing to grapple with what it means to be members of a society and caretakers of our common home (planet Earth). And we are learning how to not give up in the face of adversity.

We are in this together. Sticking to a self-centered viewpoint or living only to take care of "number one" just doesn't cut it.

I am so grateful for fatherhood. Somehow, despite my many shortcomings, I see with pride how my children have grown into responsible and loving adults. I know there are many factors that have contributed to this result. I am just a part of a much bigger picture.

One of the things we all need to do is extend some grace and forgiveness to each other. We all make mistakes. Making amends - that is, mending our ways - is part of that. I know there are things I could have done better. I don't wallow in remorse. Instead I commit to do better. Remember, when you know better then your responsibility is to do better.

Thank you to all the fathers. Thank you to their fathers, and the fathers before them. Thank you for the rest of the family and friends who help us on our way.


Lifting Voices on Juneteenth

June 19 2020
Google Doodle Juneteenth
It has become more and more apparent to me, a second career elementary school teacher, that much of what I was taught in my young schooling was skewed to perspectives that favor the historical "ruling class". And every year I learn more from digging deeper into our past so that I can become better educated to the truth.

How can anyone teach someone unless they first do some of their own learning? The education of white people to the reality of our controversial history is not the responsibility of our brothers and sisters of other skin tones. I thank them, however, for continuing to raise their voices.

Juneteenth is an independence day for African-Americans. The United States marked its independence as a new nation on July 4, 1776. But that was declaring independence of colonists from England. The time honored document containing this declaration stated, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is apparent to anyone who cares to find out that it unfortunately did not include African-American slaves, just as it also didn't really encompass the Creator-endowed rights of Native Americans, children or women.

It is shameful that it is taking so long for enough of society to awaken to this truth and do something about it. Yet there is great hope in the lifting of so many voices in this most trying year. It just goes to show that it takes a lot of collective calamity to shake and wake us up.

Today I am educating myself further about Juneteenth and what it means. That is necessary so that I can be a better facilitator of learning for the young people I teach. If you are not familiar with the historical event, June 19, 1865 was when  Union soldiers brought news to the enslaved in Galveston, Texas that they had been emancipated, a proclamation made by President Abraham Lincoln two and a half years earlier. News traveled slowly through the South (and certainly was surpressed by slave owners) and it was two months after General Lee surrendered his Confederate forces and the Civil War came to an end.

Here are some things I've come across so far today as part of my awakening.

The emancipation of slaves was long overdue. The reality of treating African-Americans with the dignity, freedom, respect and rights that all citizens of the United States are entitled to is even longer overdue. If anyone wonders why there is still so much unrest and protesting going on then consider the 400 year plus struggle against systemic racism. Read the words of Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson. First a poem, and then put to music, it is considered the Black National Anthem.

I read an article by Jelani Cobb for The New Yorker. His profound comments address the need for self-reflection about the evil of slavery. Juneteenth may be a celebration of freedom for African-Americans, but for whites it needs to be a time of honest recognition of our country's sin. Oppression of people - any people - is wrong and must be opposed.

Google created a doodle to mark the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. You can see stories about it all over the Internet, including this CNN story. Good for Google. But they don't have a long history of marking this event. This year they, like so many other companies and organizations, have been stirred into doing something. There is a wonderful video about it that features commentary by the artist Loveis Wise and narrator LeVar Burton along with Angelica McKinley, Project Art Director for the GoogleDoodle Team. 

Keep learning, keep lifting your voice, tell your stories and do it in a way that contributes our collective betterment.|


Summertime at the Mall

June 15, 2020

I was at a local shopping mall here in Albuquerque today and it brought back a flood of memories.

Keep in mind that getting out and about and around crowds is still largely discouraged during this Covid 19 pandemic. So my actions are not condoning that. Have a true purpose and get it done is kind of my motto right now.

Nevertheless, I did need to make a trip to this mall. There is a local custom t-shirt printing shop there and I needed a couple of shirts for a gift. The shirts have a cool car design a friend of mine put together. So I went to the mall, placed the order with the artwork, and was told to return in an hour.

There was no sense in heading back home so I spent the time walking around and people watching. It reminded me of my youth. In the 1970-s  and 80-s shopping malls were a big deal. Not so much for the shopping or purchases. More for the hanging out and the teenage version of people watching. That pretty much translated to looking at pretty girls.

Shopping malls have had their ups and downs. You can read an interesting article about that courtesy of Smithsonian magazine. The Transformation of the American Shopping Mall relates the evolution many malls have gone through. True enough, some retailers, many of them big names, are suffering. And sometimes malls become something other than a destination for shopping, such as churches or places of higher learning.

But what I saw again today was that there is mostly a lot of walking around with places to order something to eat or drink (we all know the food courts). But the 2020 version of mall visiting included the mostly ubiquitous face covering and reminders to social distance.

The experience was nostalgic. I remember how my younger brother and I went through the phase of walking several feet behind our mom when we had to accompany her to the mall. This was the early teen "just not cool to be seen with your mom" phase.

I've lived in a lot of different places around the USA, so I've seen my share of shopping malls. Some had outdoor parts (San Diego and Tampa) and others were practically theme parks (the Mall of America). Although not a huge part of my personal history they do have their place. Today was a nice trip down memory lane and an interesting opportunity to reflect on what it was like then and is like now.


Perspective From Arielle Nobile About Belonging in the USA

June 9, 2020

There is so much going on right now and many people are saying ABOUT TIME!

The stories are not new. And that is part of the problem. The perspective of many white people, myself included, as not been enlightened enough. Even when we want equal rights and support #BLACKLIVESMATTER we have to face up to the truth about white privilege and the history of systemic racism in the United States.

Years ago I began communicating once in a while with Arielle Nobile. She is a life story writer, personal historian and documentary film maker. I've watched her business grow. Even better, I've watched her grow in great enlightenment about the importance of lives and life stories.

I can say I've learned a thing or two from her.

So today I want to point you to her work and a recent blog post she wrote on June 2. She lives in Chicago and in the midst of the protests she takes an honest look at her place in society and her growing perspective. She is a woman, Jewish with immigrant roots, and surely a strong supporter of people's rights. Yet she opens up in her blog post about something that white people (including herself; including me) need to get a good grasp on.

Her post is titled The Unacknowledged War on Black and Brown People. She makes many important points in her article. And she asks us to consider some powerful questions. Three of them in particular struck me as key:

When you talk about good or bad neighborhoods or good or bad schools, what are you really referring to?

When was the first time you had a conversation about race in your own family of origin? What was the context? What was the messaging? (My addition to this would be, what is the nature of your conversations about race now?)

What have you taught your children about race?

When you read her post I hope it spurs some introspection followed by dialogue and action. People are calling out for real change. They have before. Real change takes a lot of hard work and courage. Remember, if nothing changes - nothing changes.

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