genealogy

Finding the Hidden Story-Letters

I took a week off to direct a play I wrote called, “Boomer’s Legacy,” which just finished this past Saturday.  I was proud of the cast of dancers, actors, and singers who did a fantastic show.  Now, I’m back to continue where I left off–finding the “Hidden Story.”

On my last writing, [Finding the Hidden Story-Location, 3/5/18] I remarked that going back through time made location an important way of finding part of the story.  Today, I will talk about the importance of letters.

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A hand-written letter is a tangible time machine to the past.  Letters were important to maintain communication with friends and family who lived long distances. Letters would have valuable information to family development and issues, upcoming events or visitations, and clues to their education.

The first thing to examine is the type of paper used.  Depending on the time, paper size and material could give us a glimpse into the importance of the communication.  Even today, we don’t use the paper from our printers to send out wedding invitations.  If a job interview is important we will buy quality paper to print out our resume or proposals.

HandsHandwriting style.  Was the writer right or left handed.  In addition, to the hand writer’s hand, graphology, the study of handwriting, can give us important impressions to the emotional state of the writer at that moment.  We also investigate words chosen, vocabulary, spelling, and how grammar was used.

Cursive writing or printing?  Cursive writing helps to also determine age, health, and education of the writer.  It can also give us information in justifying the period of the writing.   Today, we have so many fonts to choose from on our computers, but handwriting styles changed slowly through the decades.

WaxEnvelop

Not all letters were delivered in envelopes.  Many letters were written on one sheet of paper, folded into an envelope format, addressed, stamped, and sent.  Envelopes were sealed with wax or glue.  Postage stamps and date stamps helped in determining where the letter came from and where it was going.  This is also good for determining location.

al-fingerprintDon’t discount digital copies.  Having the original letter is what everyone strives for, but digital copies hold all the information above excluding maybe the fingerprint.  Digital copies are also an asset in doing close-up examinations of the letter slants, heights, and valleys in the handwriting.  You can also use digital copies to compare other writings that might be related to your ancestor’s handwriting.

One last thought, diaries are important too!  Because diaries contain more than just the handwritten samples they include the personal perspectives, insights, and ideas of the writer’s thinking.  Letters and diaries provide new puzzle pieces to add to your ancestor’s picture.

Diary

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The Quest

drama masksThe symbols of the two masks, one smiling and the other sad, comes from the Greek culture of theatre and drama ‘Comedy’ and ‘Tragedy’.  Comedy meant that a story had a good ending, like William Shakespeare’s, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” or Allison Schroeder’s screenplay, “Hidden Figures.”  On the other hand, tragedy always had a bad ending; again, we see Shakespeare’s, “Romeo and Juliet,” or Director Paul Greengrass’ movie, “United 93.”

What all good stories have in common is their ability to change perspective.  A good lawyer will work hard to change the jury’s perspective of his client.  “Perspective is everything when you are experiencing the challenges of life.”  Joni E. Tada.

This brings us to our next genre—The Quest.  The purpose of the Quest is to build tension in the story.  Demonstrate how your character overcomes his challenges.  End with delivering a satisfying conclusion, which creates a shift of your audience’s perspective.   In the end, the real power in a good story is the ability to continue to change the perspective of your listener or reader.

dan brownDan Brown is a master at weaving history and urban legends into powerful stories.  His  stories have the ability to alter his audience’s perspectives by presenting new definitions on symbols ranging from Masonic symbols to the rituals in the Catholic Church.  The Biblical writers of the New Testament likewise did not just introduce Jesus but have continued to change human perspectives for the past 2000 years.

The Quest, as a storytelling tool, works best when the stories are true and personal.  It is about stories of true human adventures, trials and tribulations, and overcoming the odds; transferring the emotions from setbacks and successes to the listener or reader.  It begs simple questions, “What would I have done in that situation?”  “Could I do the same in my own situation or quest?”

father&sonThere is a story about an elderly woman who boarded a train.   After a few stops she noticed a father and his young son, who looked like he was probably nine years old, board the train.  They took their seats directly in front of her.

Soon, the son started talking loudly to his father, telling him about the clouds he saw outside and buildings and trees the train was passing by.  The father listened to him and nodded encouragingly.

After a while, the elderly woman got annoyed by how the young man was speaking, and learned forward and said to his father, “Excuse me, sir, but have you considered taking him to special doctor?”

The father smiled at her, and replied: “Actually, we’re just coming back from the doctor.  You see, my son has been blind since birth, and this is the first day he’s ever been able to see.”

You see, it’s about taking your listeners\readers on a journey’s quest reaching a high point of tension or emotional buildup, like a mountain peak, then suddenly dropping them, like a steep slope, not negatively, but more of an awakening—a new perspective.

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In Medias Res

It was not a mutiny in the old-time sense, of course, with flashing of cutlasses, a captain in chains,and desperate sailors turning outlaws. After all, it happened in 1944 in the United States Navy, but the court of inquiry recommended trial for mutiny, and the episode became known as “the Caine mutiny” throughout the service.

The story begins with Willie Keith because the event turned on his personality as the massive door of a vault turns on a small jewel bearing.  Caine’s Mutiny by Hernan Wouk.

These are the opening lines for the 1951, Pulitzer Prize novel, which starts the story at the court martial; whereas, the 1954 movie version begins with the 2nd Lt. Willie Keith being assigned to the Caine ship.  The screenplay builds the characters and the causes for the mutiny.  The book novel is a good example of In Medias Res.

Today, I will introduce, “In Medias Res,” or learning how to begin the story in the middle where there is an action or dramatic scene that captures, engages, and motivates your listener to want more.  In Medias Res creates questions.  Questions like, ‘What happened before this?’  or ‘What caused this to happen?’  or ‘Who is he?’  These questions create engagement and capture the audience’s attention.

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cumbelineIn Medias Res is a well establish style of storytelling.  For example, Homer’s Odysseus’ journey already is at the end when the story begins, what happens after this are flashbacks to different points of time, building the story, the characters, and answering the ‘Why’ questions.   William Shakespeare also used this format in one of his plays called, “Cymbeline.”

There are three good reasons for considering the use of In Medias Res.  The first has an advantage of focusing attention to the high point of the story.  A good analogy is on how movie trailers are designed.  They tend to place the audience right into the middle of the action to entice and motivate future ticket sales.  In storytelling, placing the audience in the middle of the action or dramatic scene has advantages.

The second reason gives you an opportunity to seize the attention of your audience.  But what is meant by attention?  The attention here means to engage or to invite a listener along the journey.

The third and what I think is the most important point is it creates questions immediately.  If the next turn on the road can be anticipated there isn’t much suspense.  Suspense comes from not knowing what will happen next.  The middle initiates the action, the beginning explains how we got there, and the end, which we are not sure, still lies around the bend unknown.

First-World-War-so_2786176bOPENING SCENE:   The soldier is writing into his diary his last thoughts before the final battle, he then stops to reflect on his earlier entries as we journey back in time through his memory.  Suddenly, we’re back, the battle begins.  How will it end?   Will the soldier survive? We don’t know. That’s the advantage of In Medias Res.

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Getting Results

 

Consider this: 

st-valentine-s-day-massacre90 years ago, On February 14, 1929, at 10:30 a.m. four hoods dressed as policemen, two in uniform and two dressed in suits, walked into a garage of a known local gang hangout.  Once in, they lined up, facing the wall, seven men. The four poser officers suddenly brandished four sub-machine guns and massacred all seven.

Newspapers called it, “The Valentine Day Massacre.”  This was followed by a nationwide  outcry to halt gang violence.

submachinegunIn 1934, under the leadership of the new President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the National Firearms Act of 1934, was passed.  Its intentions were specifically to keep the Tommy sub-machine gun out of private hands.  Interesting enough the NRA supported the enactment of the new law.  It makes one ask what has changed?gun-control-7-728

90 years later, on February 14, 2018, at 2:30 p.m. one young man with a AK-assault rifle killed 17 people at a local public high school.  Besides the 17 killed, 14 were wounded.  In 90 years, what took four perpetrators to kill seven men—now only took one murderer to kill 17.

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sparkyIn 1929, it was J. Edgar Hoover, who voiced the cause for gun laws and more power for the FBI.  Today, it is Al Hoffmann Jr., a real-estate tycoon, who in the past has been the major Republican donator, and who has donated millions to the party.

But as of this massacre was personal in his own backyard of Florida, he had decided, “Enough is enough!” and has written an open letter to all donators and Republican leadership that funds will halt if future candidates oppose new gun legislation.

I have interpreted Al’s message as:  No Bucks for Buckshot!

This type of genre is called, “Spark-line’s.”  There are three reasons to use it:

  1. To inspire an audience to action
  2. To create hope and excitement
  3. To create a following.

As of today, 100-plus student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took a bus to Tallahassee to speak to their representatives.  Other schools around the country are following suite.  There is great hope in changing the laws pertaining to assault rifles.

Online social media, television, newspapers, and talk radio topics are hot on this one.  The students are being backed by Hoffmann and other contributors, students turning 18 and parents across the nation are excited about making the change our nation needs to protect it’s future children and government.

Back to my lesson, Spark-lines draw attention to problems we have in our society and our personal lives.  The idea is to create fuel to motivate an audience towards a specific goal or action.

Throughout history, people have been moved to action even one speech.  I think of Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and so many others.  Spark-line stories are great to motivate engagement for all social causes.  The main idea presenting what the world will look like if the following changes are made.

I look forward to reading your spark-lines in the future.

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The Nested-Loop

In my junior high years, I loved collecting, trading and reading comics.  As kids, we brought our comics to school where all kinds of deals were made for the right story.  But, it was in my last year of junior high when my cousin Joel visited me with a special gift—a book.  He told me that as much as comics were fun to read he thought it was time for me to expand my vocabulary and world while reading science fiction.

s-l640My first book from him, “I, Robot,” a 1950 first edition.  This series was made up of nine stories which I savored every evening.  So popular was Isaac Asimov’s robot stories I continued reading them to Asimov’s passing.  I still have that original “I, Robot” book in my collection.

In more modern times, I have enjoyed stories from James Clavell, Michael Crichton, and Dan Brown.  These authors have a genius for weaving a network of stories into one complete story.  Nested-loop stories are the second classical genres I will be sharing with you today.

I saw Julie Heffernan’s artwork called, “The Scout III” (above) and asked permission to include it in this blog.  She asked me what I saw?  I told her, it reminded me of a storyteller who is creating a nested loop of stories within stories.  She agreed and granted me permission to display her artwork—which I’m most grateful for.

Speakers who perform nested-loop stories, like Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, have the ability to explain a process while inspiring an audience.  The use of analogies and metaphors are also key in stimulating visual imagery for better understanding and comprehension.  In the end, the authors impart not only knowledge but wisdom, which the listener can pass on to others.  Check out James Burke’s, The Day the Universe Changed, and Connections.”

The nested-loop works like this.  You place your most important story (thought, concept, or idea) in the center and use stories at the beginning to draw your listener in.  The last story finishes the first story and ties in the center story into one neat package.

maxresdefaultWe find a good analogy of a nested-loop in the story of the “Godfather II.”  The story opens with young Vito Corieone witnessing the murder of his father, mother, and brother.  The center of the story covers the boy’s growth into manhood, where he becomes prosperous as both a businessman and a godfather. It ends with the beginning of the story as Vito returns to Sicily to take revenge on his family’s murderer.

stan-lee5Now it’s time for me to end this article, but I need to end it like a nested-loop, somehow bringing the beginning topic of comics through the middle and tying it at the end.  How?  How about—Stan Lee!

Stan Lee is known as the godfather of comics.   Stan Lee’s stories have moved from comics to television, to the silver screen; from movies to the game industry, now to online. Now that’s a real 3D nested-loop!