Merry 8th Day of Christmas Sugar Plums!

Wear all your finery at once today in celebration of the 8 Maids a Milking
We are now on day 16 of Christmas Break. The thrill is gone. Dollbaby has become consistantly surly…so we’re heading to McDonald’s for Drive-Thru breakfast

Another Christmas has passed and a fresh new calendar is opened. Now, after the stockings have been sacked, the wrapping is in shreds and all the ribbons lie crumpled in wait for the vacuum’s new belt…life will go back to something a bit like normal. I would be lying if I said I miss the frenzy once it passes.

In the coming days I’m sure tiredness will sink in.  Hopefully a dash of self satisfaction for another year of “festivities well hosted” will settle over me too. I’ll be looking for a way to kick off the year with some memory invoking prose. I’ve been experimenting lately with something a little different.

Poetry as Memoir 

My poet friend Marjie Gates Giffin does this with aplomb and I really admire the results. Mom’s own journey into this emerging genre, however, has come in fits and starts of childish rhymes and goofy lyricism. But, I do keep trying. And though I won’t “set it free out it into the world” any time soon, I enjoy the fun and challenge. It stretches me creatively and is a beautiful Art Form for something I do as work each day.

If you would like to try this shorter, more distilled type of family story telling, I encourage you to take a look at Marion Roach Smith‘s lovely post about doing just this. She is the author of The Memoir Project, another must-read for those who write these crazy stories with love!

Meanwhile, here is a selection from Marjie. I dare you to read it and then NOT see the quivering tower of fluffy green deliciousness she describes!  I love this poem because…

1. It’s really good

2. I am not aware that it’s poetry while I’m reading it (no brain-pain involved)

3. The picture fits smoothly into my head with comfort and ease. I understand it and see the scene and hover near it as the quick story unfolds.

4. Enjoy~

Green Salad

>*<

When I was small,

Grandma’s Christmas salad

looked green and spongy

and, when dipped by finger,

tasted tangy sweet.

It posed like a centerpiece

in a big crystal bowl

bedecked on top

with red maraschino cherries

and sprigs of holly.

Little delights were hidden

under its soft, lime folds:

tart bits of pineapple,

clumps of cottage cheese,

and best of all,

rich swirls of whipping cream.

Simply dubbed Green Salad,

the smooth and frothy Jello stuff

was as much decoration

as it was holiday treat.

With her flair for the dramatic,

Grandma bestowed it upon us

year after year after year.

With none of the flourish,

but mindful of my role,

I, too, bring forth Green Salad

for my own festive

Christmas buffets.

Some of my family disdain it;

others dish more than their share.

But without it –

without Green Salad on my table,

I couldn’t have Grandma –

And delicious memories – there.

>*<

Marjie G. Giffin is a delightful poet and author of several local Indiana history books. Ripe with info and insights for Genealogy and Family History writers with stories steeped in the Old Guard and lowly working class neighborhoods of Indianapolis they are a prize for your bookshelf. Check out her listings on my own Bookshelf page.

So after sucking up the ribbon and smelling the unmistakable stench of a burnt vacuum cleaner belt…sit quietly for a moment. Relax.  Then while basking in that pool of calm, see if you can pen something simple and perfect. Try your hand at poetry to sum up a moment of your family gathering.

Tradition passing down the generational stair-steps is the lovely theme here.  Perhaps yours will be lovely too! And that, as always, means “Maybe someone should write that down…”

Why Did My Brain Remember & Forget?

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Where is he headed, What is he carrying along, and Why is he walking away?

 

How often have you taken the time to “frame” an event with its lead-up and  aftermath?

Like, what were you doing, what errand were you checking off your list, who did you linger to chat with at the grocery before that storm hit, your sister-in-law went into labor, the teen rear-ended your corvette at a stoplight?

Maybe after the rain stopped you found a sopping wet kitten who became a permanent member of the family, or you happened upon an old city directory at a tag sale you never planned to stop at, then sis-in-law popped out unexpected twins so you headed back to the baby store, and the reckless teen driver was the son of your high school crush!

So often a turning point day has multiple events of significance embedded within the same 24 hour stretch. We tend to fixate on what caused the most emotional stir and let the other things fall to the wayside.

It’s amazing how we can recall the big picture and let the detail slip our minds.

 

Take a walk back in time and see what you can dig up with some before and after framing…I was shocked that I had forgotten these two very different events happened on the same day. If I were a tidy-type, I would have thrown out that pile of used up day planners long ago–and likely lost this key point of the bigger story for years–maybe forever. Since I am not (tidy) and thus had not (let go of them) I tripped on this revelation.

That inspired some other “revisiting” and made several stories even richer! Even Mom’s Mama had a good time recalling putting off a trip to the library the day before an unexpected blizzard hit. Her books ended up being several dollars overdue! It was easy to laugh about it because the local paper had run a feature story about the “snow storm amnesty” the library would be offering on overdue books for the entire month of February!

I found a rather startling example recently. I had completely separated the events of a certain day into two very distinct memories–each exclusive of the other.  I had totally forgotten how the two occurred on the same day. We had planned a big Graduation Party for our daughter on a Saturday a full two months after she had ceremoniously received her diploma. We wanted to be sure to go far enough into summer so our party wouldn’t have to compete with any of her classmate’s. Then, we purposefully scooted it out a little farther into early August and made it a farewell-fest for all the Grads before they parted ways for College.

The Weather Channel was forecasting blue sky perfection for the day. I’d watched it hourly from the first moment the 10 day outlook was broadcast. For a perfect party, I was banking on perfect weather. I hoped to do the whole party pool-side for the kids, with their noise, salsa drips and “music” all outside. The adults could take refuge in the air conditioned, upholstered seating surfaces and non-offensive music laden land of “indoors.”

Three days before the big party, I had a general idea of the head count to expect. The weather was still looking great. I had all the beverages purchased and stacked in the garage. Friday night, we would load the old reliable extra fridge with all the pop, beer, and bottled water it would hold. I had a full battle plan in place including a prep schedule planned for all the food (of course I had to cater it myself…let’s just say I’m a little Martha Stewarty at times). I had already struck a deal with one of my best friends and a couple of neighbors to loan me some space in their garage fridges for the platters and trays I would have neatly Saran-wrapped ahead of time.

The weather forecast was holding up. It hadn’t wavered a bit for seven days. I had completed all my runs to Costco and Party City for Purple and Gold plates, napkins and disposable forks and spoons in heavy silver plastic that looked like the real stuff from a distance.

All was clicking along. Right on schedule. Spit Spot.

This stuff was all listed on the pages of one of my old day-planners unearthed recently. I’d added notes and had my customary sticky notes with assorted lists, and of course, the main sticky with the list of lists that I needed to make still…the count-down, the contingency plans, the last moment to-dos and errands. Everything within my control was under control. And if it wasn’t something I could control, I had a plan B, and C firmly outlined and listed on my Post-it notes.

Everything was in place, ready to happen–and then what I hadn’t planned for happened. The weather was perfect as I answered the phone call, only to hear news that came from out of the blueness of that clear sky. A dear cousin had unexpectedly died. The funeral service would be held Saturday. Graduation party Saturday.

Now, it’s not my intention to be callous sounding, because I clearly remember each event and what happened. But there was a huge partition in my head between the two gatherings, separated as it turned out by only 4 hours real-time. Until I found the lists, the schedule, and the notations on my old day-planner, my mind had disconnected the two events. Even though the Grad party a had been planned as a celebration of my daughter’s graduation, and a send off for her and all of her classmates, it was also became a way for our family to gather and share stories and food and happiness and grief on a perfectly mild, sunny day, without anyone going to any extra fuss.

So what did I find? A pile of old date books, yes. But more importantly, I found a link, some serendipity that I had walked through without noticing in the moment. One party, two emotionally opposite events, three reasons to gather, under the comfort of a perfectly blue sky.

Totally worth remembering.

 

 

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…