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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  1. I'm not a writer, but I do like hearing people's stories. In 1987, I did interview a trio of elderly women in my hometown because they were in their mid and late 90s, but still sharp. Their parents' hired hand, Willie Jones, was the man that built and lived in the house in which I grew up (house built in the late 1880s). I wanted to know all about the Jones family, as the women often babysat for the Jones kids. 3 of 4 of them were deaf. My dad used to tease me that our house was haunted by Willie but I always felt that the spirit/ghost was much younger. It was during this interview that I found out that Willie's youngest deaf son, Chester, had the bedroom that was now mine.

  2. Dear Lee, I've really never interviewed anyone for something I'm writing. Well, for the first-century Palestine novel I wrote--but haven't gotten published yet--I did speak to two consultants who taught biblical history of that period. I Interviewed them by asking questions about the period and people I was writing about. And they both gave me good information about why my rough draft at the time was neither accurate or authentic. So they were of great help to me. Peace.

  3. My daughter has told me that she learns not only new information and stories, from my blogging on The Ruralhood, but how I think. I think this is awesome.

  4. JoJo-- I beg to differ from you--you are a writer. You write some wonderful things on your blog. Elderly people often have some very interesting stories to tell and often are more than willing to tell them. You had a great opportunity in getting to interview those ladies.

    Dee -- Sometimes our own memories are all we need to put the stories together, but it's nice if we can find someone to fill in the gaps and help to correct errors or verify what we have said.

    Teresa -- I think it's pretty cool too. Sometimes I think it's easier to read someone's story than listen to it--that's when the patience may have to kick in. At least one of my daughters reads my blog posts and seems to enjoy when I talk about biographical things she may not remember having heard.


  5. I've interviewed the parents of someone who passed away & I learned a lot about vulnerability & love. Not that I knew nothing of those before, but I considered them from a very different perspective listening to his parents. ~Mary

  6. I guess I have not interviewed people - ever. I don't think much about the past - mine, anyway. I am curious about other people and I do like to hear their stories but I guess I don't ask. I wait for the time when they tell. I think I don't want to pry or intrude.
    My mother (who is 90) is always happy to talk about the old days. The last time I visited with her (around Chrismas) we went to lunch and I learned a lot about the early days with my dad. I would like to know more but, rather than details or facts, I am more interested in her reflections on those days and how they impacted her life. She is happy to tell the story but shies away from any emotional direction. SHe did actually write four memoirs tracing her own family of origin's time from about 1915 through WW2. That was most interesting stuff.
    I would have loved to heard more stories from my dad but he was a man of few words. and then he died. Sadness still reigns and that was in 1996.
    Interesting post, Lee.

  7. Mary -- I can imagine an interview like that being potentially very difficult. Of course a lot depends on the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewees and their desire to talk about the story.

    Gracie -- I think men can tend to be more reticent then women. I'd like to have heard more stories from my father although he did leave behind an unpublished autobiography. In the case of your mother it may be that the emotions are more difficult to tap into than the recounting of the events or she just doesn't want to delve into such a personal level.


  8. Love this post, Arlee! I agree that story gathering requires curiosity, affection, and patience. My mom and dad, and my in-laws are all storytellers, and after years of hearing their stories and not paying enough attention, I'm ready to write them down. I have a renewed appreciation for the stories that they tell.

  9. The best storytellers are ones who can call up the events and the emotions that surround them.

    The thing to do as an interviewer is keep the storyteller on task and stand outside the story.

  10. Sad to admit but this is my first time at this site. This was a wonderful post.

    The most recent interview I can remember off the top of my head was with a landlord when I lived on a large ranch in Colorado. I lived in the old homestead house and kept seeing a man dressed in clothes from a past era leaning at the corner of the mantle of the living room fireplace. I tried to talk to him, but he never spoke, just stared into space. He was of course, not REAL, but it never creeped me out.

    When I talked to the landlord, he told me it was his grandfather who was killed in the house by his daughter, the landlords aunt in that very room. The landlords father, a well respected local District Attorney, took the blame as his sister was mentally unstable. He was acquitted and the shooting was deemed accidental, but it left a deep scar on the family along with a bullet hole in the hardwood floor.

    I am currently working on a story loosely based on this interview and the research I have done involving this case and my mystery ghost.

  11. Wise words Lee. I think interviewing is a very special skill which doesn't come easily to all of us. The interviewee may be chatty or difficult to persuade to talk. I hated cold-calling people for my family history but the elderly were often keen to chat and tell me their stories once they were convinced I was "on the level". Still I don't think it's one of my strengths.

  12. Research is so important even when you're writing fiction, and especially when you're writing a memoir! definitely takes time and patience.

  13. Tyrean-- Thank you! Story-telling is often a family tradition and you need to carry yours into the future.

    Susan -- Precisely! The interviewer is the facilitator, moderator, and editor.

    Faraway -- Glad you found me here to tell that eerie story. That's a great writing inspiration.

    Pauleen -- The interviewer needs to ask the important questions and at the same time pick up on the other stories that might be there in the interview.

    Nutschell-- Research can also be great fun!


  14. What a beautiful post. I grew up spending summers on a lake and recall the endless search for rocks and shells. It was about the process, not the end result. Something I have to remind myself now to remember and practice.
    Nice to meet you and look forward to reading more!
    ~Just Jill


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Arlee Bird