Sunday, January 24, 2021
The Gift of a Lifetime – Journaling and Life Stories
My last post was on keeping a journal, but as I developed a presentation on the subject, I thought I'd revisit this and add more helpful hints. In a presentation given several years ago historian David McCullough said, “If you want to be remembered, keep a journal.” As genealogists/family historians, that advice hit home. We also learned from genealogy that writing helps you make sense of things. Not everyone is a family historian, so, in preparing a presentation on journaling, I anticipated the question why. Why do this? My answer is: Because no one has experienced what you have, has felt what you have felt. No one has your perspective on life, on events. We are living through historic times. How did you manage? Are managing? What did you do differently? How did you react during the shut downs? Did you buy lots of toilet paper? Flour? Vinegar? How did you feel about the protests, the election? Even if no one else ever sees what you write in your journal, it will help you make sense of things. It can bring focus and clarity to your life. Be sure to include the good things, especially the good things that came as a result of the pandemic. The air is a bit cleaner, traffic better, more families making meals at home and eating dinner together (big positive). Creatively blossomed as we figured out ways to stay connected, to accomplish things in a different way. Journaling is a written record of your thoughts, feelings, observations. It can be a short sentence, long paragraphs, or bullet points. It’s whatever you want it to be. There are no rules. No right or wrong way. It’s a way of documenting your life and a way to self-discovery. Have you ever kept a nature journal? Tracking birds, flowers, what works in your vegetable garden year to year and what you’d like to do different next year? A travel journal of trips you’ve taken. My sister-in-law keeps a composition notebook with books she’s read and notes on each in a Reading Journal. I keep a Writers Journal for plot and character ideas, to track progress, and book publishing format specifications. Day to day, my husband and I keep what I call a Daily Journal. Except for my writer’s journal, my daily journal is all of the above. I write down what’d I accomplished the day before, what I want to accomplish that day, family news, sometimes national news, happy events as well as sad. Opinions, books I’m reading, even what we’re having for dinner! This year I wrote about what I planted in my Grow Box. A journal can be anything you want it to be. Your journal can be hand written or digital. If hand written, choose a notebook that feels good to you – they can range in price from $1.00 for a composition book to whatever you want to pay. I spend $12.00 - $14.00 on a journal. I want a certain type, one that feels good in my hands and an extra fine tip black pen. Find a time of day that’s best for you to write. Find a best place to write. Keep your journal in a safe place. Not on the kitchen table where it can be picked up by anyone. These are your personal thoughts. Memoir Writing I started writing memoirs in the early 2000s after attending a morning session at our local library. From that, a small group formed and we met every month for the next few years. I completed my life stories from birth to marriage and titled them, “Growing up in Willow Creek.” Thanks to the C.H. Booth Library in Newtown, CT, who paid for my memoir book to be bound. My process for that first book was to think of a topic like stories about my love of horses, and how that was satisfied; family Thanksgivings and Christmas; Swimming across Cayuga Lake at the age of twelve; what it was like being the child of snowbirds, attending a two-room schoolhouse. All these stories influenced who I am today. And, I hope, will provide insight for my children and grandchildren. In a presentation at a Naugatuck Genealogical Society meeting, I learned the Memory Drifting Technique. This is a great aid to help mine those elusive (long forgotten) memories. And I got surprising results. With our paper/pencil in hand, we were asked to pick a decade. I chose 1960-1970. Next, list a couple significant events that happened during that decade. I listed high school graduation, college graduation, marriage, Chicago, NY. We were asked to choose ONE of those and list issues. I chose Chicago, so my issues were adjustment to city living, job, California trip, starting over. Still using Chicago as my significant event, next list were Memories. I wrote down Big City, no friends, pollution. The last list was called Deeper memories. And this is when I remembered the good things about Chicago: Brookfield Zoo close by, Libby Foods where my husband worked, Berghoff German Restaurant, day trips to Holland, MI for the Tulip Festival, day trips to Wisconsin. I was surprised at the memories that popped up as I drilled down into our life in Chicago. Start your memoir with mini-stories. You won’t remember every detail at first. As you write then let it sit, more memories will come. And try the Memory Drifting Technique. A timeline can be helpful to bring forward memories. Write about your parents/grandparents Your children Religion Holidays Family traditions Pets Jobs Military service Courtship/marriage First home Volunteer positions you’ve held – the best and worst Were there turning points in your life? Things to help jar your memory: Photographs Yearbooks Scrapbooks Letters Talk with family and friends Journals/diaries Write down the important people in your life – how did they make a difference?