The Gift of Brag

I recently completed work on a client’s life story. We spoke for some eight hours, over many weeks, discussing nearly every aspect of his 86 years. Jerry was an incredibly interesting fellow with a wonderfully successful career. He rose to the highest rungs of a Fortune 500 company and secured global accolades, financial wealth, and lifelong friends.

After the first draft of our book was complete, my client asked one of those lifelong friends for her review.

Her critique surprised him: “You were too modest.”

Jerry, I should add, is not a modest man. He’s not timid or soft-spoken or reserved. Quite the opposite in fact. But, like most of us, he has a hard time bragging.

Our solution to the modesty problem was for me to interview another dozen-plus people in Jerry’s life – friends, colleagues, family. People who would speak honestly about my client without concern of appearing boastful. And very quickly our book changed. Accomplishments that Jerry had mentioned in passing were highlighted again and again in superlative words. Yes, Jerry had acknowledged his success in business to me. But I had no idea how immense his success was. He had transformed industries, transformed lives. Jerry had kept those details to himself.

None of us wants to appear arrogant and Jerry was no exception. But his ultimate goal in writing the book was to share the truth of his journey. And it was only with the addition of other voices, perspectives, and stories that Jerry’s book became wholly authentic.

When you write your memoirs, be sure to tell the truth. Not a watered-down truth or a polite truth, but the full “hey Ma, look at me!” truth. Ask your life story professional to interview those close to you. Or if you’re writing your own autobiography, ask yourself this: What would my friends/family/colleagues say about me? Attribute the most complimentary comments to them if that feels more comfortable.

Yes, there’s a time to be modest, but this isn’t it. You owe your readers, and yourself, the full story. If just this once, brag. Please let me know if you’d like my help in doing so.

The Happy Moments

There has been much discussion on this blog about the benefits of writing a life story. The process of remembering, reframing, and sharing difficult life events is hugely cathartic and oftentimes memoir writers speak of the healing and resolution that come after their stories are complete.

But, just as importantly, writers speak of the benefits of sharing the happy stories. Recalling periods of joy in detail allows writers to relive a time in their life when all the pieces fell into place, when life was just…good. Not only is it a pleasure to evoke these memories, it is a pleasure to share them. To allow others to witness your joy along with you.

I think of this every time I watch the TLC program, Long Lost Family. Each episode follows two separate individuals as they search for a relative—usually a birth parent or child—with the help of the show’s hosts. First, we meet the searchers. Parents weep for the infant they gave up decades earlier and children tearfully question why their mother or father walked away from them. Often these individuals have spent years futilely searching on their own, hoping to fill the “hole” that lives inside. Wishing with every fiber in them that they could have answers, that they could meet their loved one again.

The hosts then jump into action, scouring the Internet, accessing DNA databases for genetic matches, searching birth records and high school yearbooks at local libraries.

The show ends, of course, with a happy reunion. Parents and children holding onto each other with all their might. Bountiful tears. Almost without exception, searchers share that the hole inside is finally gone. They have their answers. At last, they have found their “long lost family.”

While I am certain that the producers scrap many searches that do not end well, we viewers always see stories that are heart-warming. We get to witness a life-changing moment in every episode, a moment that will serve as a permanent salve for these once-pained individuals.

So…what have been your life-changing moments? Maybe they haven’t been as obvious or television-worthy as those on Long Lost Family, but certainly you have had some. The birth of a child? A long-sought job promotion? A moment invisible to the eye—a dream or “light bulb moment” that resulted in a permanent shift?

Whatever your life-changing moments, however dramatic or subtle, be sure to share those in your story. Act as the director of a television show and convey the history, the moment of change, and the less-discussed “what came next.” Was a hole inside filled? Did the joy remain forever?

As a life story professional, I am skilled in helping you uncover these life-changing moments and sharing their impact on your journey. Please let me know if you’d like my help.

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.