A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Patience of the Story Gatherer

English: An illustration of the fairy tale The...
English: An illustration of the fairy tale The Story-Teller at Fault created by John D. Batten for Joseph Jacob's collection Celtic Fairy Tales. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
        When I was a child I would spend hours at the beach gathering shells for my collection.   Time was inconsequential for the most part.  There was an arrival time, the time spent at the beach, and a time to go home.  I wasn't counting minutes or hours, but just wiling away the time in a sort of blissful ignorance of schedules or clocks.

         It didn't matter that I really didn't have a shell collection or that the shells I had gathered might be merely left behind just as much as they might be taken home to be thrown away later.  It was not what I would call patience.   This was child activity that had little more meaning that it was just something to do on the day I was doing it.

         Children must deal with the patience of waiting for Christmas, spending a day in a classroom, or having to sit quietly among adults.  Those times are the training for the patience we must endure as the years go by.  As we get older we learn the meaning of patience and master the art of tolerating tedium.   Things don't always come as quickly as we'd like, but that's what we find that we must accept.

           Researching our lives and the lives of others can require a great deal of patience.   We must often sift through seemingly endless amounts of data and try to decide what is truly important and what is not.  Usually personal data is not something you pull up easily from the internet or find through research in a library or a like place.   Memoir research involves digging through closets, attics, and family albums or talking to those who know the topic.

             The talking part can be where the real patience is needed most.   Interviewing is an art.   Your subject may know the story you are trying to learn about, but the telling sometimes does not come easily.  There are side stories to distract the teller or missing chunks that may have to be filled in later.  An older story teller may be talking about things that the younger listener may have no idea about.  Cultural differences may complicate understanding.

              Story gathering can take an enormous amount of patience.  It can be fun and interesting, but sometimes every detail is not needed.   And at other times we may have to continue our search to find the missing parts of the story.  Then later, when it's time to sift, sort, and edit everything that's been heard, hopefully we have taken good notes and kept those notes organized.

              A memoir or a biographical story can be not only an interesting experience in story gathering, but also a big job in organizing to keep the story in order.   Writing a life story or episode is in many ways not unlike writing a work of fiction.  The story needs to be interesting and easy to understand.

             The story parts need to be gathered with affection, curiosity, and patience.   Hopefully they will not end up like my shell collections left behind at the beach or discarded later.   If you show your story the right amount of love, then readers will be more apt to love the story you have told.

              Have you interviewed someone else to record their story or learn more about your own?   Who do you find to be the best story tellers?     Do you write down the interesting stories that others tell you so you can use them later?

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

2 Classic Secrets to Jumpstart Your Memoir

         My guest today, Nicole Ayers, is someone you might know from her several guest spots on my blog Tossing It Out.   She also contributed a series of Friday posts to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge blog and now is an official Challenge co-host.   You can also find Nicole at her own blog The Madlab Post.  

2 Classic Secrets to Jumpstart Your Memoir

Dear Writer,

      I know memoirs seem like one of the most daunting pieces of literary material to complete. It’s not easy to just sit down and recap an entire life’s worth of experiences -- especially in a short timeframe. When you’re dealing with a case of writer’s block or self-doubt in this work, I want you to remember that it can be done with little to no hassle. Try breaking it into sections using an old, but efficient, method of short-form writing – Letters. We’re already accustomed to writing letters for many reasons – to file complaints, land a job, catch up with long distance friends and family or to provide personal and professional references when necessary. In an age when you’re so comfortable crafting text messages, social media updates and even blog posts without a sweat, why not apply similar principles to the very work that will become part of your legacy?

       The secret to creating a good memoir is by writing from the heart, in a voice grounded on truth, self-awareness, openness and sincerity. No other work that I know of depicts this practice than the dramatic picture “The Bridges of Madison County,” directed by Clint Eastwood. Yes, I am aware it’s based on Robert James Waller’s novel, but I did not read that book – I watched its film adaptation, a classic that earned Meryl Streep an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role. In “The Bridges of Madison County,” two siblings find love letters revealing an affair between their mother Francesca and a National Geographic photographer named Robert Kincaid. They also find a letter she wrote to them, along with diaries chronicling her love affair. Though hard to read and even more difficult to accept, the children eventually learn more about their mother in her death than they knew when she was alive – thanks to those letters and diaries that, unknowingly, also helped them find clarity in the state of their own lives and relationships.

       Francesca’s letter to her children and accompanying diaries were just as powerful as the letters she received from Robert because they were all honest. Their lasting effect, however, came from their ability to write with the recipient of said letters in mind. That is why I urge you to consider who you’re writing to first, by crafting letters that are addressed to your reader, in a figurative sense.

       What kind of memoir are you writing? Will it be personal, formal or somewhere in the middle? Identifying the type of reader(s) your memoir is intended for also clarifies any boundaries that you will or won’t cross. Knowing where you stand can make the next part – finding your tone – much easier to figure out. It can be shaped by writing letters to real or imaginary people. They can be living or dead, so long as their human presence in your mind aids in the task of putting words on paper -- or screen. This person should be someone you trust, which will make your letter writing come from a genuine place. The more comfortable you are communicating thoughts, feelings and experiences, the more letters you will be able to complete.

        The secret to those powerful letters in “Bridges of Madison County” are also in the bits and pieces of one woman’s life puzzle. Francesca’s focus on a specific segment of her life – the affair-- made it easier for this country gal’s children to honor her request for cremation and dispersal of ashes. It’s a wonder, the amount of confusion or torn decisions Francesca would have caused if she also wrote accounts of her marriage to their father. This is a prime example of how grouping letters around a portion of your life at a time can result in more interesting material –possibly even making room for an extended volume of work. I did just that in 2012 when I mailed a letter titled My Journey to Bare Bones to one of my filmmaking buddies in Australia.

       The letter, about all the conflicts I endured while turning one of my screenplays into an award-winning short film, was a bit lengthy and made me wonder if it was even worth writing at all. This filmmaker colleague told me that my letter was amazing to read and then suggested that I turn it into a script. His response further illustrates that great material can be adapted to form new works. It also makes me wonder how many memoirs could result from my writing production notes in letter form, for every film I make or even the film festivals I attend.

       Who says your memoir has to be complete in one book? Try writing a series of letters that capture one specific part of your life and then repeat the process, focusing on another area. When finished, you will have material that can be used to assemble an entire memoir – in whole or in part.

Nicole Ayers
Writer & Director of the Short Film, “Abyss”

P. S.--

I’m raising funds on IndieGoGo for my 2013 film festival and television premieres of a new film called “Abyss.” If you contribute $5 or more by Saturday February 23rd, I will mail you a Secret Perk: My Journey to Bare Bones, a letter chronicling the screenwriting, production and film festival experiences surrounding one of the first movies I ever made that was shown in a theater. It is an exclusive perk, only available for a limited time to select people, including Wrote by Rote readers. Check out my campaign page for more information.  Go to:  Nicole's Film project

        Please at least check out the above link to read about Nicole's film project.   Even if you can't help with the funding, you can help by telling others about it.  Tweet it, put it on Facebook, announce it anywhere you can think of.  Wouldn't it be cool to be able to say you helped Nicole get her film financed.  Oscars anyone?

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Traveling the Musical Time Machine

        One of the more effective stimuli that prompt past memories are the songs from our past.  How many times have you heard a song that took you back to some special time in your life?  Often I'll be in the grocery store or driving in my car and hear a song that sparks an event in the past, a special person, or a place that I associate with that song.   Music can be like a smell, a photograph or anything else that takes us back into our past.

        These thoughts are inspired as I listen to a compilation CD of pop songs recorded between 1957 and 1972.   This particular CD is volume 5 of a series called "Hey!  Look What I Found".   It's a CD that I found on Amazon a few years back when I was looking for a favorite song called "Look for a Star".   The internet is great for digging up things like that and Amazon seems to be the most comprehensive source for a lot of obscure things one might be looking for.  In fact, I found the song I was looking for on two different compilation albums and each contained rival versions by two different artists.

         The song "Look for a Star" came out in 1960.  I didn't hear it until late 1963 or early 1964 when I went with my father to see a film called Circus of Horrors.  I guess the song stood out for me so much because it is used several times in the film and it's a rather nice song that appealed to my taste.  In 1965 I found a 45 record version of the song in the cut-out bin at a Sears store.  I enjoyed my vinyl copy until 1969 when I gave away all my 45's, a move I later regretted.  But 45's were no longer in vogue and I was more into the LP albums.

        The CD I now own is kind of a fun recording.  I'm not familiar with many of the songs or artists.  Some I do recall hearing in my younger days.   One interesting cut is "Stand By Me" as performed by Cassius Clay.  Some of you may not know this singer by this name since he was not really known for his singing, but for his boxing abilities and the name he is now known by--Muhammad Ali.  Then there is a Kenny Rogers recording that was released in 1958.  I had no idea that Rogers had done any recordings prior to his rock/pop stint with the First Edition and then later in his most famous role as a country/pop superstar.

        Compilation albums such as this one can be entertaining and often a revelatory insight into our own pasts.  Listening to a collection such as this one can be reminded of days gone by and learn a bit of music history at the same time.  Those of you with collections of older music undoubtedly enjoy kicking back sometimes just to get lost in the music and dream away.

        A fun exercise you might want to try is to compile a soundtrack of your life.  This makes a fun blog post and a nice way to tell a bit about your own life story.   I've actually done two of these on my main blog.  You can see mine at The Soundtrack of My Life and the follow-up post The Soundtrack of My Life (Number Two).  If you decide to do one of your own, please let me know so I can be sure not to miss it. Have fun with it.  Music is a great way to journey back into your past.

        Have you put together your own life soundtrack?   What is the music that evokes the most memories for you?    Do you ever hear a song come on when you don't expect it and have it dig deep into you soul and memory?

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

“Here I Am” - A Personal Documentary

         Last year I was pleased to have a guest visit from Jane Shafron who is co-founder of the video biography service Your Story Here.   She has returned to tell us about one of her latest projects.

"Here I Am"--A Personal Documentary

It's been one whole year since I was last honored with an invitation to write a guest blog for “Wrote By Rote” and things have been busy over here in video memoir land!

One project that kept me busy - and completely knocked my socks off - was recording the stories of twelve seniors all living in San Bernardino County here in Southern California. Little did I know just what a diverse and astonishing group they would turn out to be...
Gordon Ayers Documentary

Take Gordon Ayers: Blind in one eye from a childhood accident, he never expected overseas duty - avenging Pearl Harbor. So he decided to get married. Eleven days later, and for the next 25 months, he was on board ship fighting island to island all the way to Okinawa. He laughs now at the improbability of it all.

Next up was Aiko Uyeno, who stepped up right after Gordon. Of Japanese extraction, she was born in Arlington, California and was a loyal American high school junior. She was rounded up by the FBI, along with her family, to be interred in barracks in the Arizona hinterlands for the duration of WWII.

These, and the other ten life stories unfolded in front of my whirring video camera as part of Chaffey College and the Wignall Museum's special exhibition “When I'm Sixty-Four”. Originally conceived as an oral history project involving Storycorps, I volunteered to video record the stories from locals 64 years and older who had expressed interest in participating.
Some of the participants of the "Here I Am" project
Although the interviews were brief – around 30 minutes each - the result is a cornucopia of personal and cultural history, and a 20 minute personal documentary entitled “Here I Am – Extraordinary Lives in the Inland Empire” which premiered and played at the the exhibition. Chaffey College plans to use the material as part of their esteemed “Gerontology” degree program.

Not all the “When I'm Sixty-Four” stories I recorded were dark. One participant, Mary Martha Barkley, remembers learning to drive when she was just nine years old – and getting her license shortly after. “I was tall as a child,” she shrugs in the documentary.

Pat Yeates grew up poor in Pittsburgh. “It was like Cinderella Man”, she says. “You know, we were so cold we had to use our coats as blankets” Her ticket out was dance. And when Pat was just seventeen she won a place with the famous Ice Capades and went on tour all across North America.

Arpad Sebok

And the stories keep coming: Arpad Sebok from Ontario defected from Soviet controlled Hungary by stealing a MIG17 and flying it to Belgium! The plane is now at the Smithsonian.

As a boy in his native Italy, Alta Loma resident Fred Roccatani dodged Allied bombs, only to be saved by the enemy – a German tank commander. And Donna Ambrogi from Claremont tells how she capped a life time of service by helping to usher in democracy in South Africa.

When I finished the editing, I presented each of the participants with a DVD of their entire interview as well as a copy of the short documentary with snippets of all their lives: “Here I Am – Extraordinary Lives in the Inland Empire”.

Video memoirs and personal documentaries are not for everyone. And you can't really replace the depth and detail that a written memoir can contain. But for me, memoirs are never really an “either/or” proposition. I am hoping that each of our participants will be motivated to record their whole life stories, in whatever form is most comfortable for them. Either way, these astonishing seniors from the Inland Empire will never be forgotten!

My PhotoJane Shafron is a video biographer who co-founded Your Story Here LLC Video Memoir, a video production company that specializes in preserving personal and family history. Based in Orange County CA, her award-winning films have been screened in festivals in the United States and Canada. Jane is on the Board of Directors of the Association of Personal Historians. She regularly writes to her blog Video Biography Centraland can be contacted on 949-742-2755 or through her website.

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