A child born in the twenty-first century in America will never know life without cell phones, television or computers. This child is unlikely to know what it’s like to play freely outside, exploring a patch of woods or riding bicycles clear across town to get an ice cream cone. This child may never ride on a train or learn to write letters with pencil and paper. Sewing clothing at home may be an amusing idea, and for most, cooking over a campfire will be something they know only from old movies.
For many people in our rapidly fragmenting age the urge to write lifestories springs from a deep-seated need to reach out and establish connections across time to the next and future generations. We feel called to build a bridge from a time of hand-crafted objects and human-operated machinery to an age of electronic marvels we can only dimly imagine. As we foresee an age of instant and constant connection, we want to bear witness of a time when news was gathered over the back fence or at coffee klatches in kitchens. We want to tell generations raised with constant security checks what it was like to walk alone for blocks or miles when we were very young, use a jack-knife, ride in the car without seatbelts, or to play hide-and-seek with the neighbor kids well into the starlit night. We want to bear witness to freedom, trust, a life without fear and a life full of love.
That is the light side of lifestory writing. Not everyone had such a life. Just as the sun gives way to the moon, too often there is a dark side to life and to writing about it. A growing number of people are turning to writing their own stories of survival in situations that occur in the darkness of shame and secrecy. They tell of alcoholic parents, physical or sexual abuse, and their own addictions. They tell their stories to answer their own questions about why it happened, and what it meant, and they tell their stories to help others avoid falling into the same potholes in life.
A third group writes to explore their own lives and perhaps find deeper meaning in them, but more about that later. For now, whatever your reason for writing….
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal