A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Writing Our Life Screenplay: Guest Ron Easton

         Today I welcome a dear blogging friend, Ron Easton.  Ron has been an A to Z Blogger since the 2011 Challenge.  For the 2012 April Challenge Ron was the inspiration for the A to Z Video Contest which I hope will become an annual prelude to the April event.  Ron blogs at Dads UnLimited.

       First of all, thank you to Mr. Bird for his friendship and welcoming attitude that allows us a place to come and connect.

      Second of all, thank you to all of you reading this. I know how valuable time is.

      I read, a few weeks ago, a really fun memoir by Donald Miller. In it,  A Million Miles in a  Thousand Yearshe recounts the writing of a screenplay from an earlier book of his, Blue Like Jazz.  In the writing, he drops an interesting idea. While revising his own life for the big screen, (an act he struggled with, ethically) he began to wonder whether we really can write our own story, through living deliberately.  This really has caused me to think.

       His premise is that the best stories, the epic stories, are the ones with great sacrifices, great acts of service for another or for the globe. From that point, he investigates why we settle for boring lives when we would never let our books or movies away with such banality. Why do I praise others for their sacrifice and not pursue it in my life.

       He considers his own attempts at living a full life by training for and then traveling to Machu Picchu in Peru to climb the mountains and hike the long trail to that ancient wonder. As majestic as the journey was and as good as it was for him physically to get in shape for the trek, at the end of it all, he wondered at his own motivation. In the end, it was for him. As great as that adventure would be to tell about, as fun as the pictures will be to show friends, relatives and total strangers, there was no long lasting good conceived outside of himself. What a great realization to come to. While self fulfillment and self-improvement are great, he realized those themes were becoming the goal of his life.

       That realization of his has sparked something in me too. A quiver full of kids and too little dough does not allow for Machu Pichu trips in my own life. At the same time, I do allow myself to fill my minutes with “me”, and not “us”, or “they”.

       Added to that book have been the last two books I’ve read, Calico Joe by John Grisham and Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll. The first a baseball novel, the second a how-to book on great marriages from a God-first point of view. Both of these books deal with the end redeeming and being better than, the beginning. Grisham has one of his characters doing the right thing for the first time in a long time because he doesn’t want to die a loser. The Driscolls suggest that more important than the first day of our marriages is the last one, does it end in divorce or death, have we endured or enjoyed?

      How do I script my own life then? From here on this becomes theory, not reality, for we can’t do anything about those unscripted lightning storms, tornados, cancer cells, job losses, etc. However, if life is all about choices, as everyone tells us, and as I preach to my own children, then why do I choose the mundane over a mosaic, maudlin over magnificent? If I choose others ahead of myself, then I’m writing something great. That is so hard to unlearn in our culture of ease, leisure and look-out-for-number-one attitudes. If I look to the final chapter, to read the ending I want to see there and plot out the moves to arrive at that point, what an epic tale I could write and live. As a Christian, I want to hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” But don’t we all want that, whether it’s in our obituary, at the funeral, or just in people’s minds? Then I actually have a memoir worth writing, and reading.

      To a better script!

And there may not ever be anything new here to say, but I'm fond of finding words that say it in a different way- T Taylor



roneaston.blogspot.com
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Opening up: The benefits of publishing straight from your diary (Guest Post from Dana Sitar)

          Dana Sitar is making a return visit to Wrote By Rote.   Earlier in the year she visited with a post of encouragement.   Today she offers some more helpful thoughts about memoir writing. 


Opening up: The benefits of publishing straight from your diary

Dear Diary,

Thank you for always being there for me. I think it’s time to take this relationship to the next level.

Sincerely,
Dana

Writers, your journal or diary is the rawest (and probably the original) form of this art. Amidst all of the writing prompts and tips for free-writing that are supposed to encourage creativity and improve your skills, journaling seems like just a compulsive hobby and personal therapy. Maybe it is a little. But it’s also a great way to develop first drafts of stories you didn’t plan on writing.

Journals are a safe space for writers, a place to release the lines that are constantly forming in your mind. Because the words are intended for your eyes only, they’re also the most honest and shameless that you’ll ever write. Drawing from this unplanned collection of thoughts for blog posts, stories, or your full-length memoir offers your readers a glimpse of that unscripted honesty in a way that pre-planned writing can’t quite achieve.

When you start to think of your journal as a viable place from which to pull material -- instead of just a dumping ground for your secret thoughts -- you’ll notice a great improvement in your free-writing without making it a forced exercise. In my experience, because building my blog is always at least at the edges of my mind, my journal has naturally morphed into a collection of blog post first drafts scattered among the usual Dear Diary entries that help me sort out the complications of life. I approach many journal entries with a conclusion in mind, sometimes even start with a title or [pitch line] to center my stream of consciousness before I begin writing.

I don’t discount the merits of free-writing or brainstorming without a goal or direction in mind. But occasionally approaching your journal as a support to your major projects will quickly improve your first drafts -- in turn, creating stellar final drafts. You learn how to turn a stream of personal thoughts directly nto a well-organized piece with an ultimate purpose. Especially in memoir or personal blogs, pieces like this can be much stronger and make a much greater impression on readers than those created around the conclusion.

That, ultimately, is what sets journaling apart from other writing. Even personal blog posts generally start with a goal, and the thoughts are formed around that goal. A journal entry, on the other hand, often comes from a simple, desperate need to put your thoughts on paper. The thoughts come first, and the purpose is found through the writing. When you can combine those raw reactions to the world with the structure that will become innate with practice, you can create pieces of writing that are more uniquely YOU than anything you’ll develop from outlining and planning ahead.

Let your guard down, and try it! As an artist -- and a memoirist, no less! -- you have to let a bit of your soul loose into the world. If you’re not yet good at opening up in front of people for live events or interviews, for example, pulling words from your personal diary is an easy crash course in self-exposure. You get to be selective about the pieces you pull from your stream of consciousness, and you’ll quickly learn that it’s not so bad to share parts of yourself. Readers, in turn, will appreciate your candor and enjoy the glimpse into your personality.

If not for creative growth, try it for the sake of your career. For you marketing types (of which I’m kinda also one),  that connection is vital to building a dedicated audience who will be eager to buy your books.

Have you ever blogged stories first developed in your diary? If not, I challenge you to try it! Share a link to your story in the comments.

Author Bio:

Dana Sitar is a freelance journalist and indie author. She shares writing tips and anecdotes for dreamers in search of a path through her blog and newsletter, DIY Writing. Grab her DIY Writing Toolkit to guide and inspire you in your writing journey -- including 15 writing prompts for those days when the stream of consciousness doesn’t flow as smoothly as you’d like!
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Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: guest post by Wendy Mathias


        I first discovered Wendy Mathias's blog Jollett, etc. during the A to Z Challenge.   I was fascinated with her detailed accounts about her family history.  Even though it wasn't my own family, I found the stories and accompanying photos to be interesting as well as entertaining.  Wendy accepted my invitation to visit us here at Wrote By Rote with a story from her childhood.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  
        I’m a lousy neighbor. If it weren’t for our neighborhood directory I wouldn’t know who lives three doors away. But I can tell you the names of every family on Frailey Place where I grew up. There were eight houses on our block, and each one had kids to play with. And each one had a mother who gladly offered me a sandwich and Kool-Aid and who wasn’t afraid of offending my mother by calling me down for not playing nice or sending me home for staying too long.

       For a short time my family lived in the apartment that my grandparents rented above their house. Their yard and their garage were my playground and the main neighborhood hangout.  It was my grandparents’ property, so I was the boss and I made the rules. That’s only fair, right? Honestly, it’s a wonder anyone put up with me and this nonsense.

My grandparents' house and garage
at the corner of Gillis Road and Frailey Place
       The garage made a suitable playhouse where we could construct walls from old window screens and chairs from old paint cans. Sometimes it was a house. Sometimes it was a school. Sometimes it was a hideout for robbers or for eagles that kidnapped children.

       For my friends Peggy and Mary “Eagles” was their favorite game. (I think they made it up.) Peggy was oldest, which gave her first dibs at being the Eagle who would chase the children in this hybrid game of Tag and Hide’n’Seek.  And it scared the living daylights out of me. Evidently I believed that kidnapping part.

       My grandparents also had the longest sidewalk on the block, making it the preferred choice for Hop Scotch, Red Light Green Light, and Mother May I. It was also an acceptable place for roller skating, but the best skating spot was across the street at the Horniks’. Their driveway was divided by grass separating the two tire lanes leading to a carport. Our skates became cars as we drove up one tire lane and down the other. Round and round we went. Sometimes we lived dangerously zipping past “the car” ahead on one skate.  In the carport we spun in circles, skated backwards, and practiced figure eights.  Meanwhile just on the other side, the Horniks were conducting their accounting business out of their house, but never once did they shoo us away or tell us to hold it down.  They don’t make adults like that anymore.

        In the late afternoon, we played in the street. Yes, IN the street! The high school girls would gather to practice cheerleading.  They jumped and touched their toes, then jumped again, contorting their bodies with backs arched and arms over their heads to form the letter “C” for Cradock High School.  Oh, to be like Sherry, Barbara Ann and Betty! 

Anne, Mary, Peggy, and ME in dress-ups 1961
I was inspired by a movie star
dressed in short shorts with a long flowing top.
       But we were years away from such coolness. Peggy, Mary, Anne, Katherine, Donna, and I amused ourselves with jump rope instead. The slap of the long rope against the road always invited everyone to join in, even the cheerleaders from time to time. Games like High Water Low Water, Blue Bells Cockle Shells, I Love Coffee, I’m a Little Dutch Girl, Not Last Night, Peas Porridge Hot, Mabel Mabel Set the Table, and Down By the River tested our ability to jump, to turn around, to touch the ground, and to jump in and out without missing. If the rhyme called for “hot peppers,” it was sure to draw a crowd to help count.

       As afternoon slipped into evening, Crack the Whip, Freeze Tag, or a game of Hide’n’Seek brought the boys out to play too.  Not my game.  Usually it was “my yard-my rules,” but this was a game I could not control.  I was not a good hider and certainly not a good runner.  Maybe I just didn’t like being a loser. I preferred to call it a night. 

       I’m not going to say my childhood was enchanted or magical.  Nobody ever believes that.  But it was pretty darn good. 




        Be sure to visit Wendy at her blog http://jollettetc.blogspot.com/

         Do you have childhood memories similar to Wendy's?   What are some of the games that you played as a child?    How have things changed for kids today?   What has become better, if anything, and what are the biggest losses from yesteryear?






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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Using Less Traditional Archive Resources




                       In my previous post I addressed the role of the archivist in preserving history and recording it in published works such as memoirs.  Acting as archivist we may keep photo albums or scrapbooks, diaries or other written records, and other collections of mementos and heirlooms.  These all provide good touchstones to connect us with our past and even the times before we were born.

            Our personal collections of artifacts can help us to remember previous events with greater clarity and bring the eras associated with those events back to life in our memory.  This is especially helpful when we are writing accounts of the past and want to recreate the broader picture of the world as it was in those times about which we are writing.  


             Historical or genealogical websites, historic sites, libraries, and museums are all good resources to use when researching the past, but what about some the archival sources you might have right at home?   Have you ever considered some of that "junk" you have stuffed in drawers, tucked away in closets, or stored in the attic?


            On those infrequent occasions when I've started combing through the closets to organize and cull the clutter, I've found many unlikely items that can help to jog my memory about days gone by.  Things like checkbook registers, bank and credit card statements, and other financial documentation that I'm sometimes reluctant to throw away can remind me of when I was spending money and what I was buying.  Even more helpful, these records can help me determine where I was on a certain date.


             Also, in my case (and I'd bet many of you have similar types of records) I have record books from the years I was managing a touring theater company.  These records include the gate receipts from the shows, promotional income and expense, attendance at shows and most importantly the time and place of each show.  With these I can reconstruct our yearly tours.  This is important for me since many of my memoir accounts would be about those interesting years I spent on the road.  I can remember a lot about those days, but it's very helpful to have precise data so my accounts are more accurate.


             Some of the other documentation that has ended up stored away includes maps, brochures, directories, newspapers, and other literature that I thought worth storing away.   I have since discarded many things over the years, but still there is a treasure trove of archival material waiting for me to reexamine.  I was always somewhat prescient to the fact that I might need some of the things I kept for future use.  I've always jokingly referred to these items as being a part of my future museum.


             The true fact is that it is difficult to save everything unless you've got adequate storage space or are living in hyper hoarder squalor.   I've gone through many weeding out periods over the years where I separate that which truly seems useless from that which might have potential value someday whether that value be real or intrinsic.  I've have attempted to maintain a semblance of order to my archive by sorting things into boxes labeled by appropriate subject matter (e.g.--travel information, show records, personal data, etc) and storing them as neatly as possible.


           My basic rule for assembling my personal archive is if I've managed to keep something and it's at least 15 or 20 years old, I won't throw it out unless it's pure trash.  Some items can be sold on Craig's List, Ebay, or other sites.   I've sold some of those items already and plan to sell others in the future.  Older might mean interesting to the right person so I'm hesitant to call anything landfill additive.  


            So remember, next time you're gathering research for your memoir or some other written history, don't forget some of those unlikely sources that are part of that story.  Whether it be what prices were or how the weather was, little details can help you better relive past times so you can more effectively write about them.


             Have you ever used some of these things I've mentioned here for help with research?    How much "old stuff" do you save?   Are there other types of archival material that you can think of?


            I'll be having some great guests over the next few weeks.  I hope you'll stop back in to hear what these folks have to say.   And if you'd like to contribute a guest post be sure to let me know.  I love hosting guests at my blogs.         

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