Jan’s Blog

Party with Purpose

Posted by on Aug 15, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

In three weeks, we’re having a party featuring wine, cheese and a live band. Why? What’s the occasion? None, really. Why does there have t0 be one? To party is, in my definition, to connect with lots of people in a short length of time; to do more than call, text or email–to meet and maybe even shake hands, hug or dance together. We’re inviting about 50 people we don’t know. We’ve lived in a new place for two years, and we socialize with the near neighbors but not the ones around the block. So, we’re inviting them, too. Fifteen years ago, they used to have gatherings, but they fizzled when volunteers stopped planning events. It’s easy to draw back in and settle on a few relationships when more are so hard to maintain. So, we’re breaking with the local custom and offering to resurrect some ties. In this case, they’re geographical. In other cases, they are set in time, like graduation classes. They can be in families; like among cousins long forgotten. I believe that’s why genealogy has grown popular. People are missing their ties; their anchors to more. Let’s hope the party is fun; that its renewal of ties is positive; that any past grievances are forgotten. With so few chances like this of late, why would anyone want to misbehave? And yet, being face to face allows honesty, much like writing does. It strips away all our buffers of paper and technology and over-booked calendars. It connects us again with what is real....

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A Cadre Connected

Posted by on May 1, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

The Magic of Memories: Your Story in Your Words is the name of a workshop I just conducted that we hope will become a writers group. Why? Because in eight hours together, 10 people over 55 bonded. They shared short life stories and feel better for it; connected. They want encouragement to continue and interest to move them to write more. Initially, they posed questions and intentions: “Where do I begin?” “Will this be an autobiography?” “I want to pass something on to my children.” The answers set them on paths into their pasts; ones they found were intriguingly in common. Subjects included Catholic guilt, dangerous immigration, historic neighborhoods, childhood pranks, school crushes and teacher clashes; devastating break-ups, the hazards of parenting and career joys and capers. They told of the influence of elders, the pain of their losses and continuing health crises. They described fascinating hobbies from kayaking to amateur radio. Finally, they wrote about the value of unveiling events and feelings long asleep, but not forgotten. A retired coach wrote, “The workshop brought back memories that generated interesting feedback from my kids.” A former office administrator added, “The exercises pushed me to start a process and schedule time to work on it. I love having the input of peers for better results.” A wife, mother and grandmother said, “The workshop got me thinking and writing about both great and awful memories that should be shared. It became a time to step back and reflect.” Her husband, a retired executive, admitted he’d never written about himself before. “It’s been good therapy for my mind and a great way to leave stories for kids and grandkids while learning more about our neighbors.” A former teacher wrote, “This gave me the inspiration to write my memoir for my sons. The hints helped me to express myself, and once I got started, the pen wouldn’t stop!” A woman who began as a journalism student and then switched to political science and urban planning, where she spent her career, summarized: “If not for this workshop, I’d still be thinking of, reading about or talking about what to write. The array of options showed how a memoir could take shape. It opened a door to my creativity that I seemed to close when I gave up my hope of writing the ‘great American novel.’ I now remember how fun it is to play with words and phrases to tell a story.” Groups that write together, if motivated and guided, gain immediate insights that when honesty disclosed buoy their spirits. Members crave the attention of peers who share their stage of life and are ready to review all that came before. If supported, they waste little time in drafting priceless narrative gifts for the next generation.   Janette Dennis LivingStories.us    ...

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Having Character

Posted by on Jun 21, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

I’ve begun rehearsals for a comedy, ‘Til Beth do us Part, in which I play Beth, a southern belle from hell. It’s actually a silly plot, but the character is closer to my acting instincts than a role in a musical. Still, I love those, too–but dramas are my favorite because they are the least fictional. To be an actor, you must be enamored with the part you play to make it seem natural on stage. That’s why rehearsals are intense; we are learning not just to act like, but to be the character. When actor mistakes happen in live theatre, we must cover them in character; that is, as if we are the same individual who made the mistake, not the actor feeling embarrassed that he did. In our own lives, we are the lead; either hero, heroine or protagonist, if you like. Things we try, problems we solve, successes we achieve, all change and mold us, just as they do an actor in a play. “All the world’s a stage” to William Shakespeare and to us, because we have no choice but to act. From our first to our last breath, we are in a very long story, and its quality is determined by the consistency of our character. In telling a life story, we may not cover all the phases of Shakespeare’s poem. (Doing so may make it as long as his complete works.) But we must study the life almost as if we are preparing to interpret a character on stage: deeply, with serious intent, and honestly, so that the reader, just like the viewer of a play, sees a believable portrayal of a person whose story has universal appeal. In other words, a story must examine the human condition or life’s events so well that it speaks to all of us. Authenticity is the challenge of the actor as well as the life writer. To strive for anything but depth, truth and trust in our readers misses the opportunity to inspire the same in others. All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. William Shakespeare Janette Dennis LivingStories.us...

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Taming Monkeys

Posted by on Apr 6, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

You’ve been there. A well-deserved nap is interrupted by your doorbell. The final edits before a deadline are postponed by a knock on your office door. Your long-awaited planting day in the garden is extended by a neighbor who stops to ask which side of her house is the most ideal for gardenias. Some of us are much better at ignoring distractions that hamper our days than we are ideas that derail our minds. Random thoughts are often unwanted visitors. We don’t recognize that some hijack our energies away from priorities. We feel in our minds like children in candy store or a spook house, far too excited to make good decisions or afraid to escape without being hurt. Thoughts engulf and rob us of confidence in the power to choose fresh initiatives; ones we’ve never “thought” of before. Quiet meditation is a powerful means of transcending mental habits. Its practice, intended never to be perfect, helps us delete extraneous and nurture essential notions that align with our goals. Meditation is not mysterious; it is an intensely personal process of ignoring brain noise to clarify deeper wisdom. Brian Tracy, one of the world’s top success authorities, recommends solitude as a means of gaining insights that will save months and years of work. Too often, we work to deserve time to rest our minds rather than resting our minds to allow more focused and productive efforts. Buddhist teachings call our random thoughts drunken monkeys that jump around screeching and chattering, sounding alarms and promoting fear and caution. We cannot kill our psychic monkeys, because what we resist will persist. Instead, we can calm and over time, tame them. The monkeys are tape recordings of our past experiences; anxieties and imaginings that distract from our true potential. We need to deny them the power to define us. Meditation is a start. To meditate, find a quiet place when you are rested and not likely to fall asleep. Assume a position, either sitting or lying down, in which you are least likely to move. Stillness allows total concentration on your breathing as it flows in and out. Set a timer for five, then 15, then 30 minutes as you gain experience. Once it starts, forget about the timer. Breathing is the only thing you must do in these moments. Allow your body and mind to rest. Imagery is a powerful tool for the process of releasing thoughts from your mind. Here are indoor and outdoor examples to try: •See yourself walking down a hallway toward a bright light in a window at the end. Doors on either side are opening to slow or stop you: people, obligations and ideas ask you to wait for “just for a moment.” Gently usher them back inside, close the doors and keep walking. The thoughts aren’t gone; they will wait until you return. For now, you have a destination beyond thoughts. You are finding your essence by ignoring the urgent and allowing your higher self to emerge. Once you reach the bright light, you will be closer to a simple, unencumbered view of who you are and what you might accomplish in an hour, a day a week or a lifetime. • Envision walking barefoot along a shore toward a sunrise. Waves are lapping in, some washing...

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Listen in Silence

Posted by on Jun 1, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

When I’m blissfully alone, immersed in a project or taking a delicious nap, I’m sometimes shocked to realize that I have chosen silence, at least for a while. No book, newspaper, computer screen or magazine has been visually consulted in at least an hour. No music, television, advice or questions from anyone have disturbed my solitude of being. Aside from the rhythmic tick- tock of a wall clock, the occasional thump of new ice in the freezer or the irrepressible ding of the washing machine announcing a finished cycle, I’ve succeeded in editing irrelevant sights and sounds out of my moments. I ask myself, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you wonder about the weather, want to call a friend or long to hear your favorite song?” I respond, “Not really, because what does sound do to my options for spending time? It distracts, entertains and sometimes enlightens, but it also allows me to avoid priorities and thoughts that if allowed to rise freely, will bring insights.” So I sit in silence to wait for those gifts of calm wisdom; the kind so elusive when sounds compete for attention. In my interviews with story subjects, I also relish silence. It’s the opportunity for a person to reflect upon a question without coaching, interruption or pressure. It’s soothing to give ourselves and others patience for thoughts, allowing them to surface, be processed and find expression. Sometimes, my clients will say, “Why do you take so much time with me?” or “How can you do the tedious work of listening?” I say, “It is the best way that I can think of to use my time.” My most recent client paid me the highest compliment when he said, “Thank you for telling my story just as I gave it to you—from the heart.” We cannot connect with our insides or those of others without silence.  Peppering our psyche with outside noise keeps us superficial, reactive and even stressed. Learning what’s vital, either for ourselves or for others, demands listening long, deeply and with a commitment to...

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Weathering the Inevitable

Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Memoir | 0 comments

My recent client work in an adult day care setting has calmed me down. Interviews are slower, but answers more honest. Memories are dimmer, so grateful families get involved. My subjects are teaching me patience and acceptance for the frailties a long life may bring. I’m upset when I can’t remember a password, but they have learned to rest assured that loved ones and professionals will step in to help. Still, the frustration is palpable. Some of my favorite responses to questions follow: You think I know? My wife’s marbles are in her head, but mine are all over the floor. My daughter can look that up; she has all my stuff. I think I wrote that down once. I…I just can’t tell you. It’s right here, but I can’t say it. I’m not sure when my husband died, but I miss him every day. How old am I?  90? Imagine that! ‘Happy birthday to me.’ No problem. I can wait. No, I don’t remember any favorite music, but I like Elvis. Jailhouse Rock? Yeah. I’ve never been arrested, but use that as my song. Oh, Marone! That was a while ago… Life is just a bowl of cherries. Work with older clients gives me hope that being positive is the perfect antidote to aging’s realities. Surrounding ourselves with caring family and others will soften its blow to whatever value we place on mental precision. Still, we are ultimately alone in our bodies and minds. Trusting in a higher power, while seldom stated, seems to be a common practice among many seniors I have met. Otherwise, what can explain their smiles? Janette Dennis...

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Getting Around to Where You’ve Been

Posted by on Dec 29, 2014 in Memoir | 0 comments

Lately,  I’ve had a series of story inquiries from 90-somethings and those who love them. “Hurry,” I think, “before it’s too late,” and then I learn that the potential subjects are more lucid, healthier and readier than most of us to tell their truths. They feel an urgency to explain their accomplishments and choices. Why? Because they finally have the courage to face their own mortality. In many cases, losing the fear of death leads to losing the fear of life. Living Stories clients have freely explored their abuse, internment, divorce, war service, cancer, alcoholism, poverty, clinical depression, abandonment and many other negative life experiences in full detail through a rear-view mirror. Compassionate listening works magic as it unearths long-buried secrets to interlace with facts, figures, pictures and incidents in an effort to bring a single human life to the page. People who describe the circumstances others dread and avoid transform themselves by reducing the power of sad memories. Discussing and writing about events and associated feelings enables them to move on without regrets. Often, the story-teller is so euphoric about fully expressing himself that he is incredulous to see how much his story informs and delights others. It’s easy to procrastinate about telling personal stories, but our dramas are both exclusive to us and familiar to those who will read them. No one lives without joys and pain. The riveting difference is in how each of us has survived. If you live to 90, maybe it will be easier to start, but why assume that you have that much...

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Changes!

Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Memoir | 0 comments

They are part of life, aren’t they? We know it, yet always mourn a little for the past; the predictable and the familiar. In my own case, I have moved from Wheaton to West Dundee, IL and am engaged to marry on August 2 of this year. My business telephone number has changed to 630/248-7060, and my website will reflect that as soon as possible. All other activities of LivingStories.us remain the same; writing for life, one story at a time. Happy Summer!

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It’s all in the Details

Posted by on Mar 8, 2014 in Memoir | 0 comments

Asking me to help write your life story is like taking your car to a detailer. You will entrust a valued possession to a professional who specializes in presentation. It’s certainly not something you do every day, and each step in the process is a revelation. Detailers and life writers pay attention to myriad items that create great impressions. First, we discover what to keep and what to relocate; organizing storage compartments and memories into logical places for easy access. We want everyone in the car or reading the story to understand where it’s going and why. We also take out the things that need washing, vacuuming and repair such as dusty reminders of trips and relationships past. Together, we find things long forgotten and now relevant to describing a life and its lessons. We leave no mat unturned or cubicle unexplored in our quest for the story. Once the main unveiling is accomplished, we’ll look at the isolated parts so vital to illustration. We will brush away particles so that the bike you lost in 1930 will shine like new again. You’ll see Grandpa’s wry smile and feel him lifting you from a swing in his callused, strong hands. The jobs you lost and landed in 1960 will rush back in riveting emotion. Your scenes will be polished and written with clarity and the perspective of hindsight. Photos enhance stories with visual support and a sensory appeal to strengthen your message. Yours will be selected and improved with technology to make your story come alive beyond its words. They will serve as the glass in your car that allows us to see what’s inside as the driver uses them to stay on the road. When you finally see your car/story, your surprise will become delight. Everything so familiar is refreshed and ready to share. You will gladly offer a ride or a read to those who value your company and...

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Memoir Magic

Posted by on Dec 19, 2013 in Memoir | 0 comments

This year, I have been pleased to facilitate a memoir circle that meets monthly in my home. We learn from each other more about ourselves than we could ever discover alone in front of our journals, pads, tablets or computer screens. That’s because we listen. I’m thankful for the memories of a year filled with new insights, fresh expressions and freedom to explore who we are through writing. It’s one of the few unfettered practices we have; one that starts within and without the aid of electronic devices. What’s finally shared is sometimes amusing, often scary and always helpful.  Last night, Marilyn wondered whether her dad’s sadness at Christmastime was tied to the losses his grandmother bore after the Civil War. Glennette and Patricia described the major roles their colorful aunts played in their care and education. Kitty read of the difficult life of her grandmother, an immigrant at the turn of the century, and the devastation it dealt her youngest child, Kitty’s father. Susan shared a letter to her six-year old granddaughter describing her own life at six, and Christina wrote of her accomplishments in music and the hard-won award of traveling through Europe with student musicians in high school. Next time, I’ll be ready to offer a mother’s perspective on my child’s first two decades. Recording our memories is never mandatory and no one can force us to share them. Yet, when we open ourselves to the experience, we change. No longer guarded as closely, our secrets shine forth and bind us with others in a common cause:  being precise about where we’ve been, where we’re going and what messages we have for those who follow. What could be better New Year’s...

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