October 23, 2012

Everybody Has a Story; Once Written It Can’t Be Erased

NYTimes headline: Lance Armstrong stripped of 7 titles
Headline is a written page of his life
TV talked in the background—Armstrong Stripped of WinsBig Tex Ends StateFair in Fiery Demise—as we settled onto comfy chairs at our writing group’s favorite restaurant. We shared dismay over both front-page situations, but those stories were finished pieces. We met to work on stories in progress.
Near the bottom of my second cup of coffee, a stranger passing by asked if we were writers. Yes, even published writers. The stranger said he had written a book and added that he was the famous (infamous?) Lance’s adopted dad.
I claim my own connections to that celebrity: one time English teacher and neighbor. Since my father raised doubting, but not gullible, daughters, I vetted this man.
“Where did Lance go to middle school? What street did he live on?”
Correct answers to both.
The conversation was on. Or rather his story, the other side of the story we’ve all heard and read in the half dozen books about America’s cyclist—from Lance's own autobiography, to his mother’s version, to one written for 2nd graders for a “CharacterBuilders Series.“
A new telling, written by this father, the father the cyclist claims is “deceitful,” could be the next big read. Every skirmish has two sides. This one is no different. 
To hear Dad Armstrong’s version, he pounded the pavement as a salesman to afford his wife and son every expensive, and desired, toy—including membership to a country club with an ambitious swim team. By the time Lance reached a double-digit age, he and friends were butterflying and lightning-stroking their team to victories. The dad confessed that writing revealed to himself the ah-ha truths that we all wish we had known when younger. It’s a story of a parent’s “what if's.” What if the family had continued church attendance? What if the dad had seen the danger in too young celebrity? In hearing Monday’s death knell, we thought of “what if’s.” What if he had come in 7th or 17th in France? Would his cancer survival have been less inspiring?
Even with new insight, this dad’s book won’t change the outcome. It might be met with disinterested shrugs, or his story might let us recognize pivotal choices that could have changed a future.
Cycling’s governing body has chosen to say that the Armstrong Era never officially happened. Their edict will erase him from the record books, but it won’t erase his life—good or bad. Thousands of stories in multiple languages have permanently preserved it.
Hand writing in book
We must write down
our stories to keep them.
The rest of us, whose lives are not the stuff of newspaper stories, haven’t such tangible sources to leave behind. We have to depend on our own photos in albums. (Photos that sometimes raise more questions than they answer. Where was this taken? Who are those people? What was happening?) Or oral recountings. (that are forgotten or changed in the retellings). Unless someone—ourselves—writes them down, our stories remain “I wonder if’s.”
Sometime ago, I committed to paper my family’s saga of burying our cat—the favorite story that is recited to every captive newcomer to the family. A sister challenged my story’s accuracy. Her version would have paid our brother a dime for the burying deed while I recorded the payment as a quarter. She’s probably right.
Without details written on the timeline of your life, the question of a dime or a quarter can’t be asked. Because no one will know the story, that a little brother was paid once by big sisters to bury the cat three times.

Consider what you wish you knew about your grandfather. About Great aunt Gertrude or your pioneer relative born during the 1800’s.  Think about the tales slipping away today as your parents grow older. What stories do your children not know about the early days of your marriage—stories you need to get down quickly before they are forgotten as though they never happened? For a start, try simply listing the topics of those stories. Share them with us here.

October 22, 2012

Publishing Makes Memoirs Permanent

What do you gift your Writing Group friend who’s celebrating the same birth year as Paula Abdul and Demi Moore?

Book Cover of Snakes in the Bedroom: A Memoir
Published memoirs wait for sharing
Definitely not the tacky yard signs and black streamers popular when those of us hailing from the same decade as Cinderella and Pinocchio reached our mid-century mark.
Something special, of course, but what? While I waited for an idea to surface, Mary came up with the perfect idea. (Not this blogger, The Other Mary of the writing group that still wants a name) She suggested that we publish the honoree’s memoirs. A celebration of her writings; an encouragement to write more.
That set us on a two-month romp to gather the stories—surreptitiously—edit, and print. Emails flew: Has anyone edited this story? Who has the “skipping school” story? What about the book title? Did she really write that?   
Artistic Jan painted the childhood home from one story. Mary’s Alan photographed other Louisiana locales. Tina—while rocking newborn Alex—penned the jacket blurb that rivals any I read in my favorite bookstore. I contributed my singular talent by writing a foreword.
Blurb logo
Blurb published
We left the work of matching pictures to stories, designing the layout, and printing to The Other Mary. Nearing the birthday party date, she teased us with an emailed look at the cover. Then she did a reveal that rivaled HGTV in oohs and ahs. The following two-week wait for the celebration was worse than a kid anticipating Christmas. And we were giving the gift.
Feeling like seven-year-olds presenting plaster-of-Paris paperweights on Mother’s Day, we prepared ourselves for the probability that presents wouldn’t be opened during the party. Nevertheless, we placed The Gift strategically and hovered nearby, our body language shouting, “Open mine; open mine.” She did.
Seeing her eyes cloud with near tears, we swallowed lumps. As the book was passed around and old school friends, subjects of some of the stories, proudly claimed knowledge of a tale, we nodded understanding.
I recently read a pundit’s opinion that birthdays beyond age 20 no longer need cake and candles. Last year, I blogged that every birthday need not be celebrated like a Roman holiday. Both ideas may be true, but when you come across that perfect gift, the occasion merits a full-out Mardi Gras affair.
Beyond the warm fuzzy this gift gave, it put action to words. Nickie’s reminiscences are no longer just oral stories shared during nostalgic moments or scribbled tales tucked away for “someday.” Her school years’ shenanigans have taken permanent form—titled, illustrated, published. Suddenly, they look professional and important. Important enough that all of us who have stories—and we all do—should get busy putting them on paper and collecting those papers into a forever form. 

What would it take for you to start writing the stories of your life?  OR What stories have you already written?  Has anyone else in your family published a family memoir?

October 10, 2012

New Webhost Means Back to My Blog

Over the Breakup; Found Someone New

I should have been prepared for the breakup. There was plenty of warning: in fact, a whole year’s notice that the relationship was ending. I could not do a thing about it, though, Lord knows, I went in often enough for counseling and tried every trick the experts suggested. But it takes two to make a relationship. If one party says they’re done, it’s over.

Apple's MobileMe quit hosting my website.
Months of my writing disappeared.
Instead of acting like a grownup and planning how I would get along, I pouted and did nothing. The year passed. The nightmare became real, and suddenly, I no longer had the support I needed. Worse, the split cut me off from the whole world with no way to let anyone know why I simple vanished from site.
Deep down I did feel a kind of relief. Being cut off took away the pressure of constant performance. But I wanted—needed—that responsibility. For three and a half months I stomped my foot and moaned, “Why me?” knowing it happened to more others than I can count.
My gritching and griping must have worked like therapy because I’m finally ready to move on. Friends introduced me to a new helpmeet. I took the plunge again. With some adjustments and compromises, I think I can make this new thing work. The hardest part will be getting used to the new last name. No longer am I plain Marypf.com. Now I’ve become a double name with BLOGSPOT added.
And [groan] I have to come up with a weekly blog again.

Help me through the next phase of my adjusting to a new Web Host.  Tell me how you make Blogger work for you, getting the look you want your pages to have.