A really smart guy by the name of R.C. Trench said this:
“The best is oftentimes the enemy of the good; and many a good book has remained unwritten… because there floated before the mind’s eye the ideal of a better or a best.”
Guess when he wrote this—1861, yup, way back the same year the Civil War started. Author Rosanne Bane started off a recent blog post with this quote, driving home the point that this is not a new problem. It is a sentiment and dare I say, EXCUSE, that I hear so many times. In fact, I’ve even succumbed to it myself. Want to make progress toward an important goal? Insisting on perfection is not the way to do it.
Here’s the “Reader’s Digest” version of Bane’s article. If you’d like to read the entire thing (highly recommended), here’s the link:
She makes the point that sometimes it is crucial that you do your best, especially if you’re performing brain surgery, flying a plane or maybe parenting a two year old.
However, we can be
“If you refuse to accept good enough, you can’t move on. If you make writing a matter of “I’ll do my best or do nothing,” you’ll end up doing nothing most of the time because you simply can’t be your best all the time (or even most of the time). If you were your best all the time, by definition, that would just be your average.
You can’t let perfectionism get in the way. Well actually, you can – it’s just not effective or satisfying to let it get in your way. I truly wish I’d been more vulnerable, taken more risks, made more mistakes, and fallen on my face a lot more often earlier in my career. But with luck and persistence, I can do that now.”
This Point of Paralysis is exactly the spot where many folks get stuck in thinking about saving their family stories. You know you want to do it, you’re afraid of the scope of the job, you’re not sure where to start, you don’t consider yourself a writer, you’ll do it someday, etc.
“…first ideas don’t have to be brilliant; they only have to be good enough to give you a place to move on from.”
A two hour oral history is a small time commitment capturing the irreplaceable voice of the person you love– timbre, nuance, humor, expressions, life experience.
A four hour oral history is a small time commitment—accomplishing all of the above and drawing out more stories, more unique humanity.
An entire series of life history interviews is a small time commitment—about 12 hours. It works because of the guided, skilled nature of the interviewer, focused on drawing out and enhancing the innate story telling skills we all possess as human beings. And did I mention it’s fun?
Here’s the neat thing–You don’t even have to be able to write! I will talk you through your story and write it up for you. Voila!
Is this your year? Break past the paralysis point and give me a call, I’d be delighted to help you get started.
Timelines are a great way to visualize a life. Tape a few sheets of paper together, use a pencil or colored pens, your choice, then draw a line down the middle lengthwise. Events you remember as positive go above the line, those that were difficult below the line. You can start anywhere and move forward and backward as you remember.
This technique of recalling life events even works in an oral format. Think about helping a friend with this, you can both record the storytelling and remembering as well as work on the paper outline while you talk. It’s especially good for folks who have difficulty writing. You do the writing, they do the talking.
Create a timeline of significant events in your life. Include the basics (birth, childhood, education, training, career highlights, love, marriage, children, faith and special interests). Highlight the turning points and special events that helped shape your life. What were your proudest moments, your toughest challenges, your greatest frustrations, your fondest memories?
Include the ordinary too. Describe a typical day: school, farm chores, Sundays, seasonal activities, a day with your best friend, your favorite way to spend a lazy summer afternoon as a child.
How were you affected by where you lived at different times in your life? Did you stay in one place or move around? What are your memories of each place you’ve lived?
Contact me if you’d like a copy of the questions and information packet I hand out at Life Legacy workshops. I’d love to send it to you to inspire and give you practical help to begin telling your story. (Packet + first class postage only $6)
Want to win some fudge? Sure you do! Answer one of these “Remember the time…?” questions to be entered into the drawing for 1 lb. of Mamie Eisenhower’s Famous Fudge (made by yours truly from an old family recipe) either mailed or delivered to you if you live here in Las Cruces. It’s the best!
What world event from the past 5 years would you want to tell your great grandkids about? How about something important that you have learned? It’s up to you to pass it on.
The first 10 people to comment with an answer within the next 7 days will be entered in the drawing.
I really want to know what life memory is important to you and can hardly wait to hear from you,
Your family’s history is important. This video from the Association of Personal Historians explains how it works and why personal historians like me are passionate about what we do. While the APH is no longer active, we historians are and are helping people tell their stories all over the world. I’d love to help you tell yours!
Thanksgiving is almost here—this year, when you’re gathered with family and friends around the table, plan for some intentional conversation. Many families have a tradition of sharing what they’re grateful for. This is a wonderful place to start. But you know you all sit around and reminisce over the 2nd or 3rd piece of pie too. Yes, you do!
Record those stories, ask some questions of the “Do Remember When…” variety. Ask your older relatives about their holiday memories and past customs. What did Grandma cook for her first Thanksgiving dinner? Did she burn the turkey; forget the sugar in the pie? Were Uncle Joe, Charlie or Manny the practical jokers in the family?
Tell the immigrant stories—most of us were immigrants at some point in our family history. What foods are traditional in your cultural background? Lefse? Posole? Latkes? Black beans and rice? Tamales?
Now—do you need a unique present idea? Your problem is solved! Turn those gathered memories into a short book, treasured legacy letter or photo memoir for your family. Long or short, it will always be remembered. There is nothing else like it—totally unique and you can give copies to everyone. Do you really think Grandpa needs another package of golf balls, or Grandma another set of slippers? Skip the awful dreaded Black Friday lines and give your family the gift of heart and soul instead.
Thank you to our veterans! To the men and women who have been willing to share part of their story with me, thank you, you have helped me to understand. To those whose sacrifice and role in history we honor while we are saddened that it is still often repeated, thank you. To those who struggle and are reluctant to share with their family–this is hard, but please share with us, we love you, your story is important.
Check out the History Channel’s short video below:
These words from General Douglas MacArthur sum up the thoughts I’ve heard repeated from the many veterans who have shared their story:
I want to share a brief conversation with an Iraq war veteran I’ve never forgotten. Years ago a family came to look at my old ranch horse, Shorty, for their young boys. A man, his wife and three year old son. They were stationed at Ft. Bliss down in El Paso, Texas. Danny said he had been in three combat tours. He said, “We are hoping to go live near some friends in Wyoming on a 2000 acre ranch when I get out of the army in 2013.” He got very quiet and said he needed wide-open spaces, “…I just don’t want to be in crowds anymore. I don’t want to shoot a gun anymore. I just want to go live and work on a ranch in Wyoming with my family.” He softly rubbed that old horse’s furry ears and got an odd look on his face. We stared at the long grass dying on the orchard floor on that cool fall day. I quietly said, “I bet there’s more behind that story.” He nodded and looked me straight in the eyes for a long second. I could not help the tears spilling down my face and said, “Thank you for everything you’ve done to keep us safe.” I never saw him again but have never forgotten this young man.
…As I look back over my life there were so many things left undone. Don’t let it happen to you. So many things I started and didn’t finish. For instance that carton of chocolate fudge ice cream in the freezer, I had better go finish that or I will regret it all afternoon.
Thus began the email from a friend whose memoir I worked on a couple years ago. He’s in his 80s and sent this essay (written by another author) out to a wide circle of friends and family with the comment:
READ THIS VERY SLOWLY… IT’S PRETTY PROFOUND.
Too many people put off something that brings them joy just because they haven’t thought about it, don’t have it on their schedule, didn’t know it was coming or are too rigid to depart from their routine.
I got to thinking one day about all those people on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night in an effort to cut back. From then on, I’ve tried to be a little more flexible.
How many women out there will eat at home because their husbands didn’t suggest going out to dinner until after something had been thawed? Does the word ‘refrigeration’ mean nothing to you?
How often have your kids dropped in to talk and sat in silence while you watched ‘Jeopardy’ on television?
I cannot count the times I called my sister and said, “How about going to lunch in a half hour?” She would gasp and stammer, “I can’t. I have clothes on the line. My hair is dirty. I wish I had known yesterday, I had a late breakfast, it looks like rain.” And my personal favorite: “It’s Monday.”
Because Americans cram so much into their lives, we tend to schedule our headaches. We live on a sparse diet of promises we make to ourselves when all the conditions are perfect! We’ll go back and visit the grandparents when we get Steve toilet-trained. We’ll entertain when we replace the living-room carpet. We’ll go on a second honeymoon when we get two more kids out of college.
When anyone calls my ‘seize the moment’ friend, she is open to adventure and available for trips. She keeps an open mind on new ideas. Her enthusiasm for life is contagious. You talk with her for five minutes and you’re ready to trade your bad feet for a pair of Rollerblades and skip an elevator for a bungee cord.
My lips have not touched ice cream in 10 years. I love ice cream. It’s just that I might as well apply it directly to my stomach with a spatula and eliminate the digestive process. The other day, I stopped the car and bought a triple-decker. If my car had hit an iceberg on the way home, I would have died happy.
Now go on and have a nice day. Do something you WANT to not something on your SHOULD DO list. If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?
Guess what? You don’t have to be rich or awesomely daring to have a fulfilling bucket list–it is yours so make of it what you will.
Can’t see yourself “Running with the bulls in Pamplona?” How about visiting a working ranch or farm and feeding a calf?
Not able to afford “Relaxing in Tahiti for 2 weeks?” How about retreating for a weekend to a gorgeous late half a day’s drive away?
“Mushing a dogsled” a bit out of reach? Find a friend with a big dog and this winter go to the
park, tie that puppy to your kid’s plastic sled and hang on. Mush, baby!
Okay–back to my friend’s essay:
Have you ever watched kids playing on a merry-go-round or listened to the rain lapping on the ground? Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight or gazed at the sun into the fading night?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed with the next hundred chores running through your head? Ever told your child, “We’ll do it tomorrow.” And in your haste, not see his sorrow? Ever lost touch? Let a good friendship die? Just call to say “Hi?”
When you worry and hurry through your day, it is like an unopened gift thrown away… Life is not a race. Take it slower. Hear the music before the song is over. Show your friends how much you care…
I’ll do a bit of confessing here. I’ve about wrapped up a memoir book for a couple here in southern New Mexico so, to celebrate, I bought a bottle of red wine and a big fat piece of tiramisu cake. I devoured the cake while reading this essay but will show some restraint with the wine and wait till tonight.
Living large my friends, love and blessings to you,