Category Archives: Life Story

Family History: Mark Twain Quote

mark twain photoIn his newly released Autobiography Mark Twain argues that the usual cradle-to-grave account of one’s life makes less sense than our meandering memories . . .

“The side excursions are the life of our life voyage, and should be, also of it’s history.”

Mark Twain

In other words, tell me, instead, about the day the circus came to town or how you fell out of the apple tree or why you like oysters.



Filed under History, Life Story, Memoir, Memories, Uncategorized

StoryCorps Founder Dave Isay On Life Recordings

If you’ve ever been moved to tears on Saturday Morning listening to the life stories StoryCorps has recorded and played on NPR, you’ll love listening to the founder, Dave Isay talk about the project–how it was founded, what they’re doing, why we care about life recordings . . .

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Filed under Family history, Family Stories, History, Life Story, Personal Narrative, radio story

Family History: Tai chi and Fear

Tai-chi Graphic“What makes us stiff,” my Tai chi teacher asked.

He was looking at me, or, self-consciously, I thought he was looking at me. As a class, we were trying to learn the spin near the end of the short Yang form. It hadn’t been going well.

“Fear,” he said, answering his own question.

Besides feeling old and awkward, I was barefoot that day. Should have worn socks, I told myself, when I realized my feet were sticking to the floor, slowing my spin. Actually, I was afraid my feet were going to squeak as I turned. I wanted to go home and practice in private–where I wouldn’t embarrass myself.

A child doesn’t think like that. A child would get caught up in the idea of spinning, and just spin.

Called “tranquility in motion,” Tai chi consists of a series of slow movements that burn more calories than surfing, swimming, or downhill skiing. It is supposed to  reduce stress, improve balance, and lower blood pressure–all measures of built-up fear.

How do I end this story?

With a spin . . .

“Don’t try to turn from up top, using the arms,” my teacher said. “That way, you lose your balance. Keep yourself rooted down low and just go round . . ”

So I did.


Filed under Family Stories, Funny story, Life Story, New Story, Personal Narrative

When the Stories are Complete . . .

Verna Wilder writes an insightful blog called OUT OF THE CUBE. As part of her entry entitled Turn the Page she reminds us exactly why we need to pay attention to family stories:

Waving Good-byeAt the end of the day (so to speak), all we have are stories. And I don’t mean to diminish their value by saying “all we have,” as if this is nothing. In fact, isn’t it everything? Don’t the minutes and moments and remember-the-time-whens accumulate and dissipate like fog in low-lying land? It’s like this: for more than 10 years, I’ve been meeting up with my siblings annually at Dad’s house, where we sit in the garage with the big bay doors open where we can stay dry while thunderstorms pass through, where we tell stories and create new stories, and just as the storm passes and leaves everything fresh and new, so this visit passes into memory – and into story. Thank god for story.

At the end of the visit four years ago, as I was putting my car in gear to pull out of Dad’s driveway, I looked in the side-view mirror to see Dad and my sister Carolyn waving at me, Carolyn doing that imitation of our grandmother who used to wave a hankie at our retreating station wagon on those childhood visits, and I thought, as I often do, that this could be the last time I’d see my father.

Carolyn died three weeks later. Just like that, the Carolyn stories were a complete set. There would be no more.

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Filed under Family Stories, Life Story, Memoir, stories, Why Stories?

Give an Old Woman An IPad . . . She’ll Write a Limerick

We make stories every day. We don’t always capture them this well. Enjoy Virginia and her IPad.


Filed under Family Stories, Funny story, Life Story, Personal Narrative, Video Story

Finding Wisdom

I have a frieChinese word wisdomnd who got a PhD based on a thesis about wisdom. Where do you find it? Can it be taught? She traveled worldwide, Lapland, Kenya, Japan, deep south of US, etc. asking who was considered wise in varying cultures and then interviewing those people. She was looking for a commonality. What made people wise? What made others call someone wise?

No surprise, none of the people she interviewed considered himself/herself wise, not even Wangari Maathai, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize that same week. Most were surprised that they’d been nominated for her study. None were too busy to talk. All gave full attention to the questions being asked. The commonality? Without exception, they had all lived through difficult times, suffered enormous personal losses, and somehow risen above their own suffering to assume a life-affirming role in the lives of others.

For example, Wangari Maathai’s husband sued her for divorce in 1979 saying she was too strong-willed for a woman and he couldn’t control her. When she protested, saying it was a ruse to get her to quit her leadership of the Green Belt Movement, the judge sent her to jail for six months and told never to use her husband’s name again. It was assumed that without her husband’s income, she would be unable to continue her efforts against corrupt land practices in Kenya. In one of the hardest decisions of her life, when she was released from prison, she left her children in her husband’s care, and continued her efforts.

Chinese word wisdomWhat wisdom did my friend find? The interviews ended without great nuggets of knowledge. Her candidates had no answers, claimed no special powers, most advocated no particular religion or lifestyle. Many, like Maathai, had causes, but felt no need to force their agenda on anyone. Most felt that right would prevail without resorting to hate or arms. Although they were not naive about the difficulty they had faced or would continue to face. Above all, they told stories. Lots and lots of wonderfully moving stories about themselves and others. Hard questions, it seems, don’t have answers. They have stories.

Oh, and they all laughed easily and often.


Filed under Definition, Life Story, Old Storytelling Traditions, stories, Story Motif

Truth Better Than Fiction OR Vice Versa?

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” William James

And who isn’t wise enough to gloss over a few things when we tell our stories? Ah, but where is the line between applying a little wisdom and telling a story that never happened?

Movie poster Julie and JuliaI will confess that I loved the movie Julie and Julia, about Julia Child and a cooking blog by Julie Powell. I liked the idea that the movie was based on real events. That doesn’t mean that I expected every single detail to be true. That never happens. My husband and I can come home from the same dinner party and remember the evening entirely differently. Everything we do is colored by memory, expectation, our differing feelings and experiences. Not to mention whatever wisdom we’ve applied to the things we’d rather not recall. book cover Julie and JuliaNevertheless, when I picked up the book Julie and Julia and read the disclaimer that parts of the book had been fictionalized, I put it down again. As a reader, I didn’t want to wonder which parts.

logo The Daily BeastThe following article from argues that some true stories are better as fiction. I agree. I also like memoir. Mostly I want them to be clearly one or the other. However, wisdom aside, even that may not be as easy as it sounds. See what you think . . .


Filed under Life Story, Memoir, Memories, Movie, Personal Narrative