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What are Heirloom Stories?
When your grandchildren read your Heirloom Stories, they'll feel like you're in the room with them. So will their grandchildren and all your future descendants.
That's a wonderful thought, but it places a large responsibility on me. I want to present your best side to your descendants. I go through a lot of steps to do that.
During the telephone interview, you'll remember things you haven't thought of in decades, and you'll have a great time telling me about them. While I enjoy the stories, I'm also working - like a prospector. Your stories are the raw material for the jewelry I plan to make.
After we hang up the phone, I become a jeweler. I choose a few of your gems to polish, then decide how to display them. They all have to be related and lead somewhere - often somewhere funny.
I'm usually pretty pleased with the story at this point, but it's just a rough draft. In the next few days, I may rewrite it a dozen times or more.
It shrinks as I eliminate non-essential words and ideas. Eventually, we're left with a really strong story. It can still sound casual and playful, but it's highly focused and edited.
That's when I start thinking of the story as jewelry. I hope you do too. - But it's OK if you don't.
One of my best stories - about chamber pots, water closets, and outhouses - was rejected by the man I wrote it for. He didn't want to be remembered for those things. (But he loved talking about it when we were interviewing!)
I didn't charge for the story. I felt the loss for his descendants, but kept the story as one of my favorites. I may use it some day in a book of Heirloom Stories.
Sometimes the elder wants things added or deleted, or wording changed. Even if I feel the changes hurt the story, I make them. The story must be theirs, even if it's not the best literature.
Hi I.Q. stories
The finished version is a story you'd be proud to tell over the dinner table. Even though family stories are rarely this polished, I want them to be good literature. Why? So they're more "infectious". Heirloom Stories are high I.Q. (infectious quality.)
I'm glad there will be millions of copies of your Heirloom Stories centuries from now, but I don't want them to survive as just historical scraps of paper. I want your core ideas to affect the thoughts and actions of your descendants.
Your descendants will appreciate any story you write. But if it touches them deeply, it can affect their personality, values, or attitudes. They'll pass a little bit of you on to everyone they meet - like you would do if you were there.
If your descendant is acting like you, are you there? From some perspectives, the answer is "yes". That's the kind of immortality I'm trying to give you with high I.Q. stories.
Your descendants need your stories
Heirloom Stories are written so ten year-olds can understand them on at least one level. They might not get all the jokes, but the words are simple and the sentences short. You'll want to give copies to all your relatives, but the grandchildren need them most.
For thousands of generations, our ancestors lived in extended family groups, like people still do in traditional and aboriginal cultures. When our ancestors got too old to hunt, gather, or farm, they stayed in their village - with the kids.
What do elders do when they spend time with kids? Tell stories! Kids love stories and elders love to tell them.
Sometimes they tell the same stories. That's OK. The kids don't mind. The elders don't mind either. Why not? Because they're really teaching the kids to think like they do.
Elder stories teach children how to act like adults before they turn into them. Young adults from traditional cultures still have that head start. Our children need it.
Children naturally seek out stories. Until recently (a few hundred years ago for Europeans; less for other cultures), most stories were from their elders.
When children listen to their elders' stories, they get a boost in self-esteem. The stories make them proud to be a member of their family or tribe.
When elder stories aren't available, children often substitute TV stories for them. Instead of making them proud to be who they are, TV stories frequently make children feel as if they need to change their dress, speech, or actions to be accepted by others.
We're not going to get rid of TV, but we can fight its negative effects with elder stories.
If you don't live with your grandchildren, the best way of giving them what they need from you is with written stories.
Heirloom Stories allow us to forge a strong link in our family's Chain of Wisdom. The Chain carries our culture from our ancestors to our descendants - if it doesn't break. Don't let yours break on your watch.
The trend away from extended families isn't going to change soon, so future generations will need elder stories even more. Luckily, once you give written stories to your grandchildren, they'll be in your family forever. They're instant Heirlooms.
If you'd like free help writing your own stories, click here.
If you'd like me to write your stories, click here.
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