Amongst seniors there is a current trend to tell their life story. Of course this is not at all new but there are now popular resources such as “Ancestry” to investigate your roots and get you started, along with ways and means to build your personal tale. There are even courses offered in most communities to give you the how to’s.
Presently I know of at least three folks who are embarking on this journey, and why not. After all each person on the planet has a unique tale to tell that many others can learn from, or at the very least, are interested in knowing. Sharing brings us comfort and builds community. We have long read about historic trailblazers whether famous or infamous. Stars write their autobiographies, or others write about them, because these stories are often so appealing and thus, lucrative. People lap them up. They actually increase the celebrity of that person, positively or even negatively, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter which.
But what about you and me. I’m not famous or even infamous, thank heaven, but over the years of my life I eventually realized that there is value in my saga. I mean, it is fun to tell you in conversation that I have met Charlton Heston. But beyond that I see an evident curiosity and hunger to tell more when, for example, people learn I’ve lived in Africa for a time. They want details. My children and grandchildren want to know about family roots or who they resemble in looks and character. And when I examine why I myself might wish to capture my own story, I see that it is a purely selfish exercise and there is nothing wrong with that. The reason is plain and simple really. I want my family and friends to remember me, and leaving my tale in my own words is one of the best ways to do that, to be understood. This is what prompted me.
After my dear dad passed on, his chair still sat there empty in the same spot where it had been for years in our family home, a home that he’d built himself. It was hard to see that space void, that space he had always occupied. It served as a reminder of what a great loss we had suffered. But as time passed, I began to realize that there was a lot I didn’t know about my father. I mean as a kid you know the parent. I witnessed the provider who rode a bike to work every day because he’d had polio as a child and couldn’t drive the car, the neighbourhood barber, the builder of Adirondack chairs, the gardener, the cobbler, the doting grandfather and so much more. But what about the person? I knew his characteristics but not how or why he felt as he did. I simply never thought to ask. How did he feel when people called him Limpy? Had his parents ever told him about their lives when he contracted polio at age two, or how it felt for him to grow up with a disabled sister? What had shaped him into a man who always told his children that if you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing. He was pretty tight-fisted too. Was that because he’d lived through the depression or was it just the way his generation functioned-pay cash or do without? His father came directly from England in early 1900’s but Dad never had a desire to travel anywhere. In fact, he always loathed leaving our little house and more so as he aged. There was so much I didn’t know about my Dad.
Curiosities like these are common I’m sure. We want to know about the people in our lives especially as we ourselves get older. When we start to lose those closest to us, our eyes are opened prompting us to ponder such things. The desire to have had this knowledge, and leave it behind, intensifies. We realize the importance of a written legacy. This is a very personal gift left for those who know you.
I’ve some tips here for those of you who want to give this a go.
1. Decide if you are going to write a memoir, a slice of your life, or an autobiography as the whole. Some folks write a collection of memoirs, again, not an entire autobiography.
2. Decide if you are going to use an outline format. I always do. Your outline, depending on whether you are writing your memoirs or an autobiography, can focus on a theme, a life event, past vs present, or chronology.
3. Don’t feel you must start at the beginning. Often you can start with the description of a memory and work from there, even backwards. The memory can be about a song, a life event, an old friend, a visit, a home where you once lived, a lesson you learned, family traditions, someone who influenced you, or more. Focus on benchmarks as suggested in my blog “Winter Wisdom”.
4. Good old sage story-telling advice is to describe, don’t tell. Use all your senses one-at-a-time when doing this.
5. Don’t try to include every single detail about every person, place or thing.
6. Perhaps create a visual representation of your tale, such as a mind map or a tree or a building. Then write about each portion as you logically move through your story.
7. Write as though you are speaking directly to the reader.
8. Be authentic, real and honest.
Write as often as you can, preferably daily, without making it a job you feel pressured to complete. Enjoy the process and have fun! Then go share your light!