Archive for Thursday, January 25, 2007

Journals precious to future readers

January 25, 2007

This past weekend found Eudora covered with several inches of snow that finally brought the kids out on sleds, who mostly didn't venture out the previous weekend when several inches of ice was dumped on lawns, sidewalks and streets. Both the ice and the snow made for many of us staying put and watching movies at home as well as making comfort food of pork chops and sauerkraut, meat loaf and baked potatoes, homemade potato soup and finally the last link on the comfort food chain, sloppy Joes.

Most of these dishes were accompanied by a salad which served to mitigate the amount of fat and carbs that were consumed, making us feel a little less guilty about our down home food choices. No one was into a new veggie dish with tofu or a yogurt dip. No, spicy chili and taco chips were more the order of the day.

While many of us watched old movies, or the Jayhawks "go down" to Texas Tech or read, it came to mind that cold weather is a perfect time to drag out that family history you have been working on for the past five years and make some headway into getting your genealogy facts on paper. Journaling is also a fun thing to do. Well, maybe not at the time, but aren't we all thrilled when we come across an old calendar or diary from some family member long gone who wrote about the small happenings of the day, the weather or little housekeeping notes -- like Grandma's recipe for applesauce cake?

I have several journals that my own mother kept, and I am so pleased to have them not only for family memories but also for that time of history that was her time. I love reading about the day Franklin Roosevelt died and when her brother and brothers-in-law went off to war, taking the El Capitan train to California for the first time during the war to visit the other family members who had migrated there to work in defense plants as well as reading the family birthday list that she so vigilantly kept in her own hand. What wonderful keepsakes of the past.

To quote Anna Quindlen in a recent Newsweek, "Wouldn't all of us love to have a journal, a memoir, a letter, from those we have loved and lost? Shouldn't all of us leave a bit of that behind?"

Quindlen also makes the case for writing as therapy, mentioning a new movie titled "Freedom Writers," which is about a young teacher, Erin Gruwell.

Teaching in an area where there are many troubled children, she breaks through to her indifferent students by giving each one "a marbled composition book and the assignment to write their lives, ungraded, unjudged, and the world breaks open." For many of these children "writing made pain tolerable, confusion clearer and the self stronger."

According to the same article, this method is now being copied in other schools.

The other assignment they were given was to read the "Diary of Anne Frank." Not thinking they could relate to someone who lived long ago and in a different time and place, they nevertheless were charmed by her journal and as one of them remarked, "At the end of the book, I was so mad that Anne died, because as she was dying, a part of me was dying with her."

The power of the written word cannot ever be thought insignificant. Who would have thought that a little girl's diary could touch and change lives far into the future, which it has done and continues to do?

You see where this is going, don't you? I am encouraging everyone to write their story. It needn't be one of great adventure or heroism, just recounting family events may be words to cherish to a future family member.

You say you can't write or that you have no talent. Well, I'm here to tell you, you don't need talent. It helps, but if you have a pen, and paper, or a computer keyboard and a little time, you can write. Write for yourself unselfconsciously as though no one else will ever read it; and you will find your hand flying over the paper or your fingers over the keyboard, and you'll wonder how long all of those thoughts and words had been waiting for you to set them free.

Don't worry about those who come after looking over your shoulder. If you are timid, hide it or put it away to be read when you're gone or if you are really brave, write about it in your local paper as some of us who are unwise have done.

As Quindlen says at the end of her column "write for the same reason the kids who called themselves Freedom Writers wrote in those composition books: to make sense of themselves. That's not just for writers. That's for people."

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