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.”

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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.

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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!

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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….

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!