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Repost: (Extra)Ordinary Lives

[EDITORIAL NOTE: A few days ago, I had an email discussion with amba of ambivablog about how elders may be the population that blogging is most made for - "a way" as amba wrote, "to tell our stories and unload our accumulated wisdom and puzzlement at life, and give it all 'to the tribe' as we used to do in extended families and stable communities."

It is an idea I've written about in the past and speak about at conferences I attend, and our conversation triggered a memory of this post. I'm surprised at how old it is, originally published on 12 April 2005, and I would write it differently today. But I think it is worth repeating for elders who may be new to reading blogs or contemplating a blog of their own, and as reminder to the rest of us who do blog of the importance of what we do here in the blogosphere. We all have so many stories to tell.]

In response to last week’s Stories For the Infinite Future, an email arrived from a reader, who is not a blogger, saying that she can’t imagine what stories she could tell because her life has been so ordinary.

Let's say this all together now: No lives are ordinary.

Even if you “only” got married, raised children and tended the backyard garden, you have stories to tell. You especially have stories your children, grandchildren and beyond will care about. Everyone wants to know who and where they came from and what those people were like, how they lived, what they did. That’s why so many adoptees seek out their birth parents and why genealogy is popular: We all struggle to know ourselves and a large part of doing that is in knowing our family pasts.

Consider celebrities. The public can’t get enough of Biography on the A&E channel, profiles on the E! channel, mini-biographies such as the “Person of the Week” on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and the celebrity biographies in book form that are published each year.

Before they were celebrities, all these people were “ordinary” too, and every book, profile and interview begins with a rendition of birthplace, family and education with attendant personal anecdotes and stories. In fact, I would argue that what we want to know most about celebrities is their ordinariness; how they are like us.

When I was producing interviews for The Barbara Walters Specials, the most frequent question I got from people I knew about the stars we worked with was, “What is Sean Connery (or Katharine Hepburn or Cher, etc.) really like?”

What those people wanted to know was what a big-time movie star does with herself when she’s not making movies. That’s what the best entertainment profiles deliver - a peek into the celebrity’s private life...

...and it is also what your descendants will want to know about you. You are part of them; your blood flows in their veins; your genes will inform their appearance, behavior, perhaps even their interests and passions.

The smallest things can make interesting stories. There is a photo of my grandmother from about a hundred years ago, and I surely wish I knew how she did her hair like that because I’d like to do that with mine. And how did she and other women, I wonder, survive hot summer days in corsets and long, heavy dresses up to their necks with a petticoat or two underneath and no air conditioning while cooking on a wood stove? If she'd written down her stories (or kept a blog), I might know.

Your stories also become a record of life in general – modern to us now – that will, a generation or two hence, contain curiosities and puzzlements. Do you have a photo of your grandchild on Christmas day plugged into his new iPod, ignoring the festivities around him? Believe me, his grandchild, who will listen to music in some way we can’t imagine, will want to know what an iPod was as he sifts through the family photos.

My father told a story of when he was a boy, being sent to his room on the second floor of the house for some infraction of the rules. Bored, he dropped notes out the window on a fishing line to his cousin who waited below. His grandmother leaned out a first-floor window to halt the game and my dad, in a panic, reeled in the line and caught the fish hook on his grandmother’s wig, snatching her bald in front of the entire neighborhood. Obviously, he was in even worse trouble then, but it’s funny years later and now it’s part of the family lore.

Everyone has dozens of stories, large and small, happy and sad, funny and painful, that shouldn’t be lost because you think your life is ordinary. It is not. Your stories will bring alive times past for your descendants and enrich their lives by knowing the family stories of their ancestors (that’s you someday).

So let’s say it together one more time: No lives are ordinary.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rabon Saip reminds us of a cultural experience you probably haven't thought about it decades in Follow the Bouncing Ball.]


Comments

I agree! Something I've learned is that everyone has a story and wants to tell it. I just wish I had at least written down notes on the many I've heard. I'm currently working on a project that I hope my children (& my blog's readers) will be interested in.

Ronni - once again Good Morning
I know I am repeating myself. But your blog has opened up a whole new world for me. I stayed very busy with projects and only used my computer for information and emails to and from my 4 children. My writer daughter who has a blog started directing me to some and encouraging me to read them. What I have found from reading yours is that all of us age differently. I would not have read a blog about aging when in my 40,s, 50,s or even beginning my 60,s. My 60,s were busier then ever. Building 4 homes, some teaching, a relationship, etc.
But something happened when I hit 70 it just seemed I aged overnight. When I look back I realize there were signs of slowing down and fatigue. I wondered often what is wrong with me. Now I know "aging"
Incidently, the picture of your grandmother looks just like one I have of my much loved grandmother. She was widowed at 32 and raised 6 children. How very strong and wise she was. I still miss her.

So true! I'm always preaching the value of telling life stories and blogging, especially for elders, and I certainly do it myself. Keep reminding everyone!

A few years ago I was invited by a friend to an autobiographical writing “class” which operates within our local Junior College system. Our “instructor,” partially retired, reads our stories into a microphone so that all can hear well (it’s a rather large group), in a room that has also been electronically looped to enhance the hearing of those with hearing aids.

The class happens weekly for a period of three hours with a coffee and cake break halfway through. After my initial visit, I realized this was far more than a class for old folks, it was an elder happening, a convening of souls that really cannot be intentionally planned, only allowed. It is a learning community and extended family rolled into one, where a thousand years of collective wisdom and humor cushions the pain of our occasional loss.

Thanks Ronni, the beauty of this group is in the extraordinariness of ordinary lives. I cannot say enough about the benefits of this kind of writing and sharing. Some of the stories read there I post on my Elder Times webpage.

True enough! I started a daily journal about 13 years ago because I realized at that time that I really didn't know my mother, my father, my grandparents... and I really wanted to! So, now our children will get the chance to know about 'US'.

And when blogging came along, it was only natural to move from journal to blog.

Of course I may not have known when to stop, as I now have 5 blogs that tell various parts of 'our story'.

Ronni,

Your encouragement to me has been invaluable. I have so many stories in my memory and you have given me a place to tell them. More important, I think, is that in order to tell them on your Elder Storytelling site, I have to actually write them down. Then, I have them to pass down to my children and grandchildren.

Thank you, Ronni, and thanks to Grannymar for getting me started reading blogs in the first place.

When I think about starting my own blog I wonder if I will have the time. I really shouldn't use that as an excuse, I know, because we find time to do what we enjoy. I seem to have other time consuming projects that interest me going on. Today I am expecting a SLR digital camera that I ordered (My present to me; a new toy)and my extra time will be spent learning how to use it. The camera would enable me to share my photos on a blog and that may be my final motivation to get moving.

I wrote my Memoirs years ago and then realized that they were about other people in my life and not about me. Last year I wrote a Biography about my life. Can blogging be far behind?

A wealth of knowledge and wisdom....stories from the heart....and what could be better than sharing them with everyone. Thank you Ronni for giving so many the avenue to do so.

My grandmother kept a daily record for years and years. Unfortunately, there's little in it except daily temperatures, listings of chores performed and dinners cooked. Occasionally, all too rarely, there's some little tidbit that's more personal, and it only leaves me wanting more. My own private journal is a lot more personal, and my photoblog is a way of capturing what my world looks like on a daily basis.

Carolyn H.
http://roundtoprumings.blogspot.com

Yes, our community has a writing class like Rabon's. I'm lucky to be a member. Our long time teacher just retired and died suddenly....a great loss to all of us. The class continues.

Hair: My grandmother, who with her 4 sisters also graduated from college in the 1800's, told me how she did it. They wore a "rat"...a horsehair construction on their heads. They teased and combed their own hair over if they didn't have thick hair. They kept it up there with the use of spray lacquer....terribly toxic stuff, and lots and lots of hair pins.

No ordinary stories...
My dad started a "journal" many years ago when he retired and moved to NH. His primary purpose was to record the weather and his gardening notes, but it expanded to include much more. He's in a nursing home now and I have his book. It's fascinating, and I love sitting with it every now and then and remembering the good and the bad times. His notes when my mom died are so sad. His notes when his grandchildren were born are joyous. His note about a night he and my mother went out for dinner and he saw no need to stay and pay for a "damn cup of coffee" is a family legend.
Thanks Ronni for encouraging us to write our stories.

Hi Ronni,
A wonderful post. I've read that when an elder passes away...a libray dies.
Everyone has a story to tell if you but listen. I love talking to my elders...I am so interested in hearing about their lives, their dreams..their goals..their childhood..their marriage! There is so much to learn...so much they can teach us. I wish that everyone would take an hour a week and visit our elders...those who don't get much visit in senior homes' and just sit back and enjoy the history that unfolds. They would be going back for more. Priceless!

A timely post, Ronni. Actually, your last several as well. My aunt died two days ago. This afternoon, my immediate family and I gathered with our relatives in a small, nearby farming town to celebrate her life.

Thanks for reminding people that they are not ordinary and that their lives have great meaning to their families. My mother who lived thru WWII in Japan would get angry with me for asking so many questions about her life, thinking her experiences were just like everybody else's in those times. Can you imagine?! I had to tell her over and over again how fascinating even the simplest aspects of her life were to me. My own kids can't imagine how I could have lived without Nintendo and love to hear stories about my Charlie the hamster. I now have published my mother's memoir to share them with others outside our family. Great post, Ronni. By the way, I blog about capturing memories, too.

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