Recovering Hope

I’m in the middle of my project of ghostwriting essays (for free) about this time in American history and how people are responding and contributing and acting – and how they are making a positive difference. Every time I do another interview I am inspired by the courage, dedication, perseverance and empathy in the story I’m being told. I can recover my hope, because although hatred, bigotry and fear are loud right now, those negative stories are not the majority of American stories. Not even close. We all need to speak up and share our stories of love, equality, justice, strength, and courage. I hope my ghostwriting efforts will contribute a tiny bit to this effort.

If you’d like more information about this free offer, please see my blog post of April 3rd or here.



Choose Your Role

I believe we are living through a defining time in American history right now. We are all a part of this history. Someday your children, grandchildren, or descendants will want to know what role you played in this historic time. What do you want them to find?

Right now many of us are feeling discouraged, even despair – which leads to a feeling of helplessness – which in turn leads to giving up. And when we give up, everyone loses. I think the antidote to despair is always action. Do Something.

And the best thing to do is something that draws upon your talents, experience, or passion. I looked at my own attributes to see what I could do. I’ve been a ghostwriter for nearly twenty years, and I know how powerful sharing stories can be. So I decided to offer to ghostwrite – for free – some short personal essays for people who are contributing and acting and don’t have the time or desire to write their stories down. I hope history will thank us.

If you are interested in this offer, more information about how it works you can read about it here.


Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #4

3d coffinFor the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here are Chapter Three’s opening paragraph and first paragraph of a first person narrative:

Chapter Three:  Caskets to Roads

In 1937 Armond was 19 and in common with many adults as well as teens, could not find steady work. Although he had gone back to school for a short time after returning from his railroad adventure, he quit a year before graduation in order to go to work to help support his family. The only job he could find was as a janitor and apprentice carpenter in a casket factory. He didn’t like the work, but he figured a casket factory was safer than other jobs – after all, just as many people were dying during the Depression as they had before.


Armond: The Ditch Digger Poet

I didn’t like leaving home and my mother, even though I was almost 21. That sounds like I was a mama’s boy, and it is true that I loved my mother, but the reason I didn’t want to leave her was because she took care of everyone, but no one took care of her. I had tried my best. Now it seemed like the best I could do was leave. The CCCs paid $30 a month, and $25 of that would be automatically sent to her. Twenty-five dollars bought a lot of groceries. The thought of that $25 made me feel good, like I was at last helping put food on Mother’s table, even if I would not be there to help with all her other chores.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

The Movies and You

41+f9VcRScL._AC_UL320_SR256,320_It’s said that art reflects life.  It does, of course, but sometimes life’s experiences are caused by art. This is true of any art, but one of the most fun to write about is the movies. Sometimes watching a movie can affect our lives in profound ways. To illustrate, here’s a story told to me by one of the participants in my “Making History” class.

“My father was a longshoreman in the 1950s and 60s, shared “Sally” (not her real name.) “When I was young I never really knew what a longshoreman did. It was just where Dad went every day, and it didn’t matter to me. I saw my father as an uneducated man and I didn’t want to be like him at all. We had nothing in common.

“My parents scrimped and saved to send me to college, although I didn’t know about the scrimping and saving until later. I thought college was my due. I dated college boys, and I was ashamed of my longshoreman father, who laughed too loud and drank too much beer and only read the sports page of the paper.

“When he went out on strike I felt that he had done it to spite me. All it meant to me was there was less money. I thought strikes were stupid. Nobody is making you be a longshoreman – if you don’t like it, then why don’t you just quit? I didn’t have the nerve to actually say this to him, but it’s what I thought.

“It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I had an epiphany about my dad. One Saturday night I didn’t have a date, so as I sat in the lounge at my college dorm feeling sorry for myself, I turned on the black and white TV and began watching an old movie, On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, which I had never seen before.

“That movie changed me. I saw how longshoremen were treated. I looked at those rough men and I saw my father, working at that difficult job day after day, for poor pay and little respect, not even from his own daughter, just so I could have something better.

“I cried throughout most of the movie, tears of shame, and tears of anger. But at the end, when a bloody Brando walks up that gangway, I was standing up and cheering, all alone in the deserted dateless dorm.

“By the end of that semester, I had changed my major to economics, and after college I got a job working for a union, starting as a part-time secretary. I worked for the union for 36 years, and whenever I wondered why I stayed with them for so long, all I had to do was close my eyes and see my father working on the docks alongside Brando. I like to think I’m doing my part. I know whose side I’m on. My dad’s side.”

Which movies changed you?

An Alternative History of Margarine

Creamy Oleo in a TubWhen I teach my class “Making History” I tell the participants that nothing is too trivial to make a good story and show the flavor of an era. For instance, here’s a story shared by a participant during a discussion of food in the wartime 1940s.

“Margarine was white and looked like a lump of lard,” she said. “It came with a yellow color capsule that you broke into it, to make it look like butter. It was one of my jobs to stir the yellow into the margarine. I hated this job because my older brother told me an elaborate and dirty story about that yellow capsule. He said the margarine factories paid their workers to go to the bathroom in special jars, which they filled the capsules from. It saved money, said my brother, and it was their patriotic duty to go to the bathroom to make margarine capsules. I was only seven, and my brother was ten, so I believed this ridiculous story. I believed it even when my mother told me he was lying. (He got in trouble for it, too.) Every time I had to stir in the color I felt sick to my stomach, and I certainly never ate any margarine. Even today I prefer butter. There are some things worse than fat.”

This story and many more are in my book “Making History: how to remember, record, interpret & share the events of your life”, based on the classes I’ve been teaching since 2000. Memoir writers, biographers, historians, genealogists, fiction writers, and more, have found this book extremely useful to bring color and life to their books. Check out sample chapters and reviews on my website.  Or buy the book here: Making History on Amazon.

And share your own stories (leave a comment here, for instance). What foods did you hate as a child? Why? How do you feel about them today?

Left Off the Wall

The WallOn March 14th on this blog I shared a funny story I’d heard from a “Making History” class participant. Not all the stories I hear are funny, though. Some are sad. Here’s a sad story from a participant in a class discussion about the Vietnam War.

“Peggy” (not her real name) shared about her son who served in Vietnam. She and her husband, patriots of the World War II generation, were proud when their son volunteered for the Army and was sent to Vietnam in 1964. Over the next two years their pride turned to anguish as they read his increasingly disturbed letters home, letters that reeked of despair and anger. In the third year he stopped writing, which was to them the longest year of all. When he was finally discharged, their relief that he had made it home was short-lived, since he spent the next five years spiraling into alcoholism and drug addiction, from which he never recovered. He committed suicide in 1972. “His name isn’t on that Wall,” said Peggy. “But it should be.”

Share your stories – write them down. My book Making History (Peggy’s story is in there) can help you remember. If you don’t like to write, or don’t have time, get a ghostwriter to record them for you. Your descendants will thank you.

Antiques and Tuna Pate

A few days ago Ivintage luxury red sofa isolated on a white background taught my class “Making History” (based on my book of the same name). I love to hear the stories people share. I believe strongly that sharing our stories helps the world. Yes, I know how grandiose that sounds. Sometimes the help takes the form of laughter. Here is a funny story from one of my class participants in a previous class in which we discussed politics of the 1960s.

“Sherry” (not her real name) shared her admiration for the new First Lady in the early sixties, by doing volunteer work for a Washington DC Arts project headed by Mrs. Kennedy. As a thank you, Jackie Kennedy invited the volunteers, all 500 of them, to a White House Tea. Although Sherry was seven months pregnant at the time, she was determined to attend – after all, how many times would Jackie Kennedy ask her to tea? The tea was held in the Red Room, where they were served dainty puff pastry stuffed with tuna pate, made by the French chef Jackie had imported into the White House. Carrying her teacup and plate of pastry, Sherry gingerly sat on a delicate antique red-plush sofa. The sofa was not comfortable for a pregnant woman, so she struggled to get up, balancing her teacup, plate, and outsized abdomen. To help herself, she grasped the wooden arm of the sofa and pushed off. Imagine her horror when the arm came off in her hand! She immediately sat down again, hoping no one had seen. But how could she fix the sofa, she wondered desperately. Showing the resourcefulness and creativity that made her such an outstanding volunteer, she stuck the arm back into its socket using tuna pate as glue! As far as she knew, it was never discovered.

Compost: Do You Have a Theme?

Making history trimmedWhen I write a memoir, for myself or for another, one of the first things I look for is the answer to this question: “What is a theme in this life?” It isn’t just in fiction that theme is important. It is present in individual lives, although more difficult to spot because of the zillions of events and happenings that occur over a lifetime. Not all of them fit the main theme, but I know that main theme is there. It is the something that recurs over and over, although often in different guises.

For instance, one of my own themes is that of the “go-between.” From the time I was a small child trying to get along with both my warring parents, and even trying to get them to agree; to later as a teenager when I was the referee between my two brothers and their uneasy relationship; to my first career as a marketer in a high-tech field when it was my job to convince the sales people on one side, and the engineering people on another side, that they both had something to contribute and there was actually only one side. And finally, to my current job as a ghostwriter, which is the ultimate go-between.

If you are writing your memoir, did you discover a “theme” that recurred throughout your life? If so, was this a surprise to you?


Compost: Identity

universeWhen I was writing a synopsis of my new book Grandma’s Masks (title still up in the air, see my earlier post). I wrote that the book was at its heart about identity – how we know who we are through the stories we tell and the masks we wear. Suddenly I realized that all my books share that theme. My first book, Eating Mythos Soup, is about a shape-shifter/angel/guide who listens to people’s stories in order to show them who they are at their core. My book Making History is about showing people how to use the events and trends of “big history” in connection with their own stories – in order to show themselves who they have been in the past and can be in the future. My short-story collections Childish Discoveries, Adult Distractions, and Creature Discomforts are about the common disguises we all use to shield who we are from our own eyes. Even my book Dog Park Diary, about my dog’s visits to the dog park, is about Goody Beagle announcing who she is and what is important to her.

Maybe all writing is about searching for our identity, and trying to come to grips with its slippery nature. Who are you? Are you the stories you tell, the stories you believe, or the masks you wear? Who are we as a species? Or even who are we in the context of this vast Universe – are we, as individuals or as a group, just one of the zillions of specks of energy in an endless, always-moving, conglomeration of sparks, with no patterns and no rules? Perhaps it is only our stories that give us the answer to who we are, even as the stories themselves morph and mutate depending on who is telling and who is listening.

Sharing History: Making History in the 90s

Making history trimmedI’m still working on my sequel to Making History by adding the 1990s, a busy decade. I’m looking for stories, so I hope you will share yours. This week I was writing about the changes in food during the 90s – yes, food changes over time. In the 90s the food business put a lot of emphasis into “healthy” products aimed at capturing a more health-conscious public. For one thing, that enormous generation of baby-boomers were now in their forties and fifties and had discovered that their health was not guaranteed to last forever. (There is a difference between knowing this in your head and experiencing it in your body – I’m speaking from personal experience.) So here are some of the new products introduced during the 1990s that were advertised as “healthy.” Do you remember any of these? Did you eat them, or feed them to your children?

  • Campbells introduces Cream of Broccoli soup
  • McDonald’s introduces McLean Deluxe, a low-fat burger (this was a flop)
  • Crisco offers Crisco Sticks (so you wouldn’t use too much?)
  • Life Savers starts marketing the holes (because they’re smaller therefore less sugar?)
  • Snackwell introduces low-fat cookies
  • Louis Rich offers Turkey Bacon
  • Lay’s advertises baked potato chips (not fried)
  • Dunkin’ Donuts begins making bagels
  • Pringles offers fat-free Pringles
  • Frito-Lay offers potato chips with Olean
  • and don’t forget Tofurkey, born in 1995

Everyone has stories about food, what’s yours?