Your Story — Your Legacy

LifeStories.jpeg

Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

1. Your story is being created.  It may not be written down, but it is being told, except maybe not the way you would want or by whom you would want.  It could be everything that you remember, but perhaps not the way you would remember it.  If you grew up in a family with siblings, you know what I mean.  “My side of the story” was often in conflict with my brothers’ and sister’s, and sometimes still is.  That is because we have different perspectives on events that we shared, the household we grew up in, the people we knew and the people we loved.

2. Your story is your own. You are the narrator, the protagonist, the hero. There are those who would disagree with your story, but that’s because it’s not their own.

3. Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

4. Your story is probably incomplete or inaccurate if you depend upon the objects you leave behind to tell it for you. I have photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, journals, poetry, report cards, greeting cards, household and personal items, yearbooks, scrapbooks – that witness my life and the lives of people who were and are important to me.  They can contribute to, but not tell my story.

5. Because I have all of the above, I have a good starting place for my own stories – my own personal collection of “story prompts”. You probably have your own, waiting for you.

6. If you choose to do nothing, your story may turn into a challenge (or a burden) for someone else to figure out. The day may come when people who don’t know about how Aunt Agnes taught you to cook from your great-grandmother’s book of recipes will toss that very cookbook into the trash along with the unlabeled photos of family members nobody recognizes.

7. If you get started, you’ll be ahead of where you are now. You’ll have more labeled family pics, plus you might have photos of meaningful items you possess, with notations of why they are important to you. You might have a new binder filled with written pieces by family members (or yourself). And you might have a plan (and/or instructions) for where your story legacy should be passed on.

8. You might decide it’s time to write a story – your own story – one page at a time. You can tell the world (or just your family, or just yourself) what you experienced and what you learned. It might turn out to be your greatest legacy.

 

The Magic and Power of Story in Our Lives

It's All About the Story

My bucket list goal of writing a novel has led me to a study of story and a new understanding and appreciation of its place in our lives. I am now convinced that it is as important as our DNA and the blood that flows through our veins, to our survival as individuals, nations, cultures and even our own species.

For me, it has been a recognition of sorts – an “I knew that but never thought about it” moment, which deserves a reminder for those who might think, “So what? I’m never going to write a novel and I know a good story when I read it or hear it.”

It is true that most of us know a good story when we read it (and we put the book down if it’s not good).  Story is even more fundamental than that when we examine how we learn and live our lives – story is one way our brains function, as explained by Lisa Cron in her book, Wired for Story. She tells us that recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our pleasure in a good story leads us to pay attention – it’s nature’s way of making sure we learn about our world.

Our Brain Prepares Us for Story

My father told me that I was a good baby.  I could be placed on a quilt on the floor and be told to stay there and I would. I’m not sure that I was that “good”, but I heard also that I was observant.  I was happy to watch what was going on around me, whether I was on the floor or watching the curtains flutter above my crib. Since I was also obedient, my curiosity didn’t take me beyond my boundaries. Perhaps my brain was preparing me for the next phase of its development.

Parents are often driven to distraction by one question they hear from their small children – “Why?” I believe that this is one avenue to our brain’s function of constructing and receiving story. When a child asks “why?”, he is learning to interpret information so that his world makes sense.

Some children are fortunate enough to have parents who tell and/or read stories to them, so that they begin to feel and understand the pleasure that a successful story brings – another function of the brain.

Story Prepares Us for Reading

I remember Dick, Jane, Sally, and Spot.  They held my interest through the first grade, as I learned to decipher the meaning of the words beneath the illustrations. I stayed with them as they spoke to each other in their stilted phrases: “See Dick throw the ball.  See Spot run.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that nothing much was happening; there really wasn’t a story.  I’m sure that Miss Carroll was as happy as I was when we could move on to stories. I knew instinctively that a story required conflict and change. If Dick threw the ball to Jane and accidently broke her nose, that would have been the basis for a story.

Story Enables Us to Retain What We Learn

What do you remember from your history classes? I suppose that I figured out what I was expected to remember and retained just enough to make a passing grade. There was no curiosity to my learning, which was likely because I didn’t recognize the context.  Context is necessary for story and if it’s absent, we just have a lot of facts or dates that don’t teach us very much.

Today, as an adult, I have become accustomed to following up on historical events by reading about them as presented in context – in other words, in story form.  I have found that I better understand the meaning of what happened, what other events were going on at the same time and how it all affected those who lived through it. For example, John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History taught me about the Spanish Flu, and I also learned about its effect on World War I, possibly contributing to the circumstances that led to World War II.

Story Helps Us to Learn About Ourselves

Fiction can also help us to understand context and lead us to better awareness and understanding of ourselves and those around us. We develop empathy when we read of the lives of those in the story and can transfer it to those we meet in the real world.  It can also let us see that we are, in a sense, writing our own story and as humans, must deal with internal and external conflict.

We have learned most of what we know about ourselves collectively through story. Christians celebrate and share The Greatest Story Ever Told, and other religious traditions also use story as Jesus did, to instruct and inspire.

Nations also depend upon story to construct a testament for shared beliefs and values.  If “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, then it is important for citizens to understand the context for their laws. Open societies like our own provide a continuous flow of conflict beyond the basic “good and evil” to those of two values like freedom versus security and diversity versus similarity, making our story more complex and dynamic.

Story Helps Us Connect with Others

This leads me to a one commitment I made when I retired – to encourage others to reach out to others through their own memories and stories.  We are in a period of history with access to more ways than ever to “write our story”, but many of us are choosing the easiest and most temporary way to connect.  It’s as if we want to be remembered by a selfie and what can be written in a tweet. Our stories are precious and fragile and we shouldn’t be satisfied with what will be written (by others) in an obituary or left on a grave marker.

I am working on another website and blog devoted to ways we can write our own stories so that our children and grandchildren can know more about our lives than what our genealogy and DNA can report. I hope that you will join me there, and return here also, as we explore the magic and power of story.

A Tale of Two Passions: Reading and Driving

A Tale of Two Passions: Reading & Driving

Writing instructors often warn us to avoid beginning with backstory — to get right to the point. Writers such as myself often balk at such warnings, believing that our backstory is uniquely important. So we begin with it anyway.  Such is the writing life.

My backstory involves three members of my family: my father, my nephew Skip Reagan, and myself. On the surface, you might imagine that although Skip and I love and appreciate each other, we really don’t have that much in common.

Skip is a single guy in the middle of a successful career in technology who has several interests that don’t especially coincide with my own. My thoughts and activities revolve around books, reading, writing, and my husband, children and grandchildren.  Skip enjoys beautiful and powerful cars, sharing his passion with his community, friends and family (especially children), and promoting charitable events involving exotic cars.

I bring my dad into the story because I believe that he is the source of Skip’s passion and mine. This helps me to appreciate Skip’s point of view and what he enjoys most.

My dad loved cars.  He enjoyed owning them and driving them , and became somewhat of a car connoisseur. He bought new cars frequently and appreciated their beauty and performance. He was fortunate to be able to afford the cars, with a family of five children to support, and was willing to give up the speed and power they offered for the same reason.

I remember going on vacations that involved driving for three days to get to our destination, staying for a couple of days, and then returning home. My dad’s pleasure, and my mother’s, was the journey. (Of course, those of us in the back seat had different ideas of a great vacation.)

He also enjoyed books and reading.  He spent many hours reading during my childhood and set a good example for me and my siblings on the pleasure and information that books, magazines, and newspapers held. I was the child who inherited his love of reading to the greatest extreme, just as Skip inherited his passion for cars.

I have noticed that there is a juncture for our two passions — Skip’s and mine. Reading and driving both offer an opportunity to travel and experience new exciting and interesting destinations.  There is pleasure in letting oneself get totally absorbed in our journey and in introducing others to a new dimension to their lives.

Both reading and driving offer us fresh points of view and expanding horizons.

Skip and I also both share an appreciation of the objects of our passions.  He purchases cars as I purchase books, not only as vehicles for travel, but for their physical beauty.  It doesn’t matter that Skip can drive only one car at a time and that my house is already full of books. We are both collectors, which extends our passions to a new level.

A wonderful motivator is to share the satisfaction and value of our passions with others. Any librarian or book seller can tell us about the excitement of introducing children or new adult readers to books. I believe that Skip experiences the same excitement when he talks to admirers about his cars.

This all takes me back to my dad. He continued to enjoy reading until just before he died at 91. He had to give up driving a few years before that and his enthusiasm for buying new cars even earlier, but he continued to enjoy talking about them with Skip and other family members. He and I also had some good conversations about books and he would always show me those he had received for his birthday, Father’s Day, or Christmas. I was thrilled that we shared this passion throughout my life.

I know how much Skip loved his grandfather and imagine that he was proud to have shared a passion for cars and driving with him.

I am also happy that most of us have room for more than one passion in our lives and that it’s never too late to cultivate a love of reading and books.