In these recent months of isolation due to the pandemic, and even more recently with protests and riots due to racism, more than ever before we're seeing personal narratives come forward on the internet on blogs, websites, and social media.
Dr. Kathryn Gray-White, a college history professor, contends that personal narratives, the stories of us everyday folks, are important not only because it feels good to express ourselves, but because they change history. Yes, your story, even if you think it isn't important enough to write, is important because it's only through the stories of real people that true history can be gleaned.
Not the points of view of politicians, business leaders, media pundits, and famous folks - but yours. We all hear enough from the people who have the power, clout, and money to bombard us with their beliefs and experiences. We don't need more of that. What's it like for the rest of us? Ours are the true tales of a time and place in history.
Dr. Gray-White says, "Over time, a memoir becomes a portal for time travel. It breathes life into cold granite slabs, allowing us to form an intimate bond with someone from the past. It permits us to travel back in time to witness the daily thoughts and customs and practices of someone we'll never meet in the flesh. It brings history into the present to inform us, to guide us, like a confidant from an era gone by." (p. 54, Memoir Magic.)
For example, without the diaries of plantation owner wives and others in the Southern United States in the 1800s, we might never know there were Southerners - many Southerners - who were supporters of the Union Cause. They didn't believe in slavery. The late Dr. Tom Dyer, a history professor and administrator at the University of Georgia, studied over 10,000 primary documents - diaries, letters, and more - to write Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta.
Without the horrific personal stories of Japanese Americans who were interred in American camps during World War II, we would never know about their fear of being executed by their own countrymen. Although supposedly held in camps for their own protection because there was enormous public enmity toward Japan, they were prisoners, losing everything they owned as well as their way of life. At the time, most Americans didn't even know this was happening. The stories of those interred finally surfaced after the war.
Today, we're learning a lot from African Americans who feared telling about their personal experiences until garnering encouragement through public support. Consequently, we're not only learning but feeling how pervasive racism is in this country. History will harbor those personal stories and, hopefully, future generations will learn from this tragedy. (And, surely, we can learn from them now.)
Likewise, your story, long or short, could someday join with other personal narratives to collectively inform history. It can help people learn what they need to know in order to live together in a civilized world. Heaven knows, we desperately need that. Whether you have dealt with difficulties or not, your story provides a picture of today's world from your point of view. You might have survived a lot of bumps in the road or you might have always enjoyed smooth sailing. In either case, your perspective has value. It tells others how to overcome hard times and/or how to appreciate a blessed existence.
If thinking in such broad terms doesn't strike you, consider this: your story could serve as an intimate gift to somebody - it could be anybody, a descendant or not - in the future who you will never meet. When you write about your struggles, your joys, your failures, and your successes, you give that reader hope and support. They'll feel that they know you. You won't just be a slab in a cemetery or a name on a family tree, you'll be real. Don't deny them that opportunity to grow and learn.
There is one more reason for you to write your story: it does indeed feel good to get it out of your head and your heart, and onto the page. You get to know yourself as never before. It's a gift from you to you. As Irish-American author Flannery O'Connor said, "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say."
So, what's your story? It's time to tell it.
Visit my writing website for free memoir writing tips: MemoirMagic.net.
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