When I read this advice recently in Vanessa Talbot’s ebook, 101 Ways to Live Extraordinarily, I thought of one of my great-great-grandmothers. Family legend has it that she opened the first brothel in the Yukon. The topic certainly does give us plenty of food for talk.
Is it true? Did she? We don’t actually know. I’ve given it great thought. That she did go there early on with her new husband and son is established fact. Before she married that husband, she divorced the coal miner she married before emigrating from Scotland to Illinois in 1871. For twenty years this spunky woman had run boarding houses for single miners in order to provide food, clothing and shelter for her two children. Her first husband was an abusive bum who spent his money on whiskey.
So she knew how to provide lodging for others. Demand for room and board was high up in the Klondike. It makes sense that she would ply the trade she knew to bring in immediate cash while her men were slogging around in the mud in search of the fortune they never found.
Another trade was in high demand up there. It’s established fact that swarms of women went there to engage in “the world’s oldest profession.” They needed a base of operations. What would make more sense than a pragmatic forty-something matron making mattresses available to this trade? Perhaps this experience was one of the factors leading to her conversion to the newly emerging Mormon faith a few years later when she settled in Seattle.
Again, do I know this is fact? No. Do I plan to check it out? Records from the Klondike could show that she did run at least a boarding house. But the lack of records would not prove that she didn’t. So, no. I do not plan to check it out. I cherish this legend and have no wish to shoot it down. This story has been in the family for generations, perhaps shaming some and delighting others. I’m not going to be the one to kill it. Let future generations cherish it along with us. Soon I will pass it on to the older grandchildren.
For our purposes today as we write our own lifestories, you could choose to purposely do something audacious (scandalous may be a bit over the top) specifically for the purpose of writing about it. That’s what Elizabeth Gilbert did for her memoir Eat Love Pray. Thirty years ago I took up skiing for a single season specifically for the purpose of speaking and writing about it. So far I’ve done neither. It’s time to get that experience on the page.
But chances are you’ve already done something adventurous and colorful, showing a sassy attitude at least some of the time. Something brave and gutsy — the sort of story Sonia Marsh features on her Gutsy Living blog. Read some of those stories online, or do it the easy way and order My Gutsy Story, an anthology of top-rated posts. (I must add a disclaimer here that one of my stories is included, but I have no financial interest in the project.)
Going back to the original advice, the definition of scandalous varies from one generation to another, so what seems utterly outrageous today may seem rather tame tomorrow. Even so, disclosures today can affect relationships today, so exercise the usual discretion when it comes to confessions that could rock many boats.
Whether your story is scandalous or merely colorful, be sure to include reflections about your thoughts and feelings during and after the experience. Did you feel fear? Exhilaration? Guilt? Pride? Create vivid scenes with compelling description and strong, active verbs. Make the story as lively as the experience, and claim your spot in history as a colorful and memorable ancestor who stands out in the crowd. Be the one they talk about.
Write now: make a list of ten gutsy, audacious, perhaps even scandalous things you’ve done. Pick one and write the story! Then write another. Give your descendants something to talk about, and perhaps a standard to live up to.