A View from Blue Grotto

Monday, October 23, 2006

Narrating your own story

Everyone is in to podcasts now. Me included. One of my favorite weekly podcasts is the Journal Report produced by the Wall Street Journal {http://online.wsj.com}

One episode of particular interest is Jeffrey Zaslow’s interview of professional writer and personal historian Paula Stahel about memoir writing, a topic near and dear to Blue Grotto. First published Thursday, June 22, 2006 this podcast runs about fifteen minutes.

Stahel, who co-authored The Wonder Years - My Life and Times With Stevie Wonder with Ted Hull, Wonder’s teacher, says that the most daunting aspect of writing your own personal history is that most people don’t see themselves as writers. You don’t have to be. She advises people to start by sitting down and writing a letter, as though you were writing a letter to a grandchild or future grandchildren. Include everything from the mundane to the spectacular. Decades and generations from now, your daily life today will seem fascinating. What was a podcast? Your heirs will ask.

The letter idea is a great start. String several letters, and you’ve got yourself a chapter. And think of the power of a letter. Remember President Ronald Reagan’s letters to wife Nancy? The letters of a man written to his wife over forty years gave a rare insight into the personal relationship of a very public couple. Think of the letters compiled of soldiers writing wives, sweethearts, mothers from the front lines of WWII. How do they compare to the men and women serving today in the US Armed Forces in far off places all over the globe?

Someone commented to me recently that, as a society, we’ve plain forgotten how to write personal notes – of thanks, of congratulations, of sympathy. Instead, we pound out a quick email, and attach electronic photos. When was the last time you received something personal in the mail, other than the electric bill?

One of the greatest gifts to a family is the celebration of their culture and history. Personal and family histories offer a unique opportunity to capture and communicate what makes a family distinctive – its stories of growth, success, leadership in the community, generational characteristics – all sources of pride and accomplishment.

Though many individuals may demur on their own story, their imprint on their family is indelible. It is often their own philosophies, hard work and devotion to family that allowed others to grow and succeed. And it is those same philosophies and perspectives that will remain important for decades to come.

Email me, or write to me on that fancy stationary collecting dust in your office, about your own efforts to chronicle experiences, accomplishments and memories.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.