“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories,” said author Eudora Welty, and that’s good advice, especially this time of year.
At The Writing Well, Anne Wainscott-Sargent* reiterates that advice, encouraging memoir writers to master the art of listening.
She quotes memoirist Brian McDonald:
“I was lucky I had a family of storytellers—police officers and bartenders and such are natural storytellers. I was always a great listener. Those anecdotes I heard from when I was first a child stayed with me, and later on when I decided to do a book about my family, they came to life.”
This holiday season, master the art of listening.
Encourage storytelling at your Christmas or Hanukkah gatherings, and listen.
Because God used your ancestors, current family, and friends to play key roles, genetic and otherwise, to make you who you are today—
—because their attitudes, influences, and DNA will pulse through your memoir whether you name those people or not,
—because their words, jokes, and stories will echo through your memoir even if their identities hide in shadows in your final draft.
A PRNewswire article, Sharing Family History to Make Holidays More Meaningful,* recommends:
“Pre-plan to create a new storytelling tradition—Tell people in advance you would like them to share family stories during the holiday gathering. Set aside a particular time and place. Encourage them to bring photographs to help tell a story.”
That suggestion is followed by this good advice: “Set expectations—Reassure everyone they won’t miss out on watching the football game on TV or any other activities they enjoy.”
When you sit around the dinner table, listen to what people say.
Ask relatives and friends about those no longer alive.
Inspire them to re-tell stories you heard as a child but might have forgotten.
Raise questions: Where and when was Great-grandpa born? What did he do for a living?
Was Great-grandma a happy-go-lucky type, or a sourpuss? Why did she die so young? How did her death impact her young daughter (your grandmother)? How did Great-grandpa cope after her death?
What kinds of hardships did your ancestors suffer during The Great Depression? How did they celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah during those years?
Were they people of faith? Why or why not?
Listen for intangible legacies your ancestors left. Reflect on how that legacy impacts the youngest generation of your family.
This week Sheila Lagrand wrote about a conversation she had with her father. Because she asked, he answered and, as she listened, his answers surprised her:
“I turned and studied my father as if I’d never seen him before, puzzling to work this new information into my understanding of him… I wondered what else I had wrong.… Since that day … I’ve spent a lot of time sweeping the thick dust of assumptions from my memories of my dad. My understanding of him is a lot different.…” *
So do what Sheila did: Ask questions and listen for answers.
Hold your stories and memories close, and make time to discover what God has been doing in, through, and for your family throughout the generations.
Listen to God’s still, small voice—within music, sermons, and conversations you overhear in long shopping lines.
Listen for stories while you wrap packages, shovel snow, or plan menus. Notice what comes to mind about holidays past.
A couple of days ago, Linda Joy Meyers* wrote:
“Think of yourself as a listener, a translator. Focus inward and hear the stories that whisper to you in a low key; tune into your desire to capture your grandmothers’ history, your mother’s face, or your father’s character.” *
This holiday season, ask yourself, “What stories would bless my kids, grandkids, family, and friends?”
Jot down a few notes.
Come back after the holidays, when your schedule calms down, and start your rough drafts.
Have you written a story about Christmas for your memoir?
If so, send me your vignette
between now and December 10
and I’ll select one to publish here
the week before Christmas.
See all the details in my November 12 post at this link:
*Resources and links:
Anne Wainscott-Sargent at The Writing Well,
Sharing Family History to Make Holidays More Meaningful ,
Sheila Lagrand’s The Day I Met My Dad,
Linda Joy Myers’ blog, Memories and Memoirs,