Last night I saw a vision expanding the context and value of lifestory writing that gives me goosebumps. Through a series of coincidences (if you believe in coincidences), I have become involved in FMHI, the Follow Me Home Initiative. This exciting project is being spearheaded by Kathy Brown, assistant professor of communications on the Greater Allegheny campus of Penn State.
Her class will provide outreach for seniors in the local community through collaborations with Blueroof Technologies Research Associates. The goal of the collaboration is to teach seniors to use computers by writing their own lifestories. The students will mentor seniors through the FMHI while using lifestories as the catalyst for learning.
This means that the students need to learn the basics of lifestory writing themselves in order to coach the Seniors as they go along. That's where I come in. I met with the class last night to go over the basics of how to get their troop of Seniors started on their writing projects, and how to coach them along. “Just remember, this is not about producing literary masterpieces. This is about getting stories on paper as a written legacy of those lives. Tell them to think of it as writing a letter to their descendants.” Of course I also reminded them that everything they need to know can be found in one of their textbooks, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing.
The class was exciting, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to participate. Besides the excitement of the class itself, I was delighted to meet a couple of other faculty members who are involved in a project with the Braddock Carnegie Library. Braddock was once a thriving town, bustling with life supported by the local steel mill. The professors are working on a legacy project that involves recording the stories of people who grew up in this town before the steel mill closed in 1984, plunging this town into post-industrial decay. Ultimately the collected stories will be meshed into a multimedia account of Braddock history, paying tribute to the unsung heroes of that community's past.
Dr. Brown envisions that stories written by Seniors in FMHI will serve the same purpose of documenting personal history for McKeesport and White Oak, other towns in the Monogahela (Mon) Valley that have been likewise devastated by the decline of Pittsburgh's steel industry.
Maury Fey, a retired Westinghouse executive who grew up in McKeesport, summed up the importance of recording personal histories. “My ancestors came to this area from Ireland and France nearly two hundred years ago. I know their names, but I have no idea why they made the decision to leave their families, knowing they would never see or hear from them again, and cross an ocean to come to what was then a vast wilderness to begin a new life. I'd like to know why they did that. I'm making sure my descendants won't have to wonder why I did the things I did. I'm writing that down!”
The sense I got last night, of individual stories flowing together into a vibrant picture of life in a by-gone era, is transcendent. I have this growing sense that we are acquiring the ability to unlock the boundaries of time, and travel more deeply into the past than anyone would have imagined possible. Just think: when you write the legacy of your life, whether you contribute those stories to a larger respository or not, you are contributing to the ability of future generations to know their roots and the past.
Write now: about a larger vision you have had. Or a smaller one. What possibilities have you seen in life or business? Were you involved in bringing them about, or were they simply a personal insight? How did you feel about these visions? What did they mean to you? If you pursued them, what were the results?
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal