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Posts tagged ‘life history’

Write About Your Community

May 13, 2016

Susan Marg

A few years ago I worked with Marie Rudisill on her life history. If the name sounds familiar, Marie has a couple of claims to fame. She was the aunt of Truman Capote, and she helped raise him in Monroeville Alabama, whenever his mother dropped him off on her way to New Orleans. She is also known as “The Fruitcake Lady” from her appearances on The Tonight Show in Jay Leno.

Marie’s book is labeled a memoir, but it is also a personal story, a family tale, an account of all the places Marie laid down roots after she left home.

Photo by: Daniel Mennerich

Photo by: Daniel Mennerich

Wherever Marie lived, she found a community. During the 1930s, she lived in New York City to be near her older sister Lillie Mae and her nephew Truman. Of the Big Apple she comments, it “didn’t have one of anything. My goodness, no. There was not just one square, skyscraper, movie house, art museum, science museum, park, playground, hotel, restaurant, deli, diner, dance hall, concert venue, night club, racetrack, bowling alley, outdoor market, or department store, but lots of everything to suit just about everyone.”

Marie made her home in Greenwich Village, of which she writes, “Greenwich Village, in particular, was a real melting pot of Italians, Germans, Poles, Africans, and Jews. They were mostly of an older generation who had immigrated to American through Ellis Island, but they peacefully co-existed with the painters, writers, and intellectuals of the next generation. Into the mix were young, single, working professionals who were attracted by the neighborhood’s low rents and Bohemian lifestyle. In the summertime everyone gathered on the front stoop looking for a breeze to cool off, but there wasn’t much relief from the humidity, even after the sun had set. When the weather turned cold and nasty we took refuge in the tearoom and coffee shops.”

On a personal level, Marie notes, “The best thing about the Village was its friendly atmosphere, and it attracted lots of Southerners. With my pronounced Southern accent, as strong as it ever was, I had always felt like I stuck out. In the Village I fit right in.”

When she married, she moved with her husband to the Carolinas. Of Charlotte, she writes, “Another thing about Charlotte is that the people are so damn nice. They truly are…. Neighbors know each other and talk to each other… In Charlotte, when a new family moved into the neighborhood, we welcomed them with a fresh meringue pie. That custom is still true, unless we’re talking about Northerners who haven’t learned to mind their p’s and q’s. Them we’ll ice up. Southerners can be very clannish.”

Marie saves her bon mots for Florida, where she retired to be near her son. She never really appreciated the Sunshine State, and she writes, “It is not a Southern state, not to me. It has no history, no civility, no gentility. It’s all flip flops, short shorts, and hairy legs.”

What is community? One simple definition is that it’s a social unit that shares common values, resources, and preferences. Those in a community take risks together, and they benefit from taking those risks – together.

Community can be a part of a life or family history. It says something about where you lived and when you grew up. Why not write about it?

© 2016 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Happiness is Being Part of a Family

March 25, 2015

Susan Marg

Charles M. Schultz rhapsodized, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Comedian George Burns joked, “ Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”

Since so many life histories and memoirs are about family, I thought it’d be fun to find some quotes about those whom we know best. I mean, if we can’t laugh at our family, who can we laugh at – besides ourselves?

A family is a unit composed not only of children, but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.

Photo by: KIDS – © everett225

Photo by: KIDS – © everett225

  •  Ogden Nash

No amount of law enforcement can solve a problem that goes back to the family.

  •  Edgar Hoover

Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.

  •  Cary Grant

I know it’s a cliché, but the whole family is just whacked. I mean, we’re all out of our minds. They’re the funniest, most eccentric bizarre people I’ve ever met, my siblings.

  • Dana Carvey

To each other, we were as normal and nice as the smell of bread. We were just a family. In a family even exaggerations make perfect sense.

  • John Irving

Your basic extended family today includes your ex-husband or -wife, your ex’s new mate, your new mate, possibly your new mate’s ex and any new mate that your new mate’s ex has acquired.

  • Delia Ephron

There is no such thing as fun for the whole family.

  • Jerry Seinfeld

I think it’s fascinating that I receive attention for what people perceive to be a level of manliness or machismo, when amongst my family of farmers and paramedics and regular Americans, I’m kind of the sissy in my family.

  •  Nick Offerman

I looked up my family tree and found out I was the sap.

  •  Rodney Dangerfield

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.

  •  George Bernard Shaw

So clear out your closets and make your family skeleton dance by writing a life or family history.

What Do You Remember?

October 29, 2014

Susan Marg

Are you thinking of writing your life history, but you’re not sure where to begin? For inspiration, pick up a copy of I Remember by Joe Brainard. First published in 1970 the book has become a cult classic.

I Remember coverBrainard, a poet and prolific artist as well as a nice guy, so say his friends, recalls growing up in Oklahoma and then his life in the 1960s and 1970s in New York City. His concept was simple, but brilliant. He wrote down his memories as they came to him, each prefaced by the phrase “I remember.”

And Brainard remembers a lot: thinking of sex, his first crush, his first dance, his first blue ribbon at a county fair. His observations are personal and universal, emotional and thought-provoking.

With Halloween soon here, here are some examples of his commemorating the holiday:

I remember orange icing on cupcakes at school Halloween parties.

I remember usually getting dressed up as a hobo or a ghost. One year I was a skeleton.

I remember one house that always gave you a dime and several houses that gave you five-cent candy bars.

I remember after Halloween my brother and me spreading all our loot out and doing some trading.

I remember always at the bottom of the bag lots of dirty pieces of candy corn.

I remember the smell (not very good) of burning pumpkin meat inside jack-o’-lanterns.

What do you remember? Now write it down!

Who Ya Gonna Call?

October 10, 2014

Susan Marg

Have you lost control of your schedule? Engage a personal assistant to get you to the church – or the meeting or the hairdresser – on time.

Photo by: Fingle

Photo by: Fingle

Do you want to get rid of clutter? Employ a personal organizer to create space in your closet, if not your mind.

Are you lacking motivation to get in shape? Sign up with a personal trainer, and go for the burn.

Were you hurt in an accident?   Hire a personal injury lawyer.

Are you baffled by the stock market? Ask a personal financial advisor.

Are you undecided on how best to start your memoir, life history, or family story? Call me: I’m a personal historian. I can help.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Ten Quotes on Childhood Recollections

October 6, 2014

Susan Marg

Photo by: ToniVC

Photo by: ToniVC

As we get older we find it difficult, if not impossible, to remember our early childhood. Yet we all have a first memory. Mine is the time I tied my shoes by myself. Oh, I was so excited and proud. I raced down the steps to tell my Mom.

Here are ten quotes of early childhood recollections. They all make perfect sense, give the paths the speakers have taken and the careers they’ve had.

I spent my childhood eating. The only exercise I got was trying to twist off the cap of a jar of mayonnaise.

— Richard Simmons, fitness guru

Playing guitar was one of my childhood hobbies, and I had played a little at school and at camp. My parents would drag me out to perform for my family, like all parents do, but it was a hobby – nothing more.

— Bonnie Raitt, singer

I have a love affair with tomatoes and corn. I remember them from my childhood. I only had them in the summer. They were extraordinary.

— Alice Waters, chef

My earliest thought, long before I was in high school, was just to go away, get out of my house, get out of my city. I went to Medford High School, but even in grade school and junior high, I fantasized about leaving.

— Paul Theroux, travel writer

One of my earliest memories was me singing ‘Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ at the top of my voice when I was seven. I got totally carried away. My grandmother, Sarah, was in the next room. I didn’t even realize she was there. I was terribly embarrassed.

— James Taylor, singer

–My earliest memories are doing commercials and TV.

Jodie Foster, actress

I played music and sang from my earliest memories. The first pictures of me show me wandering around with a guitar that was larger than I was, and it became almost second nature to me.

— Dwight Yoakam, singer

I still love making hamburgers on the grill. I guess whenever I eat them childhood memories come up for me.

— Bobby Flay, chef

Chocolate is the first luxury. It has so many things wrapped up in it: deliciousness in the moment, childhood memories, and that grin-inducing feeling of getting a reward for being good.

— Mariska Hargitay, actress

I’m just lucky. I do have very clear memories of childhood. I find that many people don’t, but I’m just very fortunate that I have that kind of memory.

— Beverly Cleary, children’s literature author

Try and remember your earliest childhood recollections. It’s a first step to telling your life story.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Gold Nuggets Can Be Found in the Details

September 24, 2014

Susan Marg

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I watched Busby Berkley’s Gold Diggers of 1933. We thoroughly enjoyed the depression-era story: rich boy meets poor girl and saves the play. And then there’s the singing and dancing. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, who play the rich boy and poor girl, respectively, sing “Pettin’ in the Park.” Ginger Rogers sings “We’re in the Money,” while showgirls dance on gold coins.

Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in Gold Diggers of 1933

Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in Gold Diggers of 1933

It’s a rather buoyant affair, except that no one has any money, apart from the playboy/songwriter and his relatives who want to keep him from marrying an actress. Like any other thirties musical, it’s somewhat frothy and madcap. Love trumps all, until the end.

The mournful ballad, “Remember My Forgotten Man,” carries the finale. From a close-up of Joan Blondell singing the blues, the scene dissolves first to soldiers, some carrying the wounded, marching in the rain and then to men waiting in a bread line for some soup and coffee. The lyrics tell the story: “You put a rifle in his hand; You sent him far away; You shouted: ‘Hip-hooray;’ But look at him today.”

The scene is visually moving and dramatic, but rather startling to anyone watching the movie today. World War I ended fifteen years before Gold Diggers takes place. The war is not mentioned in the movie until that point. Veterans, despite what they had done for their country, were unemployed, just like everyone else.

Knowledge of history makes the ending more fitting, by providing a perspective similar to that of a thirties movie audience. Here are some facts.

The tragedy of the Bonus Army March was top-of-mind. In the spring and summer of 1932, 43,000 veterans and their families marched on Washington, D.C. for the much needed immediate cash payment of bonuses they had been promised. Although payment wasn’t due until 1945, who could wait? With little sympathy, the Hoover Administration ordered the protestors removed from all government property and their campsite burned. Several veterans were shot and later died.

A second, smaller march early in 1933 at the start of the Roosevelt Administration was more quietly resolved with an offer of jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corp. Transportation home was given to those who chose not to work. As the depression dragged on, by the way, Congress voted in 1936 to pay the veterans their bonus then, rather than later.

Gold Diggers of 1933 was one of the top grossing films of the year. To audiences of the era it offered escape from the glum reality of the Great Depression, yet it was still topical. To modern movie-goers it is emotionally satisfying, as well as entertaining, once the details are filled in. The same is true if you’re writing a life or family history.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Pickles Wisdom by Brian Crane

September 14, 2014

Susan Marg

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Kindle Countdown for “Ask Me Anything”

September 13, 2014

Susan Marg

Marie Cover 5 EAsk Me Anything, the memoir I wrote with Marie Rudisill, is available as an ebook. A Kindle Countdown is underway, starting at $.99 today. Then the price goes up each day. On Wednesday, it will be $8.99, its list price.

Why wait? See what Marie has to say – about her upbringing in the deep South, her nephew Truman Capote,  taking on the Big Apple, giving the Big Orange a squeeze when she appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Well into her nineties she became a television celebrity, going mouth to mouth with anyone who asked her a question or sought help with a problem. She always had an answer on the tip of her tongue.

Here are a few of Marie’s many bon mots about the places she’s been and the people she’s met:

“I was certainly never one to play it safe. If I had wanted to play it safe, I would have stayed in Alabama.”

“In New York City where are the flowers? Where are the trees? If you open the window to get some fresh air, your apartment is filled with soot. You think you don’t have soot? Well, just run your finger over the windowsill and see what happens. That grimy, black stuff is soot.”

“I have met the most wonderful people in the world in the [publishing] business. Some of them have even lived in New York City.”

“I never got to experience the traffic for which Los Angeles is so famous. It was just as well, as I have a feeling that the stop and go pace would have driven me right up the wall.”

“Celebrities are people, too. They might live in big houses by the ocean and have more money than God, but they don’t deserve special attention in my book.”

“Florida is not a Southern state, not to me. It has no history, no civility, no gentility. It’s all flip flops, short shorts, and hairy legs.”

Ask “The Fruitcake Lady,” and get ready. You never know what she’ll say next.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Not Too Small, But Just Right

September 12, 2014

Susan Marg

Getting started on your life history can be daunting. It’s potentially a big undertaking, but who has time and what about the expense?

One way to overcome this stumbling block is to think small.

“Think Small” was the advertising campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle when introduced to the U.S. in 1959. Print ads displayed an image of the car on a blank background with very little copy. It was so successful in its simplicity that many credit it with changing the nature of advertising.ThinkSmall_Banner_Nov13b

In 1973, a book titled “Small is Beautiful” took hold of our global imagination. The phrase always stuck with me, and I think you can apply it to writing your life history. Here are a small number of suggestions:

Instead of covering your entire life, choose a decade that is particularly meaningful to you. Perhaps it was the 1950s because you had a favorite poodle skirt or the 1980s, as you were a fan of the punk rock band The Ramones. Maybe it was your twenties, when you struck out on your own, or your forties, after starting your own company.

Concentrate on a few experiences that changed your life or accomplishments you’ve achieved. Do you believe good luck or hard work played a role in the outcome?

Limit your topics to your hobbies or interests. If you’re an avid reader, write about the books that had the greatest impact on you. Are you a master chef in the kitchen? Talk about some of your favorite recipes. Whether you’re a sports buff or film buff, who inspires you?

Write about your friends, the places you’ve gone together, the laughs you’ve shared.

Focus on your family, be it sibling relationships or a family feud that’s lasted a lifetime.

I was having lunch with my mother the other day, and she, reminiscing, told me a story I had never heard before. “Do you know what a radiator is?” “Yes,” I responded. A radiator heated my first college apartment. “Well, when I was a little girl,” she continued, “I once burned myself so badly by leaning against a hot radiator I couldn’t sit down for weeks.” Thinking about the incident, she concluded, “That’s what life is, I guess, all those little moments.”

I agree. Now start writing them down!

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved