Life Sketch Approach . . .
To Writing Personal History
Quilt of Many Squares and Triangles
Quilters understand the importance of each square in a quilt, even though there are so many. It takes a variety of many squares or shapes, each one equally holding its place, to make a beautiful quilt. So it is with the people in each of our lives. Our circle (or quilt) of people are important in the make-up of our lives. We only understand how important if we take the time to think about them and pinpoint the lessons we’ve learned from them.
This brings us to the “people approach” to writing personal history. If we were to write a life sketch of each of our immediate family members and then branch out from there to include our dearest acquaintances, we would be well on the way to having a personal history. Then we could flesh out our story by stitching the patches of sketches together with narrative about places, events and things.
People are what life is about.
My father wrote a book about his family in this form. He wrote a nice-sized sketch of each of the lives of his siblings and how they influenced him. He included a full-page picture of each one, and gave the book a catchy title—“Baker’s Dozen,” indicating the large number of siblings he had. It’s packed full of wonderful details that will be appreciated by researchers and historians one day, as well as family.
Later in life, as Dad grew older and was left behind by family and friends passing away, he wrote a life sketch of each of the people he knew as their obituaries showed up in the paper. He sent a comforting greeting to the family of the deceased along with his write-up about the influence that person had on his life. He has kept all of his original write-ups together in a book which could one day be included in a local history, as well as a family or personal history.
The lessons we learn from the people in our lives are legion, both things we want to emulate and things we want to avoid. Either way, they are helpful to us, and give us a rich patchwork of knowledge and passed-on experience that we keep for eternity.
However you write your personal history, don’t forget to include the people in your life.
Dressed up and on the way
T here was a time in my life when I loved high heels, or “pumps,” and looked forward to wearing them one day. About the time when I would have worn them for real, chunky platforms were all the rage and regular pumps were nowhere to be seen—unless I wanted to wear stilettos—which I didn’t. The shoes of my choice passed me by and since I wasn’t a shoemaker there was nothing I could do about it.
We sometimes find ourselves in circumstances we didn’t choose. Sometimes life forces us into making choices we don’t want to make, or into choosing the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, having made a bad choice, we are stuck with the unpleasant task of trying to do damage control. And sometimes we make a bad choice and can’t do anything but live with the consequences all the rest of our lives no matter how much we’d like to take it back.
Writers understand and treasure the human conditions people face. So do readers.
My sister and I have had the conversation, “If only I’d known better at the time, maybe I’d have made a better choice.” Bad choices and unfortunate circumstances are a reality in all of our lives. It’s often down the road, when it’s too late as we suppose, that we really gain understanding.
As you write about yourself and the people in your life, look for the reasons behind the actions in order to understand the actions. Was the person lonely, angry, in a difficult situation? Did they understand what they were doing? Were they caught in a moment of weakness? Were they in despair, or were they victims of low self-esteem? There are as many reasons for what we do or don’t do as there are actions. That reasoning is what sheds light on the story.
The mistakes we make, generally speaking, are universal. Most types of problems people have are found in any era of the world. People have always fought natural disaster and weather elements, pride problems, financial problems, family and people problems, health problems, self-esteem issues, and so on.
In writing my own personal history, I can write more clearly when I have thought about why I either did or faced what I did. How was I in a position to fall into that trap? Did I choose it?
Writers understand and treasure the conflict in peoples’ lives. So do readers. It’s the difficult times and the bad choices that move people on through growth and understanding. If there were no problems in our lives, there would be nothing to write about that would interest another human being. We love the hero or heroine who makes a mistake and goes on to overcome it. However, the mistake is not the gist of the person.
The gist of each of us is how we go on from the big problems, and how we keep on in the face of all the little problems. It’s how we turn our mistakes into blessings for ourselves or someone else, or learn and help others learn that really tells who we are. Don’t forget the heart of the person and the heart of the matter when you write about people. Facts are good proof of a thing, but they don’t tell the whole story, the human story.
In your writing about people, include such things as descriptions, thoughts, words, wishes, intentions, favorite things, and so on—if you’re lucky enough to know such things or are in a position to draw conclusions. Look beyond the facts, but let the fact that you treasure people show in your writing, for writers understand and treasure people. So do readers.
People treasuring people