Point of View: Writing with Hats and Movies

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Did you know that each time you sit down to write a story you’re using “Point of View?” Well of course you knew that…but nobody really likes to think about it much because it gets confusing–and all like “high school English-classy”

Zzzzzzzzz.

Hello, what?

Sorry.

That was about to get really boring…

I like to explain the various usages and approaches as hats. Yes, hats. And I believe that if you become proficient in changing hats from time to time, you’ll become a better writer for it. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in movies too. So, today we’ll think about Point of View, Hats and Movies. Yes, a little something for everyone!

Writing to describe the life and times of an Ancestor is a work of the heart. It takes at least a general historical frame of reference, some psychic channeling, a bit of nuttiness and a heavy dose of serious research and documentation. With all the electronic helpers available to us for spelling corrections, word use and plagiarism checks, you really don’t have to be a scholarly type to get the words into a sensible and readable string known as a sentence.

To make your hard work into enjoyable and treasured stories though, you have to employ some artful touches from the world of the writer.

And that Dearest Darlings, Dumplings, and Word-Cobblers to the Stars of Days Gone Past, is what the Point of View with Hats and Movies is all about.

There are Three basic hats to fixate on. You may choose the movie that you feel best suits the time and place of the tale. If somethings get too hard to speak of wearing a certain hat, time-outs and trade ins are totally acceptable–but you must go back to the beginning and start over. No mid-story switcheroos are allowed. That’s a storyteller’s Cardinal sin, and Cardinal hats are not up for grabs!

Hat #1. Conveniently, this is also known as 1st Person Point of View. In choosing this story hat, you are basically saying to your readers…Huddle up now, I’m going to tell you a story I know…

This is a great one for relating stories about people who you have or had a direct personal interaction. I like to pretend that I’m wearing a Mother Goose Bonnet if I am telling this story to my (mostly imaginary) grandchildren about growing up in the 1970s in rural Indiana. I think I like the bonnet because images of Holly Hobby Kids, the Bicentennial and such are linked vividly into my head from those times. My sentences often begin with “I” or “We” or “Our.” Movie-wise, I relate to the kids and events portrayed in “Stand by Me” and the female version of the same “Now and Then.”  An example could look something like this…

Our home was built on a county road amid a big stretch of farm fields. When giving someone directions we always made sure to say that our house was the one between the two bridges. We never needed to say whether it was on the right or the left, just that we lived in the only house between the bridges (the only two on the long road).

Hat #2. By now you will notice that you’ve been duped by the hats and movies into playing along for the sake of the grammar lesson!  Wearing this hat puts you into the action via 2nd person point of view. You’ll recognize it as the one your teachers tried to beat out of you when you first started learning to write reports and essays. They tried pretty hard to get you to write with totally artificial (to a kid) phrases like–“One would think that having a pet is all fun and games.” When really, all you wanted to say in your paper about “How to Train a Puppy” was that you had to be patient and be prepared to wipe up a lot of pee-pee accidents.

The stories told in Number 2, are great when you are writing about the person who will be reading the words (telling a child about the day they were born) or when you would like to tell the story wearing the hat and seeing life through the eyes of a child. or as a more intimate conversational setting with the reader. Wearing my favorite childhood baseball cap ( you’d probably guess that Mom was a bit of an enigma~ a prissy Tomboy)you would tell the story above while thinking about scenes from Little House on the Prairie–technically not a movie, but a picture filled simpatico motivation and mood-setter–like this:

You could easily figure out which house you were looking for. Dad put us right between the only two bridges on the whole road. All you had to do was find Shepardtown Road from either end, and you could find our house if you just kept going. If you passed a bridge no matter what direction you came from, you were about there. If you kept going and saw another bridge, you just missed it. If you never saw a bridge, either you weren’t lookin, or you were on the wrong road.

It’s the same info, given via a totally different style and effect. Second person helps lend a more colloquial flair to whatever you’re saying. Colloquial is a fancy way of saying “down-home and local-like.”

Hat #3 should be the go-to. This is the Narrative 3rd person voice.  The slightly remote, detached and ace reporter style is one that’s suits most situations and reading audiences.

This is the one to be done wearing a ball cap, front bill popped up, with a “press” pass pinned to it. Or, maybe see-thru green visor hat, worn with a vest and rolled sleeve dress shirt. One could expect to be surrounded by overflowing ashtrays as the writer two-fingers their way toward a column deadline on a shiny black Underwood. Detective films Noir starring a Sam Spade character work well as background. However, a period romance, musical or Sci-Fi fantasy, or contemporary drama could serve equally well for inspired writing. Take note of the difference:

The house between the bridges stood alone without neighbors on Shepardtown Road. Built in 1965 by Francine and Armand Pukismell, it was surrounded only by large rolling farm fields, along a segment of the road accented via the fork of Whitelick Creek causing the need for more than one bridge. A 20 year veteran of the US Postal Service drove out six days a week to bring mail addressed using only a surname and “RR#1″ on the envelopes. Outsiders, such as appliance deliverymen, had to be given concise directions to find the home without becoming lost on the old country back roads.

This hat delivers the  information in a very different manner. The reader generally has no curiosity about the author, and rarely wonders about who they are, or why they are telling the story.

So play around with the Point of View, Hats and Movies available to you as you write! I highly recommend switching POV when you’re feeling a bit “stuck” in a story. Sometimes, this simple switching of the way you’re seeing something in your head can make all the difference you’re seeking. Just like the examples above, there’s a huge array of styles and viewpoints…don’t let the same ol’ movie run on continuous loop!

 No matter which hat you choose, we both know there’s so much to say. So~ 

Maybe someone should write that down…

 

Language Arts and Dog-Nab Idiosyncrasies

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On the "davenport" with "Gramcracker"

On the “davenport” with “Gramcracker”

Hopefully at this point you have written enough about your own “Cast of Characters” that you have writer’s cramp or finger fatigue from typing! With the Holidays looming, the new story fodder will be coming in strong! So get caught up if you aren’t already. 

Our topic today is “Language,”  Everyone I know has a weird little name for one thing-a-ma-bopper or another.  Doohickies count too.  Today, think about the people in your family tree and try to remember some of the odd words they may have used.  When I say language, I am using the word loosely.

I have a certain female relative who “worshes the deeshes, and then wrinches them off real good in bolinhot water.” Windshield washer fluid is “the little doggy who pees on the winders” in some circles. And per family tradition we refer to the Thanksgiving Turkey as an Aardvark. Why an Aardvark you ask? Because it sounds funnier than calling it a Thanksgiving Harbor Seal.

This exercise can be solely an adventure of phonetically writing out some words to preserve a particular “accent.” Or, certain phrases that a person or group always used. Another way to display these jewels can be in the natural course of telling a story.

I immediately think of the tale of a few of my uncles out hunting raccoons one night. The youngest of the bunch, my Uncle Louie, stood in the dark waiting patiently for instruction from his older brothers. When the more experienced hunter-guys found a raccoon they chased it, whooping and laughing hysterically, intentionally toward poor Lou.  The terrified animal saw Louie’s still figure in the dark and, probably mistaking him for a stubby tree trunk, ran full speed up him and in a full-on state of panic clambered it’s way strait to the top of Uncle Lou’s head. Famously, Louie proclaimed in his thick immigrant accent “He climbed me up! He climbed me up! The Sonovobeech he climbed me up!”

My Grandpa Farmer was known for several counties around, for many things actually, but particularly for using the phrase “dog nab…”  Dog Nab was a name (noun), an adjective, heck, he used it as a verb too. He never cussed, he just dog-nabbed instead. Sometimes he was referred to (when someone was starting to stir his ire) as the Dog Nab :

“hey fella, I wouldn’t poke at the Dog Nab if I was you”

...sage advice.

It could be something simpler, like what exactly people you are related to and those who “marry-in” call the television’s remote control.  Remote, clicker, zapper, dad’s other arm?  Or speaking of dads, our family refers to French Toast as “Bull Winkles” like the cartoon moose. Why?  Because my dad’s family called them “New Wrinkles.” Why New Wrinkles?  I Still haven’t chased down a source for to cite for that one yet!

So use accents, oddities, old world phrases or new messes made from old, and describe some “language” for your generations to come.

Homes Are Family Too!

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Home is where the heart is & Homes are family too

Mom visited the Biltmore this week, and almost stayed!

Mom visited the Biltmore this week, and almost stayed!

This week I’m away from home visiting the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, the Smokeys…it’s all just breathtaking! I’m not sure how one differentiates the names and the ranges from all the others, but I’m loving each one I see. Driving here with Lucky Ducky Daughter (who will be living and working here over the next year) I was fascinated by all the houses that are, or were, someone’s home.

Homes are a huge part of all family history. They’re one of my favorite images to add-in to a story when writing about a relative. Whenever I go “traveling” to do some research, I always stop at the cemetery to snap pictures of family grave sites and headstones. Then, wherever possible, I try to track down and photograph the ol’ homestead they lived on.

Sometimes it works out great…yep, I’m gonna spend the next few years concocting some sort of family tie to the Vanderbilts so I can stake claim to the Biltmore.

Some efforts are thwarted (like when closing time comes and they escort you to the door you’ve already explained simply must be yours in some way or another!). 

Kidding (?) aside, I have arrived at recorded addresses on many occasions only to find an empty lot, a four lane highway, or a new Walmart. One home, the first address after the Old Country that I have been able to trace for Hubby’s family, is no-longer standing. Imagine my surprise to find that the entire neighborhood is now occupied by Slugger Stadium in Louisville!

Do I photograph the “fails”? Heck yes! 

More than anything, when I find a home that is still intact, I am tingling with excitement. A home place can speak volumes about the people and the time they lived there. Sure, those tombstones photos are important as hard evidence of a life. They tell about our people from a calendar’s perspective of point A to point B. But the softer tales found in the nuances of “home” are the ones I am always driven to chase harder.

A building speaks quietly of so many things. The dweller’s wealth, status, position and/or lack there-of can be quickly inferred. Was the house modest when compared to others on the street? Was the family with only one child hoping for many more when they built or bought the 6 bedroom turreted Victorian? Were the materials inexpensive and readily available, like locally made brick, or were there great slabs of Indiana Limestone transported across four states to North Carolina? Is it sited in an area that was once surrounded by farms but now in the middle of tract homes? Or, is it one of a long string of addresses within a relatively short span of time?

I want to see, photograph, and touch the house and it’s lawn when possible. I want to look around at the view from the kitchen window and walk through the rooms to get the feel of being in the space. So, I take pictures from the outside, chat with a neighbor out for a walk, knock on the door and introduce myself when it seems safe to do so. If not, I jump to plan B.  I can often get a photo record of sorts by searching the address on Google Street View and flagging it as a favorite on Zillow.

I use the Google Street View and Zillow trick when the home is far away or situated in what is now considered a “bad neighborhood.”

 Yes, it’s an unfortunate reality of our modern life. Nowadays, slowing your car to take a picture of a house can get you shot.

At some point, the home may go on the market. If/when that happens, I will get a little notification, and God willing, there will be photos of the interior. Granted, it’s not the same visceral experience of actually walking through the front door after feeling the porch railings with my own hands and hearing the floors creak and the screen door bang shut as I go into the backyard…but it’s a quick flash closer than I have been before.

Zillow usually includes the year of construction on their postings, and a link to the satellite view of the property. Often, with old homes, from the overhead photograph you can see the outline of smaller buildings that are long gone from the property. You might find the outline of a well house, old shed or detached garage. Why a former structure is gone can be an interesting stand alone story in itself. Perhaps the cause was a storm, an addition to the house, or a celebration of indoor plumbing at last!

Lovely old farmhouse in rural Indiana

Lovely old farmhouse in rural Indiana

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New house, finished up as time and money allowed. They worked on it for years.

Whoops! There's that Biltmore place again!

Whoops! There’s that Biltmore place again!

The Doctor of the Family lived here. Now it's a Bed and Breakfast

The Doctor of the Family lived here. Now it’s a Bed and Breakfast

These are just a quick sampling of some of the homes in my family tree. Blogger, Tasia, has an amazing video clip…super short…that she did as an introduction to old the homes of her ancestors. I think it’s amazing! And though it’s only seconds long, the unforgettable images prove that pictures are wondrous paintings to express simply what words can sometimes struggle to report.

Do you include the homes in your writings? They all have such incredible stories–bought for $500, farm in our family since the original land grant, their apartment was a stylish address for newlyweds, the Palm Sunday Tornadoes leveled the barn, they raised 15 children here– it’s all priceless, and enriches our written stories.

Don’t let distance, fear, disappearance or “someday” get in the way of a good 1000 word picture to add to your stories.  Get out there! 

Be the one to write it down!

ps~ don’t miss out on the links–click on Tasia  above to see the 47 second clip of her emotionally charged blog intro, and the link follower Ruth Rawls shared to an Ancestral home across the pond that she recently found via a trick like my Zillow thing.  Also, in the same chain of comments see the house here in Indianapolis that Mom obsesses over where Clark Gable had dinner! All really worth a clique!

Praise the Saints and Dish Up the Dirt

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wpid-img_20140825_103611.jpg There’s always a black sheep in every family.

If there isn’t…well, somebody must have scared ‘em off long ago !

There was a certain aunt in my hubby’s family who was evidently removed from the planet at some point.  I stumbled upon her on an early census.  She lived at home with her parents and two brothers until she was about 20.  Then all of a sudden she is married, and widowed within about a year.  Hmmm.  His death certificate (signed by her) states his cause of death as homicide, fatal gun shot wound.  His body was claimed by his parents and I as far as I can tell, was hauled back to Tennessee.  See ya Robert !  That’s around the time that Aunt Mary walked off the face of the earth.  Poof!  Gone.

Now heaven knows, my bloodline is not Saint-laden.  I am probably descended from more than my share of bootleggers, moonshiners, batterers and hatchet murdering types than I care to claim.  A couple of them even got caught!

Honestly, one end of my gene-pool had a real “thing” for smacking others in the head with a hammer. I can’t imagine it was their fault. Maybe hammers were just laying around waiting in those days…maybe it’s what most women carried in their handbags…maybe they didn’t know how to “use your words” to settle differences. I’m not really sure, but as far as I’ve found, none of them ever seemed to have been ever proven directly fatal.

Some tales are a bit less violent, but illegal nonetheless. Like the bootlegger faction of the family who warehoused their stock on underground shelves dug into the sidewalls of the outhouse. Bathtub Gin was the (out)house specialty. When a buy order came in, one of the kids was lowered down the hole–yes, that hole–by rope to retrieve the merchandise.

I would like to think that the customers sat on the front porch  or maybe stood around on the curb chatting while their order was being filled from the “stockroom”. But, who knows, maybe they didn’t give a…

Well, you could guess where that was about to go!

So think aloud around the table today and dig up a few of your “less than suitable for Sainthood” stories. You could start by Googling some names of cousins or other “contemporaries.”   They could be more recent than you think!

Who knows what you may or may not find. But if it’s ‘juicy’…you know what Mom always says:

Maybe someone should write that down!

 

6 Things Every Writer Needs

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In a departure from my norm on family storytelling, I’ve decided to share something that I think is a pretty big deal in any sort of writing. Recently in my Writer’s Group, we brainstormed an invaluable list:

 6 Things Every Writer Needs

The beauty of this compilation is that we are a highly diverse group writing everything from CNF (Creative Non Fiction) to Poetry, to Screen Plays, to Educational Materials, Memoirs, and on and on. Our voices and styles are vastly different (some lyrical, some concise, some babbling…me) But we were able to distill our lists down to six key elements, and then to start holding each other accountable for creating our own perfect environment for productivity while honoring our chosen genre.  We meet every other week and do a check in with the group over how close we are to honoring and providing for our writerly needs. In short, this has made a huge difference for all of us!

Now a word of caution before you peruse the list…This is not open license for dilly dallying and lamenting that you simply cannot write because you’ve made no progress past numbers 1-3 (yet). The idea is to have a vision of your perfect writing situation and to mindfully work toward that as you keep chugging along with less than ideal circumstances.

Shall I pull out the JK Rowling card? She was a single mom, on welfare, who loaded the babies up in the stroller, went to the corner coffee house and started writing down this big story thing that was in her head. There was no MFA, no Macbook, no Scribner, no editor, blog platform or fan base. There were only stolen moments when the kids were lulled to sleep for their naps by fresh air and the soothing buggy ride along the bumpy sidewalk. It seems to have worked out well for her, wouldn’t you agree?

*So here it is* Pay Attention* It’s for your own good* Do it*

1. Tools  Readily usable, reliable, in good repair, comfortable tools. I waffle between the soothing sound of a pencil skipping across paper, and the ease of spellcheck on my super light weight laptop. I also cannot leave the house without my smart phone and portable full page scanner. I’m picky about my pencils too. They either have to be all black, old fashioned wood with pink eraser #2s or a Pentel 0.5 mechanical. Why? Couldn’t tell ya…they’re just comfortable and don’t annoy me when I’m writing.

2. Inspiration What starts a story out for you? Is it a conversation with a cousin? Seeing old photos? A daily prompt from a book or webpage you like? How about your journal, or the writings or possessions of a family member–an heirloom that you admire in a case, or use everyday. For some it’s a place, a date or an occasion. Others write methodically from a task list. They have a neat outline of what they want to say and can go down the list working one subject at a time and feeling a great deal of accomplishment. Some look for contests or open calls for submissions and can write inspired by the given topic. Maybe it’s something you notice on the ground, the funny title of a book, or a childhood memory. Pinpoint your inspirations and gather them up.

3.  Space Oh this is one that’s a bee in my bonnet. The beautiful red cabin above is my oasis, nestled in a meadow of wildflowers, just at the edge of the woodland, a bit disheveled..OK…there are buckets all around to catch the drips when it rains…it is my land of sweet creative repose. My mind unwinds into dazzling sentences and the prose created while there, though lightly written, is unnoticeably heavy in deeper meanings and rich detail.  Or, maybe that’s my dream sequence and this is a photo from Lady Grace (click on “red cabin” to see more of her fabulousness) that she let me borrow and drool over as I patter away on my Chromebook, from the love-seat, in my family room, with an obese Golden Retriever hogging more than his share! Yes, space is my bugaboo.  Right now some of my best writing is done on a legal pad balanced on my knee under the steering wheel as I’m headed down the highway.

A little hint here…if you’re ever behind a grey Volvo on I-65, give it room!

4.  Support I could have easily called this community, feedback or cheerleaders. Don’t cringe. I know most of us who write are rather solitary by nature. We were the kids in the family who could entertain ourselves. But let me say this–Do not try to write in a vacuum! I know it sounds like you’ll have your ideas stolen and dreams quashed, but sidestep your shyness/anxiety/fear and join some sort of group to support you as you write! It could be as simple as a local genealogy club, a critique group, or a class series on creative writing. The blogging community is a great place to look for help too. For women (sorry guys) there’s a great group I belong to called The Story Circle Network. Having fellow writers (not relatives) critique your work and help you along the way is the best thing you will ever do as a writer. Doesn’t matter what your talent or experience level is…do it!

5.  Organization and Techno Savvy  It’s just a fact of our modern lives that we are busy, connected, constantly interrupted and short on time. To be serious about writing, you have to value the writing you do. I keep print outs of all of my submitted pieces, including blog posts and guest posts I do in binders separated by what they are. Some are Chapters for my book, some are short stories and essays, I even occasionally pop out an accidental poem. I keep a note on the printed page of where they are out for review, what the status is, and what my publication rights are, and what I was paid for it/ when it was rejected.  I have a big wall calendar too where I note submission deadlines and when mine was sent and how (electronic or mailed). But most importantly, everything I write gets saved in multiple ways. I copy all the docs onto Word, Google Docs, Google Drive, Drop Box, WordPress, and onto flash drives, and of course slip a hard copy into my handy dandy 3 ring binders.

6.  Accountability  Did I hear you mumble “Ouch!”? This is perhaps the biggest one of all…accountability. There’s an old saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and I would add that the desk drawer is loaded with the empty pages we’ve never begun writing on! Writing can be quite self directed and introverted, and because of that…easily neglected. You must make it a priority in your day (you would be amazed at what you can get done in just 10 minutes with a kitchen timer ticking at you!). Accountability is also, across the board, mandatory in every one of the other 5 needs we’ve listed. You must set goals, share them with others, and be responsible for achieving them. Otherwise, your family history, your great american novel, your spy thriller, or your weight loss cook book will just pave the road…while you burn your favorite candle, sharpen those black pencils, and listen to Pandora.

Without “Accountability” I would loll around in my red cottage moving rain buckets and thinking about redecorating instead of tackling the book I’ve been assigned to review, the approaching column deadline, or the blog post I should care about. Let’s look at that cabin again ~ sigh…0171

Yep, I’m accountable to getting that too!

 

 

 

For the Love of What I’ll Never Have

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The most beautiful face in the world is the one I can only recognize across time

The most beautiful face in the world is the one I can only recognize across time

Today’s work is about what we have lost.  It’s a wish list of sorts, or maybe put another way, its a love letter to the ones we probably can’t have.  I don’t use real names in my posts to protect family privacy etc.  This photo is of my Grandmother a few generations back who immigrated from a small country in the Balkans. I refer to her in my blog posts as Grandma Urbanski.  I gave her this name because she lived and worked in the city (thus the Urban part of the name) and the” ski “just makes sense with the other surnames in the area.

I count her as one of my Lost because unfortunately, there is almost nothing of her left behind. Oh, I will never give up searching for more scraps of Grandma U, but the chances of finding anything more than her grave marker or this photo from her Naturalization Papers are pretty dim.

I am not ungrateful, having this photo alone is so very meaningful to me.  But, I wish that I could also see the face of her husband, of their 8 kids when they were young, or even another one of her.  The saddest part of this is that the artifacts of her life were not blown away in a storm or great calamity.

Her own children destroyed the entire contents of the house after Grandma and Grandpa Urbanski died.  Not out of dislike for them, but even worse it seems, out of the shame of them.

I know that they came here on a steamer ship, likely in the underbelly as 2nd or 3rd class passengers. They were young and newly married. How brave, adventurous and hopeful they must have been! They spoke no English and upon arrival and through the ends of their days they persisted in their “Old Country” ways.

What I would have found marvelous and fascinating about them, their own “first generation born here” children found insufferably humiliating.

These foreign born, huddled-masses parents who worked ceaselessly until the day they dropped were a complete embarrassment to their own children~the very ones they were working so hard for. I guess I would be angry at that generation of ungrateful offspring if it weren’t such a commonality across the board with all the “new Americans” and their children around that time.

Take some time today and write about who and what you feel is lost to your family.  Maybe it’s a story like mine. Maybe it is about the native tongue that you regret never learning. Perhaps you miss a certain food and don’t have any trace of the recipe. Or maybe you just miss your own Grandparents. Mine were all incredible and simply larger than life to me when I was a child. I was fortunate enough to know one of my Grandmothers, Gramcracker, well into my adulthood.  What an experience! To know her as a Grandma, and then, as an adult to know her heart as a woman.

I wish to know my lost Grandma “Urbanski” as well. I think she’s the one I’ll never give up on <3

 

 

 

Schmoozing and Boozing

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My, my…how fancy and devilish!

Schmoozing and Boozing

the Night Club my Grandparents owned

‘John Dillinger Drinks Here’ could be the subtitle on this old business card.  My Grandparents owned this bar, reportedly frequented by gangster John and his band of guys and their ‘Molls’ who were “Wild and Woolly and Full of Fleas.”


So who lives in your family tree?  Most of us don’t really have a famous relative, but you can bet that every branch has had a little brush with fame or scandalous rogues somewhere along the line! Think about that “one” story always itching to be retold. You know, the one that gets passed around the Thanksgiving Dinner table each year. Once the heavy carbohydrates and Turkey-tranquility begin to take effect, the stage is set for storytelling time. Waistbands get loosened, dessert is served with a second (or 5th) glass of wine. Guards are lowered and tongues start wagging…Have your pencil sharpened and in ready position!

 The movie star Frances Farmer used to come into my Aunt’s dry cleaning store. Imagine that–right here in the heartland of farm crops and auto racing. I wrote a bit about how Aunt Mitz did Movie Star cleaning and pressing in another post written about my Uncle Joe. Frances had her own whale of a tale in general. If you aren’t familiar with what this poor woman suffered in the wake of Hollywood glitz, read her biography. It’ll rival most nightmares Tinsel-Town could ever conjure.

And if it be nightmares you seek~ are there any connections between your family and a famous crime…

…or victim

or perpetrator…

…or unsolved “doing”

that went on near enough to your world giving you all the heebie-jeebies?

 A lot of my dad’s family was out working the carnival and county fair circuit with Sylvia Liken’s parents the summer the teen was brutally tortured to death by a woman they paid to watch over their daughter while they were working out-of-state.  Oh, and the real “kicker” if you aren’t familiar with the sad, sick tale was that Sylvia’s “caretaker” Gertrude also included  a bunch of the neighborhood kids in the crime. Gertrude invited them in to practice judo moves, do cigarette branding and urinate on the poor girl.

Moving Along…

Mr Penney (as in J. C. himself) once stepped in during a busy lunch time shopping rush and helped my aunt ring up customers.  When Steve McQueen was a kid he lived with his mom and grandparents around the corner from some of my kin.  And yes, John Dillinger hung out at and loved Granny Kate’s hot stew from her Wooden Shoe Tavern.

Abraham Lincoln and my Great Uncle Jimmy were law partners, or at least classmates in “lawyering school.”  Well, that’s how the story went for years until I started doing some math and blew that tall tale all the way to China. The truth can be a bitter, bitter pill for some. And of course, my husband’s birth-brood (along with every other old South family) is related to Daniel Boone AND Davy Crockett :)

Then there are the ones I haven’t chased down yet–Like our familial claim to Warwick Castle. Or the one about some sort of half Royal love child with Franz Josef Hapsburg, or maybe it was his heir Franz Ferdinand, you know, the guy with the whole Sarajevo/1st shot fired in WWI thing.

Why not shake up your Family Tree with a little something spicy and exciting? Take some time this week to recall the lore and to tell about the famous and the famous near-by. Those who you may claim as your own or those who may be mingled-in-with your ancestors can be a very juicy spit of a story. Big connection, made up, misinformed or one heck of a stretch, all of them are a thread in the tapestry of our own family story

 Maybe someone should write that down…

 

 

 

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

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mal suws.pose                                                                                                                Television shows, commercials and yes, even my own blog posts often tout the endearing “fact” that a certain trait or characteristic was certainly passed down the line from a specific someone or group of someones.  Interesting. Fun. Whimsical.  Perhaps just plain Nostalgic and warming to feel so due, so connected and bequeathed.  But maybe that isn’t so true as we readily like to accept.  I’ve looked at great figures in our history who were adopted and never influenced by their bloodline past birth.

Barons of industry, philanthropists, great minds, serial killers, and orphans who became Saints are all equally represented. Even sibling sets have such vastly different personalities and quirks. They may share many habits and traits, but all are separate people with their own paths to follow or fall from.

Several years ago, the Mom crew had one of those experiential family bonding weekends where we roughed it in the mountains of North Carolina for a weekend (OK, only one night sleeping outside in a shelter, the other two nights I was holed-up in a very posh hotel–close enough). One of the exercises we did together as a family was to scurry around the camp site and collect up bits of forest matter to create a family crest on” a dirt pad we had shaped onto the mossy black soil patches where sun rarely touched through the tall pines.”

Delightful.

…Ew!

We were assigned to each come back to our spot with hands full of assorted objects, and to then assemble the stuff into four meaningful quadrants divided by twigs representing us as a family unified in a collective tableau of organic discards. I wish I still had the photo secretly snapped with my smuggled in Blackberry.  Together we were to wage a lively debate over whose treasures of nature we’d use on the little flat mound and what exactly they represented.  The instructor gave us only a short time to do the project. She said she didn’t want us to “over think” what we created. We had to work fast and shoot from the hip to get it done in time to explain what we had chosen and why.

A handful of the other families there were clearly more “in touch” with mindfulness and “being in the moment” than us. Fully unified in their task, they were sopping up the symbolism. On the other hand, I was enjoying the dynamics of the family next to us who pretty much hadn’t spoken to each other all weekend. Until this assignment began; then everyone of them piped up. I especially liked the part where they erupted in a nasty tussle over whether to use tree bark or leaves to outline their creation.

We were in good shape, our outdoorsy daughter was cheerfully in her element as she directed Dad and me toward places to find “the good stuff.”

I’ll admit I wasn’t helpful on the hunt; everything looked like poison ivy to me. Besides, I was wild eyed watching for snakes, bears and woodland spiders who were large enough to carry off pets and Appalachian children.

I think I got the point of the whole thing in retrospect. Things became clearer to me back at home sipping a latte, seated on my finely upholstered raw silk sofa, in the sun-room, overlooking the patio and pool. That weekend experience started looking less awful and more fascinating. Especially with some distance between me and that horrifying time when I peed in the woods while a snarky toad sat glaring at me; things were clearer from the sofa. I’m sure many of the other families felt moved to a deeper understanding of their own tribal dynamics. At the time, Husband and I were just feeling lucky to be released back to our hotel. For me, the amazing part happened back here in my Mom-zone. I saw that there is really no ancestral precedent for our outdoor adventure loving daughter. Yes, I’m sure she is ours, I was there and quite lucid when she was born.

She has my crooked pinky fingers and my freakishly long big toes (left one more so than the right).

But even with my country-farm girl upbringing, and my husband’s years of summer camp for boys–neither of us has the “nature bug” that our campy, earth-girl does. Her sister would rather be fire-roasted on a spit than to suffer sleeping outdoors. Her burly, football playing, 6’7″ little brother prefers his pillow top mattress and a hot tub over a canopy of stars any time.

Sure, there are lots of our Ancestors who lived without plumbing, or traveled cross country on a river float. But they were always on their way toward something better. I have not found a single instance of someone who WANTED to live “au’natural.” So I’m thinking that in the here and now, somehow, by some hiccup in the cosmos, I am raising a willing hiker, outdoor loving, ground sleeping, twig eating, Hipster. A bonafide “first” for our family tree.

Together, Husband and I lay claim to a wide variety of vocations, characters, oddballs and nuts, but none who are close to being as woodland obsessed as our otherwise prissy middle daughter. We must then, give her the full and due credit of being the original Granola Knapsack-er in our line!  Hurrah for a variant gene!

A refreshing bit of difference at last.

Oh, I know you’re burning to know what we ended up placing on our own little dirt crest. So, I’ll tell you what filled each of the four quadrants out in the woods: For the obvious reasons, we outlined ours with acorns/nuts. We put Oak leaves in the first quadrant to represent our strength as a family. A cross braided from river grass filled one area to represent our faith.  In the 3rd section, we piled up moss and shaped a heart for the love between us, and on the last one we placed a scattering of small round pebbles–representing animal poo–because it was funny, and poo happens to us all of the time.

What about your family? Do you have anyone who has followed their own unprecedented path in life? Any trailblazers? Entrepreneurs? Anyone way out there standing on their own perfect limb?

How would you create a family crest of your own?  Don’t over-think it, but really–

Maybe someone should write that down…

Dreaming I’m Naked at School (again)!

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1557540_282521591894983_1026699579_nThis dream that I’m naked at school is one that has haunted me off and on for years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, I experienced one of those “nightmare come true” type of things.  Like everyone, I have a recurrent dream about high school.  I am in the halls, between classes, and utterly lost.  I’m not sure where I am supposed to be, which class is next, or what books I need to wedge out of my locker.  In fact, I don’t even remember which locker is mine.  When my favorite teacher Mrs Goodwin suddenly appears, I feel a bit of relief.  I credit her with herding me through the hallways when I was physically there, I know I can count on her in a dream.

BJ Goodwin was a feisty little women.  She kept a pair of old lady spectacles perched on the tip of her nose. If displeased, a spontaneous twitch would make the reading glasses hop. This in turn caused the dangling chain to flash like an angry snake’s warning.  Kids at my school were sure she was older than God Himself and had schooled him on the whole “wrath” thing.

Her knowledge of grammar and punctuation was above reproach.  After just one semester in her writing mechanics class, if she didn’t fail you for fun, one could fight to the death, certain of victory, over the uses of there, they’re and their respectively. Good old Mrs. Goodwin was the stern mistress of the Language Arts wing.  I concurrently adored her and feared her.

Meanwhile in my reliable dream:  I notice I’m missing more than my schedule, I’ve forgotten my clothes too.  Yeh, that’s right~ Mom is naked in the school hallway!

That’s where I usually wake up gasping in panic.  Phew! Just a dream~I check the clock to tether myself to reality and then I roll over and call it a night…until the next time

On June 23rd my nakedness nightmare crossed lines and came fully into the realm of the real world.   My silly-naughty-mess-method writing style was inadvertently put on display right here in the (virtual) school hallway.  It was as mortifying as any episodic public nakedness could be.  Both me and the oft-dreamt-of Mrs Goodwin were rightfully appalled.

I had a deadline...A couple of months ago I signed up for a tantalizing peer review workshop for new manuscripts. When I received notice that the session was full and that I would be wait-listed, frankly I just forgot about it.  I promptly put my fledgling novel aside and went on with Mom-life as usual.  On Sunday, three days before the beginnig of class I was notified that a seat had become open.  Along with my $135 fee, all I had to send in was the first 10,000 words of my work. Oh Crap.

With no time to waste, I was flying on the keyboard.  When I say flying, I mean that I was using barely coherent language, purely phonetic spelling and shards of sentences.Sequences of letters encrypted in a code only decipherable by me and fully lacking any graces of the English language…that’s the track I was on.  The ideas in the story were coming faster than the words could land onto the screen.  I had to get 10,000 spectacular words out of my head and into a readable format to be able to participate in the coveted workshop. And messy as it was, it was at least working until~

A nagging question and answer vignette with Mrs G began playing in my head:

Me:  Ugh~ why do you assign us  homework if you aren’t having a test? Why do I have to do all of this writing, no one is ever going to see it? What difference does a gerund make in my life? …and on and on

Mrs G: Because it’s for your own good…If you slack off and fall short of your potential  you’re only cheating yourself…  Homework isn’t for me, it’s for you…I may be able to push you to greatness but, I am sure as hell not willing to drag you there!

Yes, she would say stuff like this, she cussed in class.  Scandalous and titillating! This was, after all, in 1970’s rural Indiana…we didn’t have HBO yet.  Mrs Goodwin is still roaming about in my head to this day. I recall the slavish due diligence she demanded for a simple five paragraph essay…outline, topic sentence, thesis sentence and on and on.  Her rants were epic and known far and wide across the Language Arts hallway of our school.  Most famously she used to lecture us: Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell em, Tell ‘em, and THEN tell ‘em what you told ‘em…  Just thinking about those classroom bouts of deconstruction and cadence unnerves and exhausts me still.

And grading scale?  Well, if you were lucky, she didn’t like you.  If she didn’t like you, she deemed you unworthy of her time and countenance  (recall that she was old like Moses).  So, that meant that you could fly under the radar with nice solid papers written to mirror the rubric.  However, if she liked you…Katy bar the door!…turning in a paper was like leaning headlong into a shark tank.  My papers came back with grades like C- and D+ on generous days.   She decorated each assignment with red pen remarks like “pedestrian effort” or “the library has a thesaurus to lend.

In all fairness though, the grades she entered onto my report card and transcript were all A’s.

You see, Mrs Goodwin operated on two grading scales. There was the one for assigned classwork and the one that she set for individual ability.  She liked to mess with your head if she saw promise in your writing.  She loved my writing and abhorred my sloth-y attitude so it went pretty ugly most days in class.

The perfectionism of BJ Goodwin stayed with me for years.  My school essays were spot-on “A” winners every time. Often those essays got me in to places that my GPA wouldn’t have allowed. However, to sit down and try to write as I do today was unthinkable agony. Family stories have too many captions and side-notes to fit the formula for five perfect paragraphs.  So, for the longest time, I found the task so overwhelming that I would spend weeks grinding away at a single story to share on a special occasion, or give up without really starting.

Enter: NaNoWriMo

A few years ago, I took a leap of faith and tried my hand at the November writers’ ritual. In order to stay up to speed with the rigors of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) I had to let go of writing so “rigidly.” The best description I have for the method I slid into is that it’s sort of like writing War and Peace during a slow motion train wreck. It’s really simplistic and frankly a lot of fun.

I just write.

The first time I wrote “all crazy” like this, I understood how Brooke Shields felt in her Calvin Kleins….wow!  I do no punctuation, no tense checking, and pay no mind to pesky stuff like spell check flags.  I just type or scribble. I often catch myself figuratively talking Mrs Goodwin off of the ledge… I’m sure she would find the whole concept regressive and obscene.

The initial work I produce isn’t even remotely well written.  It feels raw and naughty! My only goal is to move the general idea of out of my head and onto the tablet (old school or electronic…I use both equally). Once one of these creative episodes I call “tantrums” has passed, I review the words I have gathered. I salvage a train of thought.  Most of the time it works out. Sometimes, even I have no idea where I was headed.

Mom note: Could this explain those ” I’m Naked at School” dreams?   Hmmm…

Personally my biggest writing challenge is keeping the subject train on the tracks. With my gnat-like attention span I can flit off into the sunset at any moment. So this “wilding” style of rough copy writing I have come to habituate works really well for me. What does happen consistently from this messy-writing thing I’ve adopted is this~ I end up with an edited piece that I can label as a story.  I also generally net at least one or two more “side stories” that can be brainstormed and fleshed out as well. Mostly I think it works out for me because I know nobody is looking.

Which rounds the corner to the point that I started out with…the “June 23rd incident of shame”

And so it happened that late last month while my fingers were having a happy party on the laptop– a slip occurred. I was really excited and on a roll.  I just knew I could get my pages wrapped up and polished before the Wednesday class.   After hours of writing, I decided I would have one last go at a character sketch before bed.  I opened the trusty Chromebook, took a deep breath, arranged the tails of my robe “just so” and went at it.

Silly, naughty, messy me… I didn’t notice that I had opened WordPress, not Google Docs.  With one fatal keystroke I inboxed a few hundred blog subscribers one of the most disjointed, random, ungroomed paragraphs ever seen by mankind.  I went to bed and waited for Mrs Goodwin to rise up from her grave and slap me with a big red F-

sigh…

life goes on

Here’s an excerpt from the whole mess (before I fixed it for my workshop of course):

So othat daywhen Annie Thomlinson pronounced my weiner dog Brut too fat, and further announced that for this and many other insufferable transgressions made by me by mere virtue of myexistence, all now valid reasons, that she could nolonger be my friend, the rest of the world went about their busiiness. The whole world, Inncluding Cindy , Sandy and for the most.part Zelda too.

And my belated apologies to those who were subjected to it.  By the time it got to peer review, it was kinda stellar.  If you found it in your inbox, sorry, my bad, it was a little shy of coherent.

So how about you?  What are your writing secrets?  Do you hold back by self-imposed perfection (I call that my inner Mrs G) or do you run loose and free and pick up the pieces later (my silly naughty mess method).  Do you simmer ideas and words somewhere in between?  Does your method serve you well…or do you need to try something new and daring? Most importantly …are you getting the stories of your loved ones and predecessors written down?

Come stand naked in the school hallway with Mom…Tell me ~what’s YOUR secret for getting the words onto the page?

My Grandpa from the Center of the World or Maybe Just Europe

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It just doesn’t get much more exciting or exotic than this!wpid-img_20140803_122550.jpg

Finally, after years, and I do mean YEARS of poking, searching and poodling around–I finally found my Weisz relatives on the other side of the pond!  Yeah Baby!  And they come from…where else?…the proclaimed Geographical Center of Europe!

Yes, we’re talking Kunesov (or Blaufuss) Slovakia.  Although if that’s all I had to go on during my exhausting search, this whole “middle of the world thing,” I could also have searched for them in about a dozen other places with similar central claims.  Yes, per Wikipedia and a few other sources I have consulted, there are roughly 15  places with claim to being the center of the world and/or the center of Europe geographically. There’s also a “Center of the World” town in the state of Ohio.  But my bunch came from a small gold-mining region of Slovakia, where there isn’t much more than a Church plunked on a plot in the middle of nowhere. Kunesov is said to be the place where both the Black and the Baltic Sea basins rise up to form the hill.  Said hill, or “crest” is responsible for officially dividing the entire continent!  That makes Kunesov rather like an out-y-bellybutton for all of Europe. The church was built in the 14th century and is named for St John the Baptist. Poor St John is also famous for his point of “division” in another way. The lonesome little building is adorned with white stone walls and a green onion dome silently adding a touch of East meets West.
Oddly, GGGrand-Papa is sporting a commonly Jewish surname while being christened there at St John’s Roman Catholic Church.

256px-Stred_EurópyI mention the surname twist, not only because it adds to what I consider the crazy ironic stew that I am made of, but also because of the implications.  Health implications.  In researching the spelling of this name (translated it means “White”) I find that it was a common surname given to Ashkenazim Jews who were fair haired and fair complected (ala “Mom”).  Health-wise, the BRCA genes which give one a high predisposition to breast cancers and some other cancers are commonly found in people who have an Ashkenazim Jewish linked heritage.  I have always said there was no way I would have that gene, my family is all Catholic or Protestant.  Looks like I was pretty much wrong, so maybe yes there was a reason I had breast cancer after all!

Nobody get sappy, I’m fine and dandy now…”only the Good die young…” the rest of us stick around forever tormenting out heirs ;)

  Well how’s about them apples? So, the thrill of finally pinning down Grandpa White was quickly tossed to the side.  Now I am obsessed with finding HIS parentage. I can’t wait to see why a nice Jewish boy (at some point in the history of “us”) jumped sides and became a nice Catholic boy (from there continuing the history of “us”).  I really cannot imagine that his parents were amused!  I’m going to bet that “her” parents were equally “un-jubilant” over the whole pairing.

 Juicy!  Can’t wait to find that one!

So, poor GGGrand-Papa White and his lovely wife Marija from Kunesov, Slovakia have been celebrated briefly (a quick Happy Dance around my ironically “Mid-West” family room) and I am on to “Next.

Isn’t that always the way though?  As soon as one is found and solved, the door to another volume of questions cracks open…and we the Family History Hounds are Off!  Sniffing out the next empty lines on the chart, anxious to find the next fascinating story to write.

Here’s a photo from the Slovakian Tourist Ministry of the official plaque and monument in case you care to think this center of Europe claim isn’t legit (what does Wikipedia know anyway?)SAMSUNG

So how about you? Have you ever bumped into a surprise like this one?  Are any of your relatives from somewhere as exciting as the Center of the Civilized World? Dish it up and share the story please!

You can take your time if you would like…I’m off to the backyard to erect a monument stating that my driveway is the official Center of the Universe :)

Looky What I Found!

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wpid-20141004_220026.jpg

Have you ever found something, that wasn’t exactly lost, but you had forgotten you had in the first place?

That’s what happened to Mom this week. I have a snazzy “just for looks” chest in our entry hall that’s a great place to lose your keys, stack mail and pile up things wrestled away from the dog. The other day, I took a deep breath, squinted my eyes and started opening up the drawers–something that was long overdue–a leap of faith and a possible health risk!

To my surprise, I only found several year’s worth of planners, datebooks and assignment notebooks. Oh, and the dog’s registration papers :) I was fully braced to find the mystery hiding place of something horrid like the “I’m sure the Bunny left 36 eggs, not 35″ Easter 2008 incident.

I sifted through all in the assorted sizes and conditions and bindings, carefully sorting them by year. I was a bit excited and a lot relieved. These found volumes were cause for a good five hour walk down memory lane. That’s pretty much my idea of a Party!

The best discovery in the pile of datebooks was less obvious than the unearthing of fond memories. As I leafed through the pages, I found important evidence of achievement, progress and accomplishment! Sitting on the floor, leaning against the seldom used front door I found solid reasons to celebrate.  Inadvertently, I had documented these by a series of weekly, sometimes daily, “to-do lists.” Fastidiously, all that I had set out to do, I had checked off as I finished. This was solid evidence of how far I had come in my project of chasing the dead and resurrecting their stories.

Wow! I said in a rare moment of patting myself on the back…How had I  achieved all this stuff while simultaneously cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, working, volunteering, feeding every high school volleyball team and football player for 6 years, on top of raising my own kids, breaking up carpool fights and lending an ear to broken hearts over first loves, season ending injuries, and varsity cuts?

I relaxed next to the fancy-schmantzy chest and smiled. The piled up calendars scattered around me on the floor represented a lot of earned successes!  Happily I knew that I’d chased all this for so long out of love and admiration for those before me–some who I never knew–and also for those who will be here long after I’m gone. In that moment I realized there would be some who will read the stories I write without having ever known me! Imagine that one…

What a trip!

So I aim to challenge you this week to look around and find the little traces of things you have started out and finished up! Look for your lists with their check marks of completion. We’re all so busy chasing the next item on our lists, we forget to celebrate all the steps we’ve worked toward, reached, and moved forward from.

Best of all? The legendary Easter Egg #36 of 2008, remains lost; a merciful controversy bordering on myth. 

I think Maybe someone should write That One down ;)

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