Saturday, February 29, 2020

How about your story

        Of course you have stories to tell. Everyone does. Most of our tales are not about great adventures or epic achievements……but instead focus on seemingly unremarkable moments from our past, that for reasons we don’t always understand have become part of our remembered history. At first glance those isolated recollections may seem incidental, but we know they are important. Why else would we remember them? Some have served as stepping stones on the path to becoming the person we are.

      Chances are your family and friends have heard some of your stories….the ones you have been willing to tell. But do they realize what those memories mean to you, what they say about you? Do the people you care about the most, the ones you believe have a right to know, understand how and why those apparently incidental hints of your past are important to you? If not, why not take the time to tell them? Help them understand.
So where am I going with this? Have I once again veered off on one of my dubious sidetracks? Not exactly. Though what I have to share may not strike you as a good idea, I have been there and done that, and I know it works.

A while back I came across some notes I had assembled years before about events from my childhood and adolescence. Having waded through those early accounts of my very personal history I decided it was time to dig deeper into my addled brain and gather more of that history……to assemble a more comprehensive collection of episodes that track my growing up, from age 3 or 4 to age 83. An autobiography, if you will. 

Those brief vignettes, 50 in all, would revisit special moments in my life-journey, some of them major life events, most of them innocent-appearing times that held a particular meaning for me, even if they sounded silly to everyone else.

It would be the most personal writing I have ever done. The result was neither elegant or artistic, but instead the simple telling of my own story in my own words, touching on eighty years of highlights and lowlights that taken together seem to flesh out a realistic portrait of who I am.

To be sure my story is intended for a very limited audience. It is definitely not intended for general distribution. Once I had settled on the finished manuscript I ordered five copies of the nice paperback, one for Roma and me, and one for each of our children.

And here is the point I want to make…….you can do that too, whether it is your personal history, a collection of family legends, or short stories you have composed……you can leave your own mini-legacy for your children and grandchildren.

“Not me,” you say. “I could never do that. Besides, I can’t afford it.”
“Nonsense,” I reply. If you have a child or grand-child who is computer literate, and most of them are these days, they can take you to Amazon KDP and have you in a self-publishing mode in half an hour, ready to type your story into the same computer you are using to read this post. And it will cost you next to nothing. 

Truth in advertising. The most time-consuming, and for me the most enjoyable, part of that self-publishing exercise will fall on your shoulders. You are the one who composes your story. The finished book……your words, ordered in the way you choose……will be exactly as you type it into the KDP template.

Let me explain how that worked for me. The five high-quality, 400 page paperbacks I ordered for my family cost me the time to create and enter the manuscript, plus $30 out of pocket, $6 apiece. Amazon of course is in the book-selling business. Since I use their free self-publishing services I must offer the finished book for sale on their site. But because it is so personal I would prefer to limit its distribution to family and friends. 
How do I manage that? Easy. That very personal life story, about someone no one else has ever heard of, is available on Amazon for $47.50. I’m guessing that will limit the sales.

Why not take a moment to consider the stories you could leave for your loved ones. There is no limit to the possibilities……only your imagination. If I can answer any of your questions just leave a comment and I’ll give it a try.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

What comes after pixie dust?

I rarely mention politics on these pages, which has me wondering if I can pull off today’s assignment……..talking about politics, without getting political.

No matter what our age, but especially in late-life, our ability to fight-the-good-fight, to tilt at offending windmills, is limited. I’ve been told, and so have you, “Don’t waste your energy trying to change or control what you can’t change or control.”

I take that to be good advice, especially when I am tempted to take my few remaining bullets and defective armor into battle against firmly entrenched adversaries. At my age I need to choose my battles carefully, or avoid them altogether.

So, welcome to America, land of the free and brave. Having grown up in a nation that likes to pretend it is always getting better, solving its problems and moving ahead, this seems like a good time to remind myself that pixie dust and good intentions will only take us so far.
Some of the challenges we face today seem intractable. For instance, no matter its cause, climate change is apparently responsible for a toxic blend of violent weather, higher temperatures, and rising ocean levels. We may not agree on the “why” of it, but the “results” are there for everyone to see, feel…….and live with.

Another of the potential battles we hear about these days is our nation’s wealth disparity, which also seems beyond our control. You have seen the numbers……the wealthiest 20% control 90% of the nation’s wealth……while the poorest 20% are an average of $6,000 underwater. The “middle-class dream” we grew up worshipping is being squeezed back into the tube. ”

Though it is hard not to be concerned about the impact of that disparity on our grandchildren’s future, as one who writes about late-life, and lives it too, I fear for those of my peers who face an ever-more-expensive world with ever-shrinking-resources. We read about how many of our citizens cannot raise $500 to deal with an emergency……and we know that large numbers of those unfortunate ones are living out their Golden Years, without a hint of gold.

You can add another lump of coal in our national legacy……the health-insurance disparity so many of our people face. No other nation in history has created medical care as good as ours. Yet in doing so we have produced a system which delivers that care unevenly, offering more or less according to arbitrary  privilege……sometimes to the point of offering no health-care options at all.

And finally, what about the most obvious sign of our times, one that plays a role in climate change, wealth disparity, health-care inequity, and many other of our national ills. That would be the ugly and dysfunctional political divide we see all around us…….jagged divisions that some say are the worst since the Civil War? 

Take a moment to imagine two well-fortified fortresses, each sitting on a high hill, separated by a wide and deep canyon. As long as they stand alone like that, two parts of the same whole, neither of them can create the future they want for their people.......not when their individual success depends on joining forces to exploit their united potential. 

But how can that “coming together,” a necessary ingredient for making the most of our nation’s potential, possibly happen in today’s demeaning climate of hatred, name calling, and mockery? What if neither side is willing to begin the bridge that spans their differences?

I said earlier I would talk politics without getting political, then proceeded to produce a series of political realities. But I am not here to take sides. As often happens I am preaching to myself, reminding myself that some circumstances will be part of my world for as long as I live.
I may do what I can to ease the impact of climate change, but the trend will continue, perhaps until it cannot be reversed. I can bemoan the inequities of wealth or health-care disparity, and pray that we are not consumed by them, but absent a drastic turnabout they will continue to widen.
As for the Great American Political Divide, it is tempting to suggest that only Jesus himself could resolve that impasse…….except it seems that both sides claim to have enlisted him into their cause, to help them do battle with the other side, which also claims he is with them.

Bottom line…..I hope I am strong enough to follow my conscience and do the best I can, while at the same time recognizing that for the few year I have left those well-established trends, and many others, will be part of our nation’s landscape, perhaps taking us to a future I do not wish for my descendants. 

What do think? Am I right about that? I hope you’ll let me know.