Heraldry and We the People, Return from Spring Break

I originally wrote this post several years ago while the “Mom blog” was in its infancy. But after watching a good friend pridefully chose “just the right spot” to display her new, official and authentic family crest– complete with expensive frame and mat–freshly purchased while visiting a Theme-Park-Mega-Land…I thought we could all use a refresher. We Americans just don’t “get” the whole Heraldry and Flying the Family Colors thing. But boy, we sure want to participate! Here’s the real scoop, along with a bit of my own shame showing ūüėČ ¬†¬†1219121525aI’m not sure, but I believe it was PT Barnum who said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

What I am sure of is:  I am one of those suckers.

¬† The other day I was clearing out a drawer and ran across a family crest certificate that my husband and I had purchased many years ago.¬† Can you hear the Merry-go-Round music yet?¬† It came from a very “proper” looking shop.¬† I believe that it was even spelled “shoppe” ~ a spelling meant¬† to further endorse the authenticity of fake stuff.¬† But we were young and silly and newly married.¬† So we scraped together the $35.00 ( a pretty Royal sum for us 30+ years ago) and bought a “fully researched and authenticated, heirloom quality” piece of paper with our last name slightly misspelled on it.

Wow.  How cool is That ?

What I have learned since ( ironically for free via library books) is that we were totally duped.¬† A crest is only “good” for the original “owner.”¬† A father may have a certain design, but it does not pass down verbatim to his children.¬† When important families married, as was generally the plan, their crests were merged to create a new one for the identity of the newlyweds.

Maybe there was an Earl of Momenhousen who bore the crest in my drawer a bazillion years ago.  However we, the current-day Momenhousen family, have no claim to it.

¬† Heck at this point, I don’t even know what happened to the receipt ! ¬† I do have an excuse though…I am an American.¬† Almost all of us are about one inch away from obsession with “the Old Country.”¬† Additionally, we are also generally convinced¬† there is a Demi-Czar, a Baron or at least a Bergermeister in our family pedigree somewhere.

Therefore, it stands to reason that we (meaning the immediate “us”) must have claim to a heraldic shield, a family crest, or something that verifies we are from a stock above serfdom.¬† Thanks Mr Barnum, you have given a name to this madness~

Sucker.

The real truth is that Heraldic Design is pretty much about Art.  If you are Canadian, you may claim a crest for your lineage if you wish to go through a long and arduous process. For better or for worse,if you are looking for something cool to put up on the wall, its time to do some doodling.  Although I did some intensive research on the topic and found a few favorite books that I think are very good for being technically correct, I just recommend the use of an artsy relative.

Simply by Googling “Heraldry” or” Heraldic Design”, or” Colors in Heraldry” you can save yourself some time and money. If you are looking for good books on the subject (and you can persevere for a few months to get through one) I would recommend one of these three.¬† And please note, the third one is not an opening chapter, it is the title of the book:

1.  A Guide to Heraldry by Ottfried Neubecker

2.  Concise Encyclopedia  of Heraldry by Guy Cadogan Rothery

3.  The Manuel of Heraldry a Concise Description of the Several Terms Used and Containing a Dictionary of Every Designation in the Science with 350 Illustrations  by Sir Francis James Grant

If these all sound too scary, have a sit down with your clan and start brainstorming what it means to be a “Dipfenhoffper” or “Smith.”¬† Think up some words,symbols, and colors to use to represent You.¬† Maybe then craft a family logo~for your ” house”.¬† Remember, siblings should be allowed to represent the same ancestry with their own selection of colors, symbolism and mottoes.¬† Consider using a string of words that spell out your last name as a motto like the poems kids are so fond of writing out of their names .

Example (bad one, really bad one):

Bravery In The Hood Masked At Night (Bithman)

In my post titled Managing the Help(ers)” I talked a little bit about dividing this task up among different factions of the family.¬† It’s a great way to get everyone started with helping without driving you nuts.¬† And, as a bonus, if you can get everyone to create their own crest, then the cover design for their copy of the finished project will already be done.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Julie-Everhart-Fine-Art-and-Photography/161130630622523?__mref=message_bubble
Lord Levi, as rendered by my friend Julie Everhart, of Julie Everhart Fine Art and Photography

Wow, how cool is that?

It’s also as authentic as the “Heraldry” you buy in a glitzy little shop or from one of the online retailers. This is my fabulous furboy, posing as the Lord of a fictitious family who lives out their on-screen lives in a private home rented annually by their production crew.

I’d rather have this photo any day over one printed out with an ink-jet from a tourist trap! If you’d like your baby, or yourself, transformed into Napoleon or Marie Antoinette (before that whole unfortunate beheading thing) get in touch with Julie, you can have royalty “your way” as the great American (Burger) King says ūüėČ

I’m so sorry. What can I do to help?

 

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How many times have we said this, written it on a card, spoken these words genuinely? Or conversely, been on the receiving end of these words as they are spoken to us?    What can I do to help?

While all is well with me and within my own house, at one time it was not. And now, there seems to be a startling rash of catastrophic diagnosis all around me, involving my friends, my family and others who I care deeply for.

In a departure from my norm, I am writing today about what are heart wrenching situations that are simply a part of living. There are moments when all that can be felt is helpless desperation– for those dear to us, as well as ourselves.

The year is still young but already I have attended too many funerals, heard news of too many devastating diagnosis, freak injuries, life changing illnesses and emergency surgeries. There are also instances of loss all around that are not so obvious–jobs, addictions, nasty divorces, financial devastation, ill treatment, and parental heartbreaks of every sort–both expected and unimaginable. There is, simply put, too much sadness going around. And when it’s close to us, if we can speak at all…we often say those words:

I’m so sorry. Let me know if you need anything. What can I do to help?

Let me pull up my pink soap box for a moment.When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2008, I needed a lot of help. I wanted a lot of things. But I was so overwhelmed by trying to make it through the next breath without crying, I didn’t have room in my head to think of what specific things I could ask for. Don’t get me wrong, hearing the above words from family and friends was much appreciated. I felt the genuine concern behind what they were saying and I was grateful for it. But I couldn’t respond. I was burning up every neuron I owned just trying to keep going in a forward direction. I was scared to death…not so much about what could happen to me, but about how much this was hurting my family right now.

There were the crazy things that only my heart knew. Like my wish to wake up as Dorothy had without the Ruby Slippers on my feet, realizing that none of it was real at all. I longed to be a 4 year old again, wrapped in the loving arms of my dear Gramcracker, covered in dog hair, wearing all the jewelry my hands could grab with black garden dirt under my nails from playing “dig to China” under the grape arbor. ¬†And I desperately wanted to find relief from the nagging pain I couldn’t put aside as I ached for God to answer my list of questions that all began with “Why?”

Your head does crazy stuff to you. It demands you to give it the impossible, the ridiculous and the immediate gratification of “this” being only a cruel trick of the mind…a dream…a hallucination…a mistake.

It also straps a mask across your face and listens to all of the rah-rah encouragement, clings to the assuring words on cards, and holds a stiff upper lip to not scare others around us. Those closest to us are the ones we most want to protect from the horror show inside of us. We want to spare them from knowing how scared we feel, how little we trust, and how very angry and tortured we’re feeling.

And then there is the jealousy, and the guilt for all the feelings dancing around it. The friend standing before me, holding a lasagna and a handful of posies with a greeting card hand-picked for its uplifting verse doesn’t know shit about how I feel, or how dark every corner of my being feels. In that same moment I feel badly that I had the ingratitude to even let those kind of thoughts cross through my mind. Clearly, everything that isn’t already broken within me, is upside down. What a mess. What a pitiable, hurting mess I am.

With rare exception, we have all been there, or will be one day–whether as the one wounded or the one struggling to help. I would like to offer up a list of things that I wish I would have had the sense to ask for during those dark times. This comes from what I’ve learned to do for my friends who are hurting. I have the luxury of distance from my darkness- that luxurious distance is called “survival.” And what I learned from it is that the overwhelming sense of helplessness we feel when faced with death, dying, disaster or any true midnight of the soul, can only be eased by allowing others a chance to help us.

So Here’s Mom’s List, I hope it will help you when you find yourself sincerely wanting to help, but being without direction from your loved one, friend, or neighbor. And, if you are the one in need, please help another by asking to be helped in one of these ways. It is not weakness, it is a sign of dignity and strength. To those who are on the giving end, it is not a burden to help, it is a relief knowing there really is something real to be done to ease a loved one’s suffering during a terrible time.

If you are wanting to help, here are simple things that you can do~

As my friend, let me tell you my story. This is so important!¬†¬†Processing this hurtful thing helps me heal it in my heart. It helps me to make peace with, if not sense of what is going on. As a family stands next to a casket in a receiving line, they speak the story of who they loved and knew in many different pieces. Undertakers and therapists have long known that this is an important step in the grief process. This repetitive talk therapy carries the buried grief out into the air from the places we want to hide it and pretend it’s not true.

This same talking helps cancer patients, their family members, victims of violence, returning troops, displaced workers, parents fighting their child’s self inflicted harm, death, mental illness or drug addiction…the list goes on. Everyone needs an outlet for their story. You don’t have to have answers, just compassion. You shouldn’t offer up knee jerk solutions or opinions, just hear what I have to say. Fight back your urge to say things like–“Oh, you mustn’t think like that, everything will be Okay.” Because I won’t believe it, the words are trite, and I won’t feel you are honoring my pain and fear–your good intentions will be useless. After listening, then hold these things in a pact of confidence if that is what is asked for. Gossip, exaggeration, blame-placing, doomsday predictions, opining what is not yours to have an opinion on is all very cruel.

Comfort and help my Loved ones. I am sick, but they are exhausted with worry. They spend sleepless nights, hours at my bedside, double up their workload to pick up what I can no-longer do. All while trying to stay proficient at their own job, or maintain their grades and get rides to where they need to be for activities. Listen to them, and try to find ways you can ease their burden. Bring them a hospital survival bag filled with the things that can make their life less miserable as they are camped at my bedside. Shuttle my kids. Pick up their cafeteria tab for the week at school, or deliver them a weeks’ worth of lunches packed up and ready to go. Give them wake up calls. Be sure the football pants get laundered, the mail comes in from the mailbox, and the pets have food and are cared for.

Offer to “be there” by temporarily adopting one of my kids or my spouse.¬† This one of course goes without saying…if the wife is ill, her husband should be “adopted” by a friend who is also a husband–and vice-versa. Don’t inadvertently add to my worries! Commit to calling or texting your adopted person every day. Check in with them.Get to know them, let them tell the story of how they’re feeling--how this is for them.

Be there for them by acting as the bridge between normal and what is happening. Trust me, they don’t have a tether to the ground right now. The rug beneath their feet has been jerked out from under them too.

Don’t let them miss anything they love because the person who is usually in that role can’t be there to remind them or accompany them to the game. Go to Target after school and get science fair poster boards. ¬†Become the official driver my daughter’s volleyball practice, pick up my carpool, take my kid to lunch on Saturday, do homework with them, take them to the mall, ask about their day.

Perhaps the hardest one~ if I have passed–help my spouse by rounding up suits for the boys to wear to my services. They grow so fast. Don’t forget shoes. Check in with the girls too, but chances are, they’re in better shape clothing-wise. And if my spouse has nothing to wear, and is in no shape to go out in public, go shopping yourself with sizes in hand and buy three or four outfits for them to try on at home. Return what doesn’t work. If your budget won’t allow this, gather a group of wardrobe helpers together to divvy up the expenditures or final cost.

Do the quiet, unseen small things, and be specific about what your plan is. Remember, I am simply not able to “ask” because filling your very loving need to help just isn’t something I have the space in my heart or head for right now.Tell me to leave the back door open on Tuesday afternoons so I can stop by to run the vacuum and do your laundry. Or let me be in charge of changing trash bags and wheeling the garbage to the curb for the next day’s pick up. Maybe offer to scoop the litter box twice a week, take the dog for a run, or put his flea and tick medicine on monthly. Bring over your son’s football team to mulch the flower beds this spring. If you’re my neighbor, snow-blow my driveway or cut my grass without saying a word. Sneak over and put a fresh planter full of seasonal annuals on my front porch.

Go to the grocery, or through your own pantry and make up a bag full of the irritating-to-run-out-of stuff for daily living. Things like paper towels, trash bags, feminine products, chap stick, dish soap, TP, sandwich bags, coffee filters, Q-Tips, a Sudoku book or anything else that can sit quietly on the front porch without spoiling until someone comes home to take it inside.

Most importantly, don’t do more than one or two of these things yourself. Work in cooperation with others. Doing too much, even when it comes from the heart, seems invasive. Doing nothing makes you feel awful and helpless like you are standing on the sidelines wringing your quite capable hands. I don’t like feeling helpless and out of control–no matter on which side of the equation I’m currently sitting.

By writing this, I guess I hope a lot of things. I hope that it will be helpful if you use it. I hope that this list can spark some ideas tailored to your own unique situation. I hope it helps you to understand needing help, but not being able to pinpoint how or where. I hope you can print it off and hand it to your friends and family when you can’t speak these words by yourself. I hope you’ll step around your pride and allow others the comforting feeling of being able to do something helpful.¬†I hope you can hand it to a loved one and ask them to kindly circle what would help them most.

But mostly, I hope you never need to use this list

xoxo~ Mom

Ahh, Family Pets–conversation starters–kill chickens

The Mom Pooch in all his  Viking-Dog Glory
The Mom Pooch in all his Viking-Dog Glory

Pets may not sound like a big deal when it comes to writing a good family history, but just try asking about an animal in a photo and see where the path unfurls!

Ponies, chickens, hound dogs, cats, and even prized hogs and rabid coons have all been a part of many of my stories. Sometimes just hearing the animal’s name and then asking where the inspiration came from opens a stream of new conversation. I recall Ellie, Mr Pooch, the triplets Red, White and Blue, Purp, Mable, Bunny, Chopper and Johnny to name a few. My Great Grandpa loved to talk about his best milk cow, Soupy, who he named after comedian Soupy Sales.

Take a look at the photo below, not exactly of a family pet, but viewing it and asking about it’s origin actually turned into a long chat about the whole family going to the Cincinnati Zoo one weekend. This then led into the stories told about the building of I-74 which you may now take to get to the zoo from Indianapolis!

Mom petting a lion cub at the Cincinnati Zoo c 1964
Mom petting a lion cub at the Cincinnati Zoo c 1964

  Sometimes an expression you have heard a million times will only make since once you can finally connect the dots.

My dad has always referred to the movie “Fatal Attraction” as the “Kill Chickens” movie.

Now, I thought he was just using some weird code to indicate that it was time to change the channel if the grand kids were around and it happened to come on TV.  But one day, I was listening to him tell a story about his grandfather during the war years when food and everyday items were under rationing restrictions.

Just keep “Fatal Attraction” = “Kill Chickens Movie” in mind

My dad had a pet Rooster (a chicken to city folks) named Elmer.  He won him on a little traveling midway fair and square and had raised Elmer from chick-hood.  One day when Little-Kid-Dad came home from school, Elmer was no where to be found. He found it odd that Elmer was not pecking around in his pen. That night, with his own Grandfather visiting from out of town as an honored guest, chicken and noodles were served for dinner!

Kill Chickens. 

             Glen Close. 

                      Pet Bunny.

                                Boiling Pot.

Oh Dear Lord!  

¬†So ask around, if you dare, about the animals you see in the background of photos. Or learn a little something about how GG Grandpa raised his prize winning Blue Tick Hounds (cover your ears for the “runts” fate). Was there a famous comic cow in your family barn? We had a crawdad the size of a small lobster named Alfred…but he really smelled up my brother’s room. Somehow he escaped from his tank and was never seen again. Hmmm…

Maybe someone should write that down…

Did Anyone Ask Laura Nelson ? An Update

About 2 years ago, I posted this rather (understatement) disturbing art image and posed the question “Did anyone ask Laura Nelson,” the woman portrayed in the image, if she wanted to be remembered that way? Now, a couple of years have passed and I am no less disturbed by this “art.” But, I am re-posting it in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day. I am also adding the odd and far-reaching twists and connection that I have learned about this lynching. It seems that one of the people who was in the mob and a highly willing participant was the father of folksinger Woody Gutherie, famous for singing “This Land is your Land” and also in turn for fathering Arlo Gutherie of Alice’s Restaurant fame. Life is weird. History is weirder. The truth of our pasts and presents is weirder still… ¬†This was first on my blog January of 2013¬†20792708_BG2Today I had planned a very different post, but last night’s local NBC affiliate station WTHR here in Indianapolis ran this story as a “night cap.” I tossed and turned quite a bit thinking about this poor soul, Laura Nelson, and her image, taken from a 1911 photo, hanging from our city’s fancy new library’s¬† ceiling…quite awkwardly coincidental since¬† the subject of the photo is her lynching, and brashly portrayed¬† as “art”on fabric.

It’s a painful image to see.

Meant as a piece of the Black History Month observance display, I “get” that this quilt is not meant to be pretty.¬† It’s about a painful fact of our History. ¬†Most importantly (in my opinion),¬† the vignette is about the pain of Laura Nelson herself.¬† How awful.¬† How unspeakably awful.

The reporter interviewed several library visitors and the Arts Curator as well.¬† The comments were understandably mixed…one man (literally) applauded the portrait for its representation of what happened so commonly.¬† Others expressed concern over it’s potential to emotionally terrorize children stumbling onto this life-sized¬† image of a horrible death. Not just any death, a cruel and ugly death.

There were idiots interviewed too...I hope I don’t get attacked just for being white after someone sees this…

Perhaps the most telling part of the story though was captured by the news station’s photographer who caught the unfiltered reactions of those who “happened upon” the display with no warning.

I wonder how Laura herself would feel about this “art project”?¬† Would she be proud, humbled, hurt…would it make her sad to be remembered 100 years later only as a photo representing terror and wrong doing by others who were also “human.”

Last night I was finally able to drift off to sleep when it occurred to me that maybe somewhere on the same night, someone was becoming inspired to write the bigger story of this woman.  The story of Laura. The life of Laura Nelson.    Maybe a Grandchild, or a distant cousin, or cherished neighbor, or friend.

¬† Maybe, no, I am sure…

Someone should write that down…

This link will take you to the full story, it is disturbing, or it is beautiful ~it is as you perceive it.  One thing is for sure, it is not easily forgotten.

http://www.wthr.com/story/20792708/lynching-quilt-shocks-some-central-library-visitors

What Will Move You?

So I know this seems to be an odd time to ask this but…Why?

What got you started on this crazy train? What or who inspired you to take up this cause and perhaps give your ancestors a little brush of the immortal ? We all know it isn’t easy, it is often quite thankless and frustrating. So why on earth do we kooky family history hounds chase the ever-dangling carrot?
I only need to look at this photo to know. It is my Grandmother with my Dad on her lap. Two pieces of the” oldest child of the oldest child” puzzle that have molded a big part of my life. I think she is timeless and beautiful. I remember her warmth and the tenacity that she loved us all with. I want my granddaughter (the oldest child of My oldest child) to know her as well. Today, my send off surprise for you is the beginning of my own family history journey. I want you to really truly begin writing Your story today.PD_0063


¬† I hope that by reading my own ‘preamble’ you will be inspired and driven to start on your family writings. Have you started yet? Why not? How about starting by telling your future readers …why I started writing this for you, my family to come…you who I never knew

The Farmer Family Tree– a Written Account

~Why I Wrote The Story~

As written in 2006

I’m a believer.¬† I believe in God, Country, Ghosts, and Fairy Tales.¬† And perhaps because of this, I also believe in the Never Ending Story of who we are, and who we will be in the years beyond.

I have also come to believe that most of the moments in our lives go floating by unnoticed and without consideration.¬† Although no one could take an entire lifetime of thoughts and experiences and write them out or otherwise record them, in the following pages, I have attempted to preserve the “essence” of our beloved George and Margaret Farmer.

Writing this account of their lives and those around them wasn’t something I originally set out to do.¬† I had heard tales for years of a written family history that Grandma Farmer had been keeping for all of us.¬† Before her passing, I nor any of my cousins, had ever laid eyes on this dear Historian’s work.

Two years ago, she quietly passed away at age 94 in early January. That same week, everyone in Indiana was preparing to be hit by a nasty winter storm. The worst of the worst was heading our way. An ice storm out of St Louis was slowly creeping toward us. Grocery and Hardware store business was brisk that week. As we topped off at the gas station we found ourselves nervously chatting with strangers about what was coming. Something big was in the air. The skies were deep sullen gray and the forecast was ugly when the phone calls went out to all of us that Grandma Farmer had been chosen to distract us from petty issues. She had “up and gone to her rest.”

************

With the weather forecast growing more ominous by the hour, we all gathered for Grandma’s wake at the local funeral parlor. ¬†Margaret Farmer was one of those dutiful women who always attended the funerals of all those who she had known. No matter what obstacle or conflict there may have been, if Margaret was physically able, she would be there to “pay respects.” She did this for herself as well as any of “the family” who could not/would not bother to.

¬†Grandma had clearly paid her dues. If the measure of one’s life was the number of attendees at their wake, she had made the cut as local royalty. For most of the afternoon and evening the line of persons waiting to pay their last respects was “out- the -door” long. ¬†Mercifully the weather held back in due respect of sainted Margaret’s mourners. The ice did not start falling from the sky until the line of visitors had started to taper off and then finally begun to ease.

A side room at the funeral home,just off of the main parlor, was reserved for close family in attendance to rest for a few minutes and maybe have a cup of coffee or light refreshment.¬† After a few hours, I found myself seated near the table with several aunts and cousins (half of my genes are from this very big and very old farm family). ¬†Seated on folding chairs under fluorescent kitchen lights the subject turned to Grandma’s “job” as the family historian.¬† Some wondered aloud exactly what sorts of things she had kept track of all these years.¬† I, among others, had heard we were “royal” way back when.

“I wonder whatever happened to all of that stuff ?” queried one cousin.¬† Aunt Leslie licked the pastry filling off of her end finger and offered:

Oh I have that whole box.  Your Grandma gave it to me to keep for you kids when she moved into the nursing home.  If you-all are interested, I can dig it out and make copies for whoever would want them.

Of course we all nodded, yes, yes we would love to have a copy of what Grandma had written. And then, as I recall, the conversation turned back to the horrible weather we were threatened by, our aching feet and who would be hosting Easter dinner when spring finally came and we would be forced to spend our first Holiday without Grandma at the head of the table.

**********

Driving back into the city with my husband and kids that night, we were all exhausted.¬† A wake for someone like Grandma Farmer was an extra long event.¬† We seemed to have been related or relative to all of Boone and Hendricks Counties.¬† Half of Marion and Morgan Counties were there in the packed house as well.¬† When we were nearly home the sleet changed to ice and began splattering on the windshield.¬† I didn’t notice so much.¬† My husband is a seasoned snow and ice driver so I felt safe as we crawled along on the interstate.¬† Besides, I was too busy dreaming of the glittering history book I would soon get to see.¬† I imagined myself being delivered a dusty tome.¬† It would be leather bound, over-sized, with hints of gilt work tooled into it, well worn yet still visible.¬† I would sit down in my (imaginary) winged back chair beside the roaring fireplace (also a figment) and gently pull back it’s weighty cover.¬† A beam of glowing light would spring from within the pages and welcome me like a hug from across time.¬† It would be a transforming moment.

  At last, I would be in the presence of my Ancestors and they would eagerly whisper to me which castle to go rightfully claim as mine!

********

I will cut to the chase for you here…several weeks later a large manila envelope arrived in our mailbox;it was half mauled by the postal service. Admittedly, I had forgotten this gift had been offered on that very long and emotional day. ¬†As Aunt Leslie promised, inside was the life’s work of my Grandmother, the former Family History Keeper. ¬†The contents were not bound, gilded or illuminated. ¬†In fact the history was a smallish mess of papers; it had originally been typed with care onto onion skin with carbon sheets between.

The work was started about 50 years before and at some point the originals were photo copied onto thermal (the old style office printers with the roll paper and ink drums) paper, and then again onto standard paper stock by Aunt Leslie.¬† The images were in various states of quality. From the thermal “age” some of the photocopies showed scars and scuffs from mishandling and paper clips.

A few mixed-in older papers were brittle or were marked with smudges from hair oiled hands touching them long ago.¬† There were inked-in notes about new kids born in to the family. ¬†Even spouses were added in and marked through by hand and then sometimes replaced by a different name and dates. There were notations galore on the margins. Odd things were recorded; like the name of a cousin circled with “redhead” penciled above and underlined twice.

I wanted to cry when I saw it. This was not what I had expected by a long shot. It was a wreck. Mostly on common, modern paper. Barely legible. Wow. Bummer. A pile of papers dotted with names and numbers. The End.  

I had to know more.

Once I started researching and then finding…suddenly everyone kept looking at me and saying

Maybe someone should write that down….

So Write Like It’s Your Job

 

 

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Write like it’s your job? Who’s job? Mine? Yours? Maybe it’s just L. Frank Baum’s job to entertain us all. In his short career, Baum wrote just under 60 novels, 83 short stories and a couple hundred poems. He did all this within a 25 year time span. He created new worlds, wrote about politics, women’s rights, and all kinds of socio-political topics using friendly little characters and totally manual typewriters. He foretold some pretty awesome inventions and changes in daily living while selling the heck out of all these kiddy books!

So, what keeps you from sitting before your spell-checking, no white-out needed, multiple tab opening keyboard to write down a little story about Uncle Roscoe and his prize winning Blue Tick Hound Dogs?

If you follow along on the Mom blog here, you’ll know that right now I’m deeply immersed in NaNoWriMo. If that means nothing to you, the quick description is this:

Every November for many years (about 15 I think…wiser NaNo’s please feel free to correct me) writers can commit, totally on a voluntary basis, to writing 50,000 words, over the course of 30 days, yeilding 1 rough manuscript with room for 0 excuses. It is the Hell-dive we call National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo ¬†for short. So I’m doing that!

There are of course incentives for finishing early (like having a clear path through the house when all the relatives land expecting Turkey and all the fixins on November 28th!). To “Win” the NaNo, one simply completes the aforementioned task…get 50K semi-coherant words written down within 30 days. It’s a hoot. Or a form of self flagellation ūüôā¬†What I have learned from writing for many years with or without participating in the fall NaNo frolic is this…

In order to be successful, all you have to do is Write Like it’s Your Job!

I know, I know~ There’s that whole “life” and responsibilities thing. Well guess what? Try explaining that one to your boss and see how many buyers you get for the excuse you’re selling! If you want to write, need to write, feel it and believe it in your bones that you were born to write…you just have to make time to write. Or else no one, not even you, will ever know the difference.

How many blank sheets of paper go wanting and wasted by those who were meant to write the next great American novel? Who but you could give Alex Haley a run for his Roots? Nobody but you has walked in your moccasins Powhatan and Pocahontas, so get on that Memoir and let your story be known! Honor your own need to tell the stories, whether fact or fiction or fantastic vision or expose by taking control and managing yourself. Be the boss, look over your shoulder, reward a good day’s work, and don’t be too quick to forgive a lackluster performance or a string of uneventful and unnecessary “personal days.”

Is it a dry day? No way to start, nothing dazzling rearing it’s head, pushing your fingers to glide swiftly with flair across the cosmic keyboard?

Tough @#$%.

I like the old saying used in retail and restaurant work:

If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean!

If your day-job is that of a switchboard operator (do they still have those?) and you are scheduled and paid to work 8-5 Monday through Friday with one hour each day for lunch, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the phone rings. If and when it does, while you are clocked in, you better be chipper, proficient and professional when you respond to the chiming bell. Your dedication to writing needs to be revered in the same manner. On a day when nothing worth noting passes through your head to your empty pages, you need to side step the urge to “lean” and busy yourself with the opportunity to “clean.”

That’s the real life, real world, school of hard knocks truth of writing for any sort of long-term project. It has to have your full attention. You have to treat yourself like an employee, set expectations, ¬†and work full speed to get the job done.

Any day where there is just not a word to say (and yes, those are real) is a day made for cleaning. Not literal–unless you make a pigsty of your work space–but cleaning up your prose. Do some edits, spend some time with Grammarly, catch up on your correspondence with distant cousins, seek out a nice map of the home town of your pilgrim forefathers, surf the web for museum collections of clothing common to a time period you’re working on. Re-read your stories and improve your sentence structure or descriptive word usage. Sort or scan photographs, do a little more research, go out to the closest family cemetery and walk around. Take some photos of former family homes, do some research on Aunt Zelda’s flatware that’s been handed down to you.

Like finding the base of your family heritage all the way back to the Garden of Eden, writing the story is a work with endless opportunities to be fuller, richer and more rewarding. 

Even if the only shift you can manage for your job as a writer is a scant 20 minutes per day, don’t squander the time with the equivalent of break-room chatter, laziness or habitual leaning like the perpetual “ne’r do well” (look that one up some day when there’s nothing to do). Use and cherish every opportune moment to get your Genealogy stories written and make them come dancing off the page.

Time spent writing stories down for those who come next is never wasted time or work unrewarded.

By the way, did you happen to notice someone missing on the photo above? I cannot seem to find my Lion finger puppet, he’s usually right here on the desk with the others. Maybe during my next break I’ll ask the dog…wpid-2014-11-04-12.31.55.jpg.jpeg