are top of mind right now, emphasized even due to the social distancing we’re
experiencing in the pandemic. This is foreign ground for most of us but will
become one for the history books. In the scarcity of human contact we long to
connect and are finding creative ways to do it. The silver lining may be an increase
in family connectedness and deeper friendships. This is one of the good things
to come out of this season of pausing, reflection and in some cases deep loss.
relationships and how they’ve impacted our lives is the theme for this
journaling exercise. Think of it as a creative tool to
use in developing your memoir, short or long. It all starts with a few words on
a page or spoken into a recorder.
give it a shot! Review the many relationships in your life; most of us are sons
and daughters, parents, friends, spouses, employees, aunts or uncles. Think of
the connections you’ve had with others over the years, both personal and
Don’t get stuck, just pick two or three that stand out in your memory.
You can always try this technique with others later.
How have these relationships impacted, molded, changed and directed the course of
your life over the years?
relationship from childhood, one from youth and one from adulthood. Your choice
of how close the relationship was; don’t force it or get stuck with
expectations, go with what rises to the top of your thoughts. They don’t even
have to all be human.
Many people count a dog or horse among their best friends.
It’s perfectly ok to write about these dear friends too.
each one I want you to try two approaches:
1—How has this relationship affected your life? Did it inspire you, coach in in a positive way, maybe it deflected you down another path? You can go as deep as you like here. Sometimes even fleeting relationships impact us deeply and change the course of our lives. Other times it may be the long faithfulness of a dear family member or friend.
2—How would your life have been different if you hadn’t known that person? Don’t edit, just write down your thoughts and speculate, follow the rabbit trails, this is just for your own use. A well-known example of this, and one that’s been used in many book and movie plots, is the storyline behind It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey’s angel gives him the opportunity to see what life in Bedford Falls would have been like without him. As Clarence says, “You’ve been given a gift.”
Another tool to use is to take a sheet of paper for each person you want to write about. Now do a mind map or a bubble outline. Write their name in the middle of the page and then, using a timer set for about three minutes, write down everything you can think of that’s associated with this person. Don’t second guess yourself, get it all down. Write each item or phrase on the page radiating out from the central person. When the timer dings, stop. You can always add more later but these are the top of mind and semi-conscious ideas that come out when you brainstorm like this.
When you’ve finished this exercise you may realize some interesting side notes or even have a great light bulb moment (epiphany for you fellow word nerds). Jot these reflections down too. You now have the makings of a fine chapter or two for your memoir. In fact, you may have even discovered the theme of your lifestory. See where it goes.
What better way to connect the generations than to start a memoir project together. This can be especially effective right now as we’re isolated and missing friends and family during this pandemic. Let’s close the gap and show we care! It can be short, just seize the opportunity. Set aside an hour, get your recorder or pencil and paper ready and make that phone call. You’ll be so glad you did!
Conversations world wide are focused on the new coronovirus and the pervasive flu season. Headlines and news reports keep a running tally of who is sick and where. We are rightly concerned. But we need to keep this in perspective, study what can be improved in societal responses and take the opportunity to have some important conversations with our elders. I wrote about this a couple years ago in regard to the regular flu season but the topic bears revisiting. We have much to learn from the past and from our ancestors’ reactions to the sweeping illnesses that have always plagued humans.
It’s important to study how we’ve handled past flu epidemics, outbreaks of polio, measles and smallpox. How have we dealt with restrictions and helped each other as decent human beings; individually, and as families and communities?
The word “pandemic” has such an inescapable connotation and creates fear. However, another word that repeatedly comes out of historic references and family letters is this:
It is used to describe how ordinary, sometimes fearful human beings, reach down deep and by the grace of God find the courage and resilience to not only face world changing events but to help those in direst need.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created a project called the Pandemic Influenza Storybook to document experience and provide a learning tool.
“The CDC’s Pandemic Flu Storybook provides
readers with a look at the impact pandemic flu events have had on both
survivors and the families and friends of non-survivors. These stories are not
folklore, but personal recollections. This collection of stories was first
released in 2008 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 1918 flu pandemic.”
This is the story of the 1918 flu pandemic as told by my 97–year–old grandmother, Sadie Afraid of His Horses–Janis. An excerpt from the story:
In her desperation, my great–grandmother, Nancy, had applied
the principals of quarantine, prevented cross–contamination, provided hydration
and inhalation therapy, and used pharmacology to save her family. To this day,
my grandmother Sadie has a medicine bag with flat cedar, sweet grass,
bitter–root, and green tea. However, she says she′ll pass on the kerosene and
Olivia Huggins father was a newborn when the flu
hit his family:
Manual Pacheco, was born on July 10, 1918 to Juan de Jesus and Amelia Pacheco
in Rainsville, New Mexico. He was their sixth child. When Manual was only 2 months
old, his mother, Amelia became ill with the flu. Because she was so sick, she
was unable to produce breast milk for Manual. Therefore, Juan fed the baby
coffee with sugar added to it until he was able to purchase a goat. The goat’s
milk sustained Manual and he survived, and so did his mother. No one else in
the family became ill.
I can’t help but wonder if Juan had a
terrible time getting that little boy to sleep after dosing him with coffee. However,
it was a resourceful solution till the goat showed up.
Here’s another one from the CDC’s website,
this one taking place in Wyoming and told by Margarita Pancake:
My father, Elmer “Bud”
Pancake, grew up around Lusk, Wyoming. During the great flu pandemic of 1918,
there was a county doctor who boasted that he had never lost a patient. His
secret weapon was “rotgut” whiskey. He would pour the whiskey into a patient to
get them to cough up the phlegm. During the pandemic, he ran out of whiskey and
there was none to be had in the community. The only whiskey in Lusk was
locked–up in the sheriff′s office as evidence for a bootlegger′s trial. The
sheriff refused to release the liquor. So, the doctor got a few prominent
citizens together for a kind of vigilante committee that promptly seized the
whiskey, depriving the sheriff of his evidence.
An excerpt from storyteller Jack D. Bell, who experienced the flu
in Washington in 1958 as a kid:
And, I simply
was too uncomfortable to sleep! At one point, I kept asking my poor momma if I
was going to die and I told her if this kept up much longer that I didn’t care
if I died! I can remember my parents discussing whether they should send me to
the hospital, but our family doctor (who actually came to our house; remember
when doctors did that?!) told us that my fever would break any time, and I
would feel much better. He was right, on the third day I stopped vomiting and
got a few hours of sleep. When I woke up, my wonderful mom fed me some chicken
soup—my favorite, and I kept it down. I missed about a week of school, which I
Although medical treatments have changed and progressed, much of the simple homing nursing care remains the same and goes a long ways towards helping folks recover. Many of us have experienced the flu running through the entire household and it can truly be said to be a family bonding experience. I bet you still talk about it and I bet your family learned some important coping skills during the process.
Bottom line, wash your hands, take precautions, learn from history and be resilient and courageous. Threats we will always have with us. What you do in the face of it will show your stripes. I choose courage and an indomitable spirit.
Many of us have parents, grandparents or friends who can remember flu, measles or polio scares. Talk to them about how it impacted their lives, schools, and communities. Learn from their resilience, their resourcefulness and step up to the plate if you’re needed.
May you stay healthy and well this flu season and most of all may you be of good courage no matter what you face,
Memoirs are popular reading around the globe and extending the reach of your story beyond family and friends can be a good option in some cases. I’ve been traveling the last few days but wanted to be sure to get this and some other tips out to you at the start of the year. And not just any year, a new decade!
Many of you have decided that this will be the year to make progress on your story. Perhaps you’ve realized that time is extra precious for your 90 year old grandparents and you want to help them tell theirs. Whatever the case — I want to encourage you, you can do this!
“I found this link and I thought I’d share it with your readers, as it is a list of publishers who accept manuscripts from authors without agents….”
Thanks for sharing this resource, Lisa! Remember, if you’re like many memoirists, you also have a couple great children’s book ideas floating around in your mental inbox or languishing in your desk. Just for inspirational fun check out Lisa’s series on children’s book creation via Skillshare. The first in the series is Creating Characters Kids Love
Wouldn’t it be great to finally create that book as a gift for your kids and grandkids?
Want to kick start your journaling this year? Try author and teacher Nina Vangrew’s One Sentence a Day Journal Card System. It’s fun and this easy to build habit will painlessly help you build your memoir a bit at a time. Ideas and story snippets add up fast! You can easily take her class in less than an hour on Skillshare and enjoy starting your life story journaling.
The publishing world is full of memoirs with a variety of
themes appealing to a wide range of people. I love reading them and typically
have several in my line-up for the year. Your story may have broader appeal
that would be a great fit for making public so many others can enjoy it.
Many memoir writers consider independent or self-publishing
to be an excellent choice. This gives you full creative control and you’ll have
the option to publish it privately for family and friends, or list it on Amazon
or through other book outlets.
At the start of this new decade consider reviewing a few options to make progress on your personal history project:
Take a look at the list of publishers in the link Lisa provided
Set up your memoir box to start collecting your material
Start small or go big, the choice is yours! But whatever you do, commit to making some positive incremental change and see how much you can accomplish this year. Even better, team up with some friends for encouragement.
I’ve made a discovery! Many people interested in writing their memoirs also have wonderful children’s stories they’ve shared with their kids over the years. They talk about these with a grin, a gleam in their eyes and laughter as they recall the fun of creating these special stories for their children. They confess that their kids have always told them they should make a book with those favorite tales. My family and I have our own collection of made-up stories but I’ll save those for another day.
To learn more about the art and process of children’s book creation, I’ve been watching a few of Lisa Michael’s Skillshare classes. Michaels is an award winning professional freelance illustrator and author as well as a skilled teacher. You can take a look at her profile here:
After sharing my observations about memoir clients and their children’s stories with Lisa she responded with additional insight into the “why” of this phenomenon. You can find out more about her at Lisa Michaelswww.theartofpicturebooks.com. She graciously agreed to share her thoughts so here you go:
It makes complete
sense. A large percentage of children’s books are based on the author’s
childhood experiences. You know the old saying…”Write what you
know!”…it’s so true.
As I’m sure you know,
personal experience adds authenticity to the work, and gives a good writer the
ability to make you (the reader) feel that you are a participant in the story,
rather than an onlooker. Not to mention, most memories have strong emotions
attached to them, which also enriches the story.
I find that stories
written from childhood memories (even if they are outlandishly embellished)
make for the best children’s books because the author usually isn’t looking to
“teach a lesson”. They are simply hoping to share a wonderful or
touching experience that they believe still has value for today’s kids. That’s
one of the very BEST reason to write a children’s book!
Below are links you can follow to Lisa’s classes on Skillshare. They’ll enable you to learn from her and many others for two free months with a trial Premium Membership. You have nothing to lose and much great professional, fun guidance in store. I highly recommend it! (disclosure – although I will receive a small commission if you sign up, I only recommend classes I’ve taken myself and found exceptionally useful).
These courses are excellent resources in developing further ideas for my own children’s book concepts as well as helpful when I visit with clients who have their own fun, fabulous tales to share.
Try your hand at jotting down some of your kids’ favorite bed-time stories. Then, visit with them about the characters and sketch out a few ideas for the artwork. You’ll have loads of fun together and create new memories from the old ones.
No Black Friday sales for this girl! My favorite post-Thanksgiving ritual is a giant slab of pumpkin pie slathered in whipped cream for breakfast. I did the crazy early sale day once as a very pregnant young mom decades ago in Wisconsin because we were b-r-o-k-e. Never. Again. However, no judgment here, if you get a kick out of the shopping frenzy, more power to you, enjoy! I may come watch It’s a Wonderful Life on your new big-screen TV. Promise I’ll bring pie! What kind of post-feast rituals are a tradition at your house?
Here at Remembering the Time you won’t be seeing a crash sale on the one-of-a-kind experience of writing your life story. However, I can promise you that if you choose to set out on this journey, you’ll never regret it. My heart and soul are thrown into these life-affirming projects for you. It will be an amazing experience of great satisfaction and tremendous value to both you and your family.
Here’s an interesting thought on Thanksgiving. The original potluck saw the Native Americans and the pilgrims celebrating a shared thankfulness and humanity while their two very different cultures rubbed shoulders. We are all Americans—in fact, I am a “Heinz 57”—a little bit of everything and proud of it. Bet many of you are too! So, while you’re still gathering with family this weekend, think about the specific culture you hail from – whether it’s your ethnic group or just a different part of the US. Spend an hour filling out your family’s story by asking a few great questions about your heritage and writing down favorite family recipes. Save the story and pay it forward to the next generation.
Here’s heartfelt gratitude to you from me for reading these simple thoughts throughout the year!
The post card had been sitting on my counter for a good two weeks, taunting me, a reminder of the impending doom; Layla’s shots were due. The vaccines weren’t the problem and she loves the vet and her staff. She knows when we leave, McDonalds is approximately 500 feet away and that’s where her “good girl cheeseburger” lives; so she’s totally cool with a vet appointment. The issue lies with the location.
So although Layla is cool with the vet appointment, for my husband and me there is not enough Xanex in the universe to manage our dread and anxiety surrounding taking all three dogs to the vet. Actually, it’s just Layla.
The waiting room is full of all
sorts of other animals waiting for their turn along with a veritable bouquet of
new and interesting smells. Either of us would rather substitute an unsedated
colonoscopy for this experience. Nevertheless, it must be done, and I have
drawn the short straw.
The morning of the appointment
comes. I have readied myself mentally and emotionally; repeating my “taking
Layla to the vet” mantra: “I will stay
calm, all dogs have to start somewhere, she’s gotten a lot better, I will stay
calm when she loses her everlovin’ mind, I will calmly hold her leash as she
throws her epic tantrum as long as I have to until she regains her sanity, I
will stay calm because she senses my anxiety and humiliation, I will stay calm,
I will stand firm, I will not be bullied”, I repeat to myself like a fighter
readying for combat.
I find her sleeping peacefully on
the reading couch in the living room, one of maybe three places in the whole
house she’s not allowed to be. Despite her disobedient location, I melt at the
adorable scene in front of me. “This is why she’s not dead yet,” I think to
myself, “Her cuteness and soft heart have been enough to save her so far.”
I call her name, knowing full-well that she will not wake up and get off the reading couch with just this level of stimulation; yet I continue to dream that someday she will and so I try. As predicted, she doesn’t budge, her snoring stops and I see her eyebrows wiggle a bit, a sure sign that she’s heard me calling her name but is choosing to ignore me completely. Knowing she’s in trouble because of her chosen sleep location, she refuses to acknowledge my presence, secure in her belief that if she doesn’t look at you when she’s done something naughty then surely you will not see her or attempt to scold her.
Long minutes later, I’ll spare you the begging and pleading, she cracks open a reluctant eye. Then, feeling sorry for herself, and looking absolutely pathetic before Jell-O-sliding off her perch, she gives her whole body a mighty ear-flapping shake, and then loudly, with a healthy dose of dramatic flair, collapses in a heap on the floor.
It ain’t my first rodeo, I’ve had lots of practice putting on Layla’s collar and leash when she’s in full pout, so I bend down, ignore her whines and outraged sound effects, get everything situated, and we walk out the door. At the car I open the back hatch. I have seen Layla clear a six foot fence like a reindeer once when she escaped from a friend’s yard, so both my husband and I know without a shadow of a doubt that she can jump the 2.5 feet into the back of the SUV. But she never has.
The ride to the vet is equally as
vocal, as Layla spots other interesting things outside, and smashes her nose
against allllllllll the windows while also drooling on them as she cries and
whines, howl/talks, and paces to and fro in the back.
Pulling into the vet’s parking lot,
I gather my courage and emotional Zen, repeating my mantra a couple more times
and then get out to retrieve The Naughty One. Opening the hatch very slowly, I
grope for the leash before the Kraken is released and makes a run for it. It’s
caught under her massive paw, and she refuses to move so I have to open the
hatch all the way. Distracted, I didn’t notice another person also walking
their small dog across the parking lot. Layla, however, noticed, and leapt out of the car like Superman on a trajectory straight
to the other creature. Flailing wildly in a frantic attempt to grab leash,
collar, ears or anything, I briefly cried out in delight as my fingers closed
around the leash. Satisfaction succumbed to blinding pain has Layla’s rock-hard
bony skull collided with my nose!
Eyes watering my vision blurred, I
couldn’t see anything but could still hear Layla’s urgent song of yelps,
whines, barks, and howls as she was still hell-bent on reaching her new BFF. I
kept a death grip on the leash and braced for the jerk when the obnoxious
torpedo reached the end of her line. I struggled to hold my nose, wipe my eyes,
get my bearings, and regain control of my life all while shouting at my
horribly misbehaving fur terror to STOP IT! Flustered and angry, through
gritted teeth I growled out “HEEL STUPID!” As I extended my free hand to grab
the door, I felt the blood trickling down my face.
Torpedo dog was already bounding
through the door; I had no choice but to follow. I stood, blood trickling down
my face, free hand attempting to wipe the blood away and pinch my nose
simultaneously, eyes still watering from pain and now humiliation, my sweet
doggo clutched by my side. Layla is in full-on drama display, the noise level
escalating by the second. Perfect. What else will go wrong? Experience has
taught me to just wait and that question will be answered quickly. It took less
than 3 minutes.
Layla announced our arrival to
remote villages in the Amazon. The wonderful woman behind the counter rushed
around to hand me a wet paper towel, told me she knew just who I was and had
already signed Layla in, and offered to take her while I cleaned myself up. Hesitant
but ever so grateful, I handed her to the angel and rushed off to attempt to
repair what looked like a five round loss to Tyson.
The nosebleed stopped quickly, but
I would have a beauty of a fat lip for a couple days. Mascara pooled below my
eyes for a trendy, ghoulish look and whatever lipstick I had on was gone. Overall
I was just a dumpster fire. I wiped away what I could, smoothed back my hair,
accepted that the best I could look was Spanish Flu Chic, and hurried back to
save that poor woman from Layla’s reign of terror. Layla was mercifully around
the back of the counter, a bit calmer. Gushing apologies and thanks, I grabbed
Layla’s leash, and proceeded with my walk of shame across the entire lobby to a
remote corner. Layla was quieter but still attempting to flatten herself and
ooze in the direction of the nearby puppy.
Infinite mercy! Layla’s name was called and the techs told me they’d just take her back quickly, and return her to me afterwards. My traitorous canine became the picture of innocence. She stood up calmly, leaned against the tech’s legs for extra cuddles and pets, walked past all the other animals without even making a sound or moving a millimeter in their direction, and sauntered away. “Awwwww, see? You’re a good girl, you just want to talk to all of us and got excited,” cooed the tech as she scratched Layla’s ears and they walked to the back. My mouth hung open like some sort of trophy bass, my blood pressure reached aneurysm levels, and I felt like a steam-blowing cartoon character.
I sat back on the bench, closed my
eyes, and took some calming breaths. She‘s just a dog, surely she can’t plan
things like this? Surely she’s not capable of that level of diabolic
A few minutes later, my name was
called and I walked to the counter to pay, relief flooding through me. In a few
short minutes the three-ring circus of hell would be contained within the car
and not on public display as would my Homeless Cagefighter appearance. The tech
brought Layla, still acting like a perfect angel, around the counter as I gave
my credit card to the receptionist. Absentmindedly, I reached for the leash but
didn’t get my usual death grip. Rookie mistake. Just as I was turning to leave,
Satan took possession of Layla and she lunged at another dog who barked at her.
Growling and howling, my floppy eared demon tried to engage in some sort of
cage fight with this other much smaller, but infinitely meaner dog.
In the ensuing chaos I didn’t
register who was on the other end of the smaller dog; I was focusing on yanking
Layla back and managing my shock. It’s extremely rare that she displays any
hint of aggression! No one was hurt, thank all the gods, and at this point the
distance between my sanity and an all out Jerry Springer White Girl Nuclear
Meltdown was the width of a neutron; I HAD to get out of there! The universe
must have sensed me teetering on the edge just then; because it decided to seal
my fate by just giving me a good hard shove the rest of the way.
Head down, tears of humiliation
threatening to spill down my cheeks, abandoning all sense of decorum as I let
fly a string of words that would make a sailor blush, I drag The Naughty One
toward the freedom waiting just past the door of the clinic. “Come on Missy,
come on now, let’s get away from that awful dog, that’s a good girl,” I heard a
voice say. I stopped dead in my tracks, absolutely certain I know that voice
from somewhere. Risking the last vestiges of self respect and sanity, I turned
around to see who dared insult my Layla when it was their dog that started it
and also to confirm the identity of the owner of The Voice. The little voice in
the back of my head screamed at me, begging me not to turn around, pleading
with me, but I disobeyed. I found myself standing face to face with my old boss.
Now usually this wouldn’t have been
a horrible thing, after all, many people have several old bosses and it
wouldn’t be a big deal to see each other in passing. That was not the case with
this guy; the manner in which I left that particular position and the
subsequent events that unraveled in the following months were less than ideal. In
fact, they were unpleasant and uncivil. So the fact that my first run-in with
this man involved my dog trying to fight his dog while I looked like something drug
from the gutter after a bar room brawl, could NOT have been a worse way for it
all to go down!
Recognition dawned on both of us simultaneously,
and we stood for a split second in extremely awkward silence. Layla, bless her
naughty soul, quickly pulled me from the standoff as she again with a
howl/whine attempted to defend her honor as the other small dog charged her
with teeth bared. With lightening speed, I pivoted, saving everyone from
another incident and escaped into the sunshine.
I won’t lie to you and say that I didn’t call Layla some names on the way to the car that frankly insulted her ancestry and called into question my understanding of how biology actually worked in the context of reproduction. But I also won’t lie to you and tell you that she didn’t get an extra “good girl cheeseburger” on the way home or that I didn’t giggle just a little too much at the fear I witnessed on my former boss’ face. I will however admit that when I got home, I walked straight inside the house without releasing Layla from car jail and sent my dear husband out to deal with her. I didn’t know if I possessed enough self restraint not to kill her if she tried any shenanigans. My dear husband started to question why I was interrupting what he was doing to make him go outside and get her, until he looked at my face. The crazed look in my eye and the slight twitch manifesting above my left eyebrow, and my swelling lip wisely turned him on his heel and sent him outside.