Thursday, February 28, 2013

Create a Time Capsule on Paper

This is an exercise that I wrote about back in 2000, and I thought I would dust it off and republish it.

Facilitating a 
Lifewriting Group
 is Easy,e-book
 (instant download)
is currently on sale for 

Time capsules are a great way to pass history down to future generations, but there are several problems with them:
  • You probably don’t want to place anything precious or costly in them. 
  • You can’t include items that belong to another family member or that you are currently using. 
  • Over the years, you have probably misplaced or given away some excellent candidates for the capsule. 
  • Some items are just too big! 
So, how about creating a paper time capsule?

Make a list of 10–12 items from your life that evoke memories. You don’t have to currently possess each item. Take some time to think about this. Choose items from different time periods—childhood, teenage years, early adulthood, etc. Try to span your entire life. For some, this is not as easy as it sounds. When I started my list, I had a hard time coming up with objects. By the time I got to the end of my list, I couldn’t stop thinking of them! Some suggestions for items to include are: toys, mementos, certificates and diplomas, works of art, tools, kitchen gadgets, articles of clothing, crafts, journals, and pets.

It is important to limit the number of items before you begin listing them. This ensures that you think carefully about the value or importance of each thing you include. If you find yourself listing too many items, it is okay to go back and replace a previously listed item. Don’t bother to list them in any special order—just get them down.

Here are some examples from my list: and old pipe I bought in Israel, an aquamarine ring, dirndl (dress) from Salzburg, Girl Scout sash, lock of hair, pink sand from Utah.

Now for the fun part! For each item, answer the following questions:
  • When did you own it? (Include your age.) 
  • How did you come to possess it? Who gave it to you? Why did you acquire it? 
  • Where did you live when you owned it? 
  • What was it used for? 
  • Did someone else possess it with you? Who and why? 
  • Do you still have it? Is it something you hope to pass on to another family member? 
  • Why did you select it to include in this “time capsule on paper?” Why was/is it special to you? 
  • If you no longer have it, do you have a photograph or sketch of it? 
Write a notation, description, history, or story about each item. Don’t try to write all these memories in one sitting—it will be overwhelming. Describing one item a day or week is plenty. Our memoir writing group spent several weeks working on our paper time capsules. For the first week, we each made a list and wrote about one item. Just reading the lists to each other was inspiring, but when we read our stories, WOW! Sally’s story of a family footstool brought tears to our eyes.

Now start your paper time capsule. When you are finished, seal it away with instructions about when and by whom it is to be opened. The great thing about this kind of time capsule is that you can make several copies—one for each grandchild, for example!

Additional Time Capsule Ideas

  • Make a list of fifty-two items and write about one each week for the next year.
  • Ask another family member or friend to write or otherwise record their remembrances of some of the items on your list. 
  • Go further—put together a family paper time capsule. Ask each family member to “contribute” three or four items. If they do not want to write about them, get them to record their memories on audio tape, which you can later transcribe. 
  • Bind your memories: a time capsule in a book! 
Facilitating a Lifewriting Group is Easy is available for purchase in both a hardcopy (printed) form and as an instant download (e-Book) at my Capturing Memories Store. Visit the store to freely download the Introduction, Table of Contents and Chapter One.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Write the Story Behind the Photo

You will find this writing
 exercise and more than 50
 more in
Facilitating a
Lifewriting Group is Easy,
which you can order here.  

This is one of the exercises that I have used in lifewriting groups that always kindles many stories.

Note for lifewriting group facilitators: If you are using this activity for a group writing exercise, ask everyone to bring in 4–6 personal photos for this session. The photos should represent different times in their lives—childhood, young adulthood, parenthood, etc. It is preferred that they not bring professional portrait photographs. The most useful images for this activity are the ones with lots of “stuff” in the background—like their homes, automobiles, or other possessions. 
See below for link to a free downloadable .pdf version of this activity that can be used as a handout.

Choose a photo from your past that has some familiar objects in the background: a car you remember, a neighbor’s house, the fence you helped your Dad build, or the sandbox you played in. You get the idea. 

Study the picture. Look at everything in the photo. List the people and objects you see there. For example, in this photo from my childhood, I see:

  • Me!
  • A banana tree
  • Momma’s washer/dryer combination (hiding behind the banana tree)
  • Momma’s wicker basket
  • A trash can
  • The screen door to our back porch
  • Venetian blinds in the window

Write down who each person was. How were they related? What was each person doing? Did they want their photo taken? Do you know who took the photo? Why did they? If you don’t know why, speculate.

Study each object in the photo. Both those in the foreground and in the background. Take your time. Allow the memories to wash over you. Jot down things that occur to you. Don’t worry about complete sentences; just capture the gist of the memory on paper. Here are some examples from my photo:

  • All homes had screen doors. No air-conditioning in South Texas then!
  • Washer/dryer was in one unit. We could see fire through a hole in it.
  • Mom sprinkled her clothes before ironing.
  • Back porch was the coolest place in the summer; large ceiling fan; we played endless games of Monopoly there.
  • Venetian blinds were hard to clean.
  • We never ate bananas from that tree.

When you feel you have exhausted your memories, put the photo aside and go over your notes. Now you are ready to write about the memories that the photo inspired. Here’s just one memory that was prompted by my list:

In this case, the memories that the photo inspired seem to have nothing to do with the photograph. That really does not matter. A memory has been kindled. A story has been written.

A printer-friendly .pdf version may be freely downloaded here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Steps to a Successful Memory Book Project—Part 2

(Read Part 1 of this post below, or find it here.)

Step 5: Using your theme as a guide, make a list of potential contributors.

Start with your steering committee. Send each member a worksheet (see the example below) in advance of an early committee meeting. Ask that they make a list of potential participants, including contact information and a bit about their background in the community or organization.

Participant leads include: 

  • Your membership roster/mailing list
  • Senior center: Offer to do a presentation about your project at your local senior center or retirement community. Prepare an announcement to be published in their newsletter.
  • High school alumni: Ask if you can set up a table or display about the project at high school reunions.
  • Local churches: You may be able to include an announcement in church newsletters.
  • Participants themselves. Even after the project is underway, you will probably receive suggestions for other participants from those who have already received their workbooks.
Don’t forget to include people who have moved away but still have ties to the local community or organization.

Step 6: Create a workbook for contributors to complete.

An inspirational workbook is one of the key ingredients of a successful Memory Book project. When a potential contributor receives his workbook, you want him be excited and eager to send his stories to you. You also want the process to be as simple as possible. When a workbook is designed well with sharp images, clear, open-ended questions, and plenty of white space for writing, it is easier and more enjoyable for your participants to write their stories. Many participants will continue to add to their workbooks even after the project is completed.

In an early committee meeting, brainstorm subtopics to your theme. For each subtopic, make a list of open-ended questions which will elicit detailed memories from your contributors. Just as when interviewing for an oral history, your questions should not leave room for single-word responses. Instead of “Did you participate in school projects to help in the war effort?,” use “Describe some projects in which your school participated to help the war effort. Which projects were the most rewarding for you? Why? What did you like about the projects? What did you not like about them?”

You need only a handful of photos or other illustrations for the workbook. The best illustrations for the workbook are those which help contributors recall specific places, events, or people. In the workbook sample page at the right is a photo of a well-known lifeguard and swimming teacher in the community. We received so many stories about him that we made a separate chapter just about him in our final book.  

Other items to include in the workbook include: 
  • An introduction, including a clear explanation of the project.
  • A method for participants to share photographs and other memorabilia (In the project director's guide, Memory Book Projects, there is an entire chapter devoted to collecting and organizing images.)
  • Biographical information form about the participant
  • Release Forms: Get signed releases from participants to use their stories, photos, and other images, not only in the memory book, but also in future research, exhibits, broadcast, publication, or museum publicity. You cannot legally use any of their stories or images in publications or exhibits without these releases.

Step 7: Collect the stories and images.

When you send out the workbooks, do not give contributors too much time to complete them. You don’t want the books to be buried in a “to do” pile. Four to six weeks should be adequate. One to two weeks before the deadline, follow up with phone calls to those who have not turned in their workbooks. Remember, not all of your workbooks will be returned. Expect 20–30 percent of them to be returned, and then if you get 40–50 percent back, you will be delighted. Follow-up mailings and participant gatherings will increase the return rate. 

Step 8: Create your Memory Book publication, exhibit, or other end product.

Once you begin receiving workbooks, you can begin the process of creating your Memory Book. This can be the most rewarding and fun part of the project, but it can also be the most challenging. In all the Memory Books I have worked on, there has been an overabundance of material to include—and not enough funds available to publish it all. You must make judicious choices of stories and images—include something from each contributor and choose stories that are varied and interesting. Leave plenty of room for eye-catching images, but don’t turn it into a “coffee-table” book of mostly photos and few stories. 

When considering stories, select for:

  • Uniqueness.
  • Fitting the themes and scope of the project.
  • Personal recollections of well-known community/organization/family events.
  • A mix of humorous stories, touching stories, coming-of-age stories (if appropriate to the theme), sad stories, inspirational stories.

Sample bio entries at the back
 of a Memory Book
Make an attempt to use at least one entry from each contributor. This encourages more participation in future projects.

Consider taking the time to include a bio from each contributor in the back of the book. The Fall City Historical Society (Washington) even included a small portrait of each person next to their bio—a nice touch and one that family members and researchers will appreciate.

Once you have collected all these great stories, don't limit yourself to  just printing a book. Some other ways we have used the wealth of material are: 
  • An oversized exhibit version of the book displayed in the museum.
  • A children's book version
  • A museum exhibit which included some of the artifacts that participants loaned. (See the exhibit announcement at right.) 
  • A traveling exhibit
  • Remembrance (educational) trunks 
  • Bookmarks and Postcards to sell in the museum gift shop

Last Step: Celebrate!

To celebrate and publicize the publication of your book, invite some of the contributors to read their stories at a public reading. If you do not have a meeting space, ask your local library if you can use their meeting room. Be sure to have plenty of copies of the book available to sell!
All the information in this post, and 
many  more details, can be found in the 
95-page  project director's guide,  
Memory Book Projects, which can be 
purchased  in the Capturing Memories Store.