The Story of Your Name

“If I’m gonna tell a real story, I’m gonna start with my name.” ...Kendrick Lamar

“Bob Marley isn’t my name. I don’t even know my name yet.” ... Bob Marley

When I was pregnant with my son, my husband and I debated names for weeks. For whom would we name our son, which names did we both like (not that many unfortunately), which first name choices sounded okay with which middle name choices, which names flowed with our last name. It wasn’t easy and at one point, I thought our son would come home from the hospital as Baby Boy Bender.

Of course, we eventually figured it out and today my son loves hearing about the “almost” names on our long-ago list. Names that nearly came to identify him, and today are nothing but footnotes from before he was even born.

It was only recently, however, that I started thinking about my own name. I’ve always known for whom I was named, luckily a source of great pride. But did I like my name? Would I have chosen it for myself? Did it fit my personality?

These were questions I’d never considered.

When practicing Catholics are confirmed, they select a confirmation name for themselves. What a fantastic tradition, I think. Naming yourself. Looking at the saints, figuring out which one you’d like to emulate, which one holds a sound that is pleasant to your ear. While I’m not Catholic, I was intrigued by the tradition and the possibilities it allowed. What name would I have selected if Catholicism had been my faith?

When writing your life story, be sure to include the history of your naming if there’s an interesting story to share. Were you named after somebody in particular, and if so, is that a connection that makes you proud or does it feel like a burden? Do you like your name? Do you connect with it? What name would you have picked for yourself if you could have whispered from the womb to your mother’s ear?

We spend our life identifying ourselves by our name. Your name will go on the cover of your book. Surely, your feelings about that name warrant a paragraph or two within its pages.

Your name is a part of your life story. And a part that deserves to be told.

Please let me know if you’d like my help telling it.

Writing Workshops: A Supportive Place to Share

Many of us have school-age memories of submitting a paper, one we felt certain was deserving of glowing praise and a bright “A” on the top, only to receive it back with red marks and arrows and comments citing error and disapproval.

It was disheartening. And for many of us, it was even scarring. We shied away from writing in the years that followed.

But now we are adults. And now, the merit of a paper is not dependent upon the often-haphazard review of a critical, burned-out teacher.

Welcome to Life Story Writing Workshops. Through these workshops, participants write on a different theme each week—themes of personal significance like “family,” “health,” and “branching points”—and a trained facilitator guides members through a kind, thoughtful, and supportive reflection of the story that was shared. Not only do you, as a participant, benefit from the writing of your story, you gain encouragement from others who listen with their hearts, not their pens.

I have participated in several workshops before—as both a member and a leader—and still it is difficult to convey the power of these gatherings. Participants grow, both from writing and sharing their own stories and from listening and responding to those of others, and without exception members bond in a way they never anticipated. (Read some reviews here.)

If you are interested in enrolling in one of my writing workshops, please contact me directly. Classes will be held in Herndon, Virginia, and online.

Absolutely no writing experience is required, and, I promise, everyone gets an “A.”

Food Glorious Food

Chicken Soup. It’s the best treatment for the common cold, according to some researchers. The vegetables, the chicken, the heated water—it’s therapeutic. Many claim there’s a placebo effect: it only heals if you believe it will. And still others say there is no medicinal value in the recipe at all. But it’s irrelevant to me. When I’m not feeling well, my mother’s Matzo Ball Chicken Soup is my drug of choice. It’s more soothing than anything in my medicine cabinet.

Better still, it’s a remedy for all types of sniffles: those resulting from cold and flu season and those that come from the stress of work or family or general life craziness. One spoonful and I feel my body begin to rebuild.  Without a doubt, it’s my number one comfort food.

com·fort food ˈkəmfərt fo͞od/ noun noun: comfort food 1. food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking. (Oxford)

That definition sure rings true for me. I can remember my mother mixing together mysterious ingredients and producing a nectar that smelled like perfection. My husband’s comfort food, on the other hand, has no smell at all and comes ready-to-eat from a box. Frosted Flakes, 100 percent synonymous with childhood, remains on our shelf today and is a vestige from his youth when the cereal greeted him every morning.

Is there a food that brings you comfort? A recipe from your very ethnic Grandma? A mix of calories that would make your cardiologist cringe? A box from the grocery store shelf? Comfort foods usually bring contentment beyond their ingredients. They remind us of the people who created it or enjoyed the meal with us. Often, they are about our childhood.

If you have a special comfort food, share it when you write your memoirs. If there is a family story to accompany it, share that too. And definitely include the recipe to ensure the tradition is preserved (you can’t forget the dill after all!). Comfort foods are hard to come by and, like meals and life stories, should be shared with those we love.

Your Life Story in Six Words

Could you summarize your life story in six words? It’s an interesting task. About one million people have done just that and posted their title onto Six-Word Memoir, a popular website launched back in 2006.

As a professional memoir writer, six words don’t carry me far. But as a game player and one who enjoys introspection, the challenge grabs me.

Here are some six-word titles featured on the site:

  • Sometimes you just need to laugh.
  • All he wanted was to win
  • Hope was my Dad’s middle name.
  • I lisp, I get speech therapy.
  • Someone called us orphans. Not true.
  • The purity of a child’s eyes
  • Mom tired of wrapping Christmas presents

Churches, synagogues, boardrooms, and schools are using the six-word challenge as a “break the ice” tactic, a way to introduce individuals to each other in group settings. Certainly, one can imagine the benefits of starting a meeting in this thought-provoking way.

But I like the idea of sitting quietly and pondering the concept alone as well. What is the main theme of your life? What is your life philosophy? What years-old memory comes back to you again and again?

And how can you express it in six words?

Maybe your six words could serve as an eventual title of your many-thousand word memoir. Maybe it could serve as a chapter title.

Or maybe it could just provide you with an opportunity to reflect. If the challenge appeals, spend a few moments drafting your six-word memoir title. And if you’d like help drafting the rest of your life story, please let me know. I’d be delighted to help.

You and Your Co-Pilot: The Theme of Your Life

Oprah has a new book in the works. No, it’s not an autobiography. It’s a recipe book titled, “Food, Health and Happiness: 115 On-Point Recipes for Great Meals and a Better Life.”

A recipe book? Why is a recipe book the focus of a blog on a personal history site?

Well, read what Oprah had to say about her newest venture:

“When I come upon something useful, something that brings me pleasure or comfort or ease, I want everyone else to know about it and benefit from it, too. And that is how this cookbook came to be. It’s my life story—the lessons I’ve learned, the discoveries I’ve made—told through food.”

Aha. You knew it would tie back.

Most everyone can identify a theme that has co-piloted them through their life. A struggle, a passion, a quest. For Oprah, evidently, it’s her relationship with food.

Barack Obama wrote “Dreams from My Father” with a focus on the role race played in his young and adult life. My mother-in-law wrote her story as it was lived through each of her many homes. A former client relayed his memoirs as they intersected with the jobs he held.

What would be your theme?

It’s an interesting question even if you’re not in the biography business.

But if you are interested in writing your life story—or are looking for help to do so—think hard about it. What themes have accompanied you through life? A love of teaching? A search for family? A passion for travel?

For some people, a theme simplifies the memoir writing process. It provides them with a focus, an anchor for their story. For others, the theme is so obvious, so ever-present, they can’t imagine telling their life story through any other lens.

If a theme resonates with you, consider aligning your story along with it. And, take the Oprah approach. Share what lessons you learned, what discoveries you made as they relate to that theme.

Share your life story, and allow your co-pilot a chance to speak too.