The LifeStory Institute
LifeStory Magazine Online excerpts
Is life review necessary? by Charley Kempthorne, editor (from LIfeStory Magazine no. 133)
In an ideal world, perhaps critical life review is not necessary. We would in such a world just self-correct our course as we go through the day. If we were rude to someone we’d
apologize on the spot. A simple, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I’m having a bad hair day,” would be enough. We would admit our errors and transgressions and our
“trespasses” as we move along, or at least within a few hours or days.
Many, many, if not most people fall into this category. No review is desired or necessary. It’s amazing what a simple, “I was wrong,” does to brighten the day for everyone around you,
not least you yourself, the very one who did the wrong. The paradox is that in admitting we were wrong we feel better because we’ve made a clean breast of it…we’re not lying to
anyone or concealing anything.
But some of us are different. I am. Maybe most writers are different, though of course not only writers. Maybe we’re more troubled than others or maybe we’re just more demanding of
ourselves. Maybe we’re more analytical, more persnickety. Or something else. No doubt all of those things and perhaps some more are all involved.
I do my life review in my journal. Just as doing wrong, making mistakes, being snippy to someone or smart-alecky or whatever is part of my day, so is noticing it and bringing myself to
task for it.
But having written is only one part of letting it go. Since I don’t want to have it stick in my brain: Oh, I should apologize to her. Oh, I’ll just wait for a better chance. Well, she was at
fault too… When I have that kind of talk going on in my head I know I need to write it out, work it out with whomever I’ve offended, and let it all go into the dustbin of my history. So I try to
go to the person and apologize and offer to make amends in person.
But sadly in my past I have not always gotten around to that part. In many cases the persons I have wronged are dead and gone. So...out of sight and out of mind, right?
Well, no. Because the wrong is still up there in my head. My head. I have to keep in mind that I am above all trying to give myself peace of mind. Now in my case the people I wronged
the most were my parents. Perhaps that is the case with a lot of people. I was not the son I should have been. They put forth so much effort that I didn’t even notice for years...perhaps
not until now.
I can be more specific, and in my journal I am. I can in fact recreate some of the scenes of my life--some of those scenes where a little light, now, can shine in and make the whole
world, at least my whole world, a better place. Oh, that time I borrowed Dad’s new Oldsmobile without permission. Uh, maybe I ought to say times. And
I’m lucky in that my parents are in their graves just a mile north of where I live in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery. So I can stop and do a little life review with them just as often as I need
to. Well, as I write this, it’s Sunday, and a gloomy one at that. Maybe I’ll just cheer myself up and amble down to the cemetery and tell my folks what a rat I was. ###
An excellent example of life review...
The 20th LifeStory Journalong
Sun., August 2, 2015
I felt like Chinese and was for Imperial Gardens. June mentioned that at Hyvee, in the
same mall, she could get 3 eggrolls for a small price. I wanted Chinese, I’d been
wanting it for days, but I knew at Imperial Gardens we wouldn’t get away without
spending the larger part of a twenty, and anyway, I kind of liked Hyvee, employee
owned, and all that. And I knew how June loved her eggroll deal, and even maybe,
too, the actual eggrolls themselves.
At the counter in the cool of Hyvee, June got her three eggrolls. I got just two but
wanted a single crab Rangoon. I schmoozed with a young mother and her child next
to us. “And what is this pretty little lady’s name?” I asked, and the mother smiled
sweetly and said, “Madelaine.” The little girl, maybe 18 months or even two, sat in the
chair in the cart sucking on pacifier and looking at me with her big dark eyes.
“Madelaine, how do you do? I predict that one day you will be president of the United
States.” This had no effect on her, but her mother beamed. I waved bye-bye to
Madelaine and we went out to the car to sit. It was too cold inside.
It was Saturday night in the big city. We sat in the parking lot that was exactly where,
when I was a boy, every year, nearly, Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey would set up
their circus tents for a few days and everyone and their children, everyone led by their
children, would come and take in the Big Top acts and all the rest, the trapeze arts, the
twenty clowns who emerged from a tiny car, and the guy who was shot from a
cannon. We loved it.
One year I actually worked a weekend as a dealer in some kind of semi-nefarious dice
and card game in a carnival down in southern Kansas called BEAT THE DEALER. I
was instructed by the owner of the joint (as these little subcontracted stands were
known) to call out to the passing Midway, COME ON IN, FOLKS! COME ON IN! Beat
my rolls and take my dough! I didn’t like the imperfect, slant rime, but I liked saying it,
liked looking at the curious and innocent faces of the farmers and their children
steadily flowing past. It was just for a couple of days but it was enough for my
resume, and I never did it again.
It was on the 4th of July and of course the local Kiwanis or other service group
sponsored a big fireworks show in the adjacent ball park, and the whole carnival shut
down for that while we all watched. It was a little boring, I thought, but at the end
when they set off a batch of fireworks that made a beautiful huge lit up the flag and
everyone stood and sang the Star Spangled Banner was something to see.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
This is the 1st day of LifeStory’s 20th Journalong, which is intended to mean that we write together for 500 words or a little more for the next 28 days. Why 28 days? Because
that is often thought of the number of times you have to do a daily thing for it to become habit. In this case, the idea is to cement writing as a daily habit—aka, journaling.
I take it that the benefits of journaling are self-evident. You may have one good reason or two good reasons for journaling; they may be different from mine; we each might have
ten good reasons or the good reasons may vary from time to the next. But there are no bad reasons. Journaling is intrinsically and inherently a good thing to do.
Enough said, except that I’d love to see and post some of your 500+ words in this space as we move along through these first 28 days in August.
I usually write this first thing in the morning, but my August 1st today was busy from 4 am with a yard sale, and so if you know anything about that great American institution
(surely Paris doesn’t have yard sales…? Or maybe they invited them? Surely we aren’t the only country in the world to develop a way to get rid of what you don’t want anymore
and to acquire what you think you want now?) And so here I am at 10 at night on the first day, August 1.
A good yard sale is characterized above all (isn’t it so?) as a fun social event with your friends and neighbors, and in our case at least bringing in a little extra cash. And so that
did happen. We are lighter in our household junk and a little heavier in our purse.
One man wanted that red hydraulic bottle jack we had out in front of our shop. He wanted to know how much. $10, I said, thinking it a steal he wouldn’t possibly pass up. But
no, he looked at it wistfully, turning and turning it in his hand. Well, would you take 8? I can do that I said, not wanting to appear too eager, so I drawled out that sentence as if I
were actually considering the price but really in my head the little voice was saying, Take it, Mister, please take it, I haven’t used that jack in years and hope never again to have
any occasion to jack up anything. Please, please!
My attention was called away by my wife to price something that was “mine,” and five minutes later I turned back, there was the jack sitting on the bench, unsold. A little boy
wanted a rubber alligator. My wife beamed at him when he asked how much and said, It’s free to you, and the little boy ran away to his mother yelling about his new acquisition,
the start of a long life in consumerism. You will be happier if you own this. Well, that may not be true, or at least the length of the happiness will not be infinite. But there are
Tu., Jan. 6, 2004
Mom and Dad were married 70 years ago today, January 6, 1934. They were married in front of a wicket at an office in City Hall. “I now pronounce
you man and wife that’ll be $3” was the way Mom always put it. I can imagine the event going something like this…
“Where the hell is it?” Dad laughed, running up the steps, pulling Mom along. Mom, strikingly pretty at 24, laughed too, but complained: “Kem-py,
you’re hurting me. What’s your hurry?”
“It’s cold. That’s my hurry. And I’ve got to be at the hospital by 6.”
And then they plunged into the marble foyer and long cold corridors of the City Hall of Indianapolis, Indiana. They ran until they found the sign that
said Marriage Licenses, went in, and then there they were standing in front of an iron wicket with a bored bald man on the other side. When it was
ascertained and duly recorded that he was Charles R. Kempthorne born in Platteville, Wisconsin January 7, 1903, and she was Lillian Mae Isaacs
born in West Point, Kentucky March 5, 1909, that he was employed as a physician and surgeon at the University of Indiana Hospital and that she
was employed as a--well, a helper she guessed at the Swing Tag Company and then she started to explain just what she did the official merely
nodded and said, “That’ll do,” and wrote something down in his book before he said, “Raise your right hands,” and then rattled off the rest of the
required words, ending with “That’ll be three dollars, please,” and then Kempy and Lil were off, she back to a girl friends’ and he off to the
hospital, and perhaps later to a party with all their friends in somebody’s basement, drinking toasts of bathtub gin made with alcohol one of the
other doctors had caged from the hospital, and maybe someone had baked a cake, and then they went home to her parents’ and thence, to their
nearly fifty-year-life together in North Dakota, Wisconsin and Kansas.
Well, maybe it was something like that.
A gentle assault on genealogists.
(from LifeStory Magazine, 1999)
A lot of genies are LifeStory subscribers and come to LifeStory workshops. The odds are about one in three that you who are reading this belong
to a genealogical society and are more or less active in it.
That's not surprising. Family history is what genies aim to do, and that's what this magazine is all about. But in the eight years that I've edited this
magazine and travelled the country doing workshops in writing family history I've learned some things about you genies.
We're a lot alike, but that word writing sometimes separates us. Many of you genies don't do any significant amount of narrative writing.
Oh, you collect data and write it down. You do the writing that is required of researchers--dates of birth, marriage, and death. You fill in the blanks
in your Family Tree Maker. But writing a narrative--no. As researchers, you do a good job; as writers of history, not so good.
One of the things I've learned about genies is that they are tough-minded, no-nonsense folks. Also, if they are not ancestor-worshipers, they are
certainly humbled by their ancestral past. And their characteristic awe of their own ancestral history may prevent them from seeing their own role
in it. In fact, they don't even see, most
of the time, that they have a role in their family history, so concerned are they with ancient history. The idea of writing their own personal history
seems to them at worst an egotistical affront
to their family's history and at best a mere afterthought. "My life is unimportant," is their modest assessment. And the implication Is, of course,
Why write about it?
But they are not taking into account their audience, their children and grandchildren, who have a real need for their immediate forbears' stories.
Typically, kids are bored by the data of the family tree, the minor (or major) noble they may be descended from 32 times removed, and yet are
fascinated by stories of Mom or
Dad's youth. And that is as it should be. I mean, really, what does it matter in the scheme of things if our ancient forbears were bums or barons?
But to know more of what our parents or grandparents did in their lives, in some detail--to know how they coped with life's problems, how they
reacted to death, divorce, sickness, despair, and maybe even happiness too? That's history that really matters.
If you doubt that, consider what a beautiful world it would be if, starting back in the 12th century or so, everyone of your ancestors had written--had
been able to write in between ducking vats of boiling oil and chucking spears at one another if everyone of them had written a complete family
history. Can anyone doubt that the world would be a far better place if all this history had been there all this time for us to learn from?
But here you are ... quivering with ecstasy to discover that your great-great-great whatever was an assistant earl in the entourage of some dead
prince, meanwhile overlooking the need for history of your children and grandchildren.
And another thing. The genies nuts-and-bolts, no-nonsense approach to history with its
misguided Jack Webb insistence on Just the facts, ma'am also works against them. Even hard-boiled cops, maybe especially hardboiled cops,
pay attention to far more that "just the facts." This is a naive view of history. This is the view that history is Out There, and the historian's job is
simply to go
get it, fact for fact. But in reality history is a thing created by historians who look at facts. It is always subjective.
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