Lessons for Life History?

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Not all stories have ‘better endings’, and some of life’s Shadow Teachers offer but bitter pills to swallow. After a long conversation with my sister, a pastor, yesterday and reading through several current blog posts around the web, I am left with some somber insights about where the recent election and anti-globalism in the world have brought us to from the point of view of lessons from history.

I am considering how American values and priorities are so focused on materiality today.  It occurs to me—and please share your Comments below to offer your own viewpoint—that as a post-World War II set of generations in America, many of us grew up believing in the idea of “progress” AS IF having defeated Hitler’s genocidal ambitions, somehow all of human consciousness had taken a positive and irreversible, ‘quantum’ leap forward as a collective species. So then after that threat was dissolved, presumably we could focus on achieving prosperity, which came to mean seeking material advantages at any cost, including massive debt and, more sadly, bigotry and mean-spirited politics. Of course there have been many instances of genocide since, not boding well for human enlightenment, and the socioeconomic imbalances can cycle around to the very sorts of conditions that gave rise to ‘a Hitler,’ again.

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We are deeply impoverished if materiality is all that we aim for.  As well, social networking, “reality” TV and one-sided news stations magnify such paltry ambitions and selfish partisanship to an unprecedented magnitude, weakening the potential depth of heartfelt human relations or the capacity to sort out factual evidence and polarizing values so as to create artificial realities that fragment Truth like in a teleidoscope.

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I have an inkling, at least for myself, of a strategy to combat mediocrity of experience in this physical materiopolis, to coin a Newspeak word. To counter negative cycles of History, what can I do? Well,  I can examine my own cycles of life experience and ‘fix’ the errors there that have led to unfortunate or unsatisfactory results, Now.  I believe that means—again, for me anyway—discerning and countering HABITS: habits of thought and attitude as well as health related habits. This can lead not only to my own better endings but it can also improve my relations with others in, at least, my world.

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images are from pixabay.com

If many of us would choose to take to heart this opportunity to empower ourselves by overcoming negative habits accrued through our personal life histories, and if this practice of mindful self-improvement were to rise into prominence in the collective consciousness, what then?  Could we bring about a new positive cycle even whilst in the outward throes of darker tendencies playing themselves out?

This is a  more somber perspective than I usually put forth in this blog.  But to me it feels like the lessons of history are calling out now for realism and positive action.

Your Life As History

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Monday I felt I just had to go out to find the film Julie & Julia, as it is an appropriate parallel story for an enterprising author and for any blogger, of course. I streamed the movie and found the most relevant element for me to absorb was about the long process Julia Child undertook to transform American sensibilities in relation to more than just French cooking.  She was introducing a style, literally making palatable an attitude as well as a culinary revolution akin to the sexual liberation movement that developed in tandem with this European flair.

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What is a writer or an artist if not an innovator and somewhat of a provocateur? Julia’s persistence over many years of developing her talents and composing her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), served her well (not a pun! well, maybe so).  She merged American gastronomic desires for nouveaux choses with traditional rural French cuisine in a manner that freed not only the taste buds but as well the fertile imagination of Americans after WWII had already begun to open up for us new territories of European philosophical thought and literature/ culture. Spiritually I must infer this was no accident. Julia Child was the right person for the task she undertook with her grace and fortitude plus her special brand of loving, even lovably awkward humor.

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The parallel mythic aspects of Julie and Julia in relation to my own current life activity are obvious to me but that’s personal; not worth expounding here. Her perseverance and persistence despite the opposition she first encountered to a new approach that blended sensibilities rather than merely presenting one style in a didactic way offers lessons for many of us.

It was telling to see how Nora Ephron (screenwriter) drew parallel mythic connections in her screenplay between Julie Powell and Julia Child’s lives quite explicitly, fusing two historical epochs of an American in Paris from 1944-1961 with New York City in 2002, just after the 2001 Twin Towers disaster.

Our own story can merge with history itself in fundamentally useful ways. Julie Powell’s blog about cooking all of the recipes from Julia Child’s book in a year sparked the imagination of readers ready for a fresh inspiration to go beyond routine with a license to revitalize their passions. Powell actually worked for an agency helping victims from the Twin Towers attack to recover their own lives, so it is fascinating how she was led to intersect her own life and imagination with the life and times of Julia Child. Are there any accidents? I believe in co-incidence instead.

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So, where does your Life Story stand positioned in the ongoing flow of human history? I know, that’s a big question. But of course our personal life history narratives are and must be understood at some level as products of History itself.

But how to unpack this? Just a brief musing (I invite you to write your own reflections…):

Born in 1954, I experienced the 1960’s while in highschool in Lewiston, New York. I started a Human Relations Club there to honor and punctuate the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. within a mainly “Lilywhite” community. This along with a 10th grade class by one of my best early mentors (my English teacher, Mr. Scelsa)–in which for half the year we studied the Black literary Renaissance–led me to develop a sensitivity to issues of diversity in all forms. This was at a time when openness to new ideas was beginning to flourish. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, and my next and lifelong mentor (who knows whom he or she is…) led me to want to be a writer, to make a contribution, to “make a difference” really in any way I might. So that led to 21 years of college, studying literature/philosophy,linguistics and cultural anthropology and then moving on to university teaching. These multidisciplinary threads and historical influences have coalesced to an interest in the interplay between cultural psychology and personal cognition, with the notion that we can free ourselves from self-limiting thoughts and behaviors, if we so choose.

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So, what about you? How does your Life Story intersect with History? What are the consequences?

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I welcome your insights and stories!

Why Revisit the Past for Better Endings?

Examples of rewriting history are common in films and literature, especially about historical  events or situations that have had a deep impact on our collective sense of who we are and what we have been through as a people, or as a nation or a culture.  What really happened behind the scenes of JFK’s assassination is in the news on this 50th Anniversary week from that fateful date of November 22, 1963.   Who was really responsible or what might have happened with the slightest twist of circumstance are common re-write themes, although the latter is less frequent or acceptable than the former.  “What happened, happened!,” seems to many to be the practical response to remembering and commemorating history.

We can’t go back and change the facts.  But still, re-memberment (reassembling how the facts fit together) and re-“visioning” what might have happened IFF has value beyond either escapism or denial. Might the Holocaust have been avoided or averted if its precursory social and political-economic conditions were recognized and somehow dealt with before they could coalesce into the horrific institution of the Third Reich?  Several organizations and research projects exist today aimed precisely at changing the future by studying past and present trends and anticipating dangerous patterns. The TV program Futurescape which previewed last night on the Science Channel included a presentation about one of these organizations which tracks potentially volatile conditions in countries around the world.

Aristotle stated famously: “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” Socrates is attributed with the similar one-liner: “The unexamined life is not worth living for humans.”  So, what are the connections between the history of a people and the life history of one person, e.g. me or you?  Re-visioning history is a practice that can help us to apply wisdom in our own lives. As this one year blog proceeds through twenty six weekly topics, many of those will apply to revisiting our own past (and future!) events, situations, and choices.

But for now, for this week’s adventure in Better Endings imaginings, write on! No rewrite of history is too small or too large for our canvas here.  Please just go ahead and Submit your stories (and your and Comments or Insights below each Post), even if it is just a brief idea.  I will be sure to pass  along every viewpoint (within reason) that you send.

Welcome to a Year of BETTER ENDINGS

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Change a story, change a life, and a world … YOURS! Welcome to a year of Better Endings.  This is an inspirational, personal growth & development blog as well as a writer’s blog, about Better Endings. I am Linda Watts, an anthropologist who has developed a personal development approach called Life Mapping which has as its main aim to help anybody to Live Your Dream, Now! This daily, interactive Better Endings site is a free, one year adventure in creative re-visioning or flexibility stretching.  The idea similar in principle to the Lumosity program that trains the brain to higher functioning, yet here we will retool and train up your faculty of Imagination through creative story-telling. The basic inspirational idea is really quite simple: as you practice imagining and constructing ‘better ending’ scenarios across a wide range of topics, you will be developing your natural ability to create and actualize Better Ending scenarios in your own life!

I invite you to join in the fun, day to day and week by week. Every week there will be a Weekly Topic. I will introduce the topic on Monday and on Tuesday I will post a sample story on the weekly topic. Please send in your COMMENTS below any Post at any time, and please send in your own stories about the weekly topic. Multiple entries are welcome! See the menu tabs to Submit your story to my email address given there. We can discuss the stories and comments coming in throughout the week, exploring the possible implications and insights related to our weekly topic. Then, every Sunday, I will publish a selected Story of the Week.  As the author of the Story of the Week you will receive a byline and a short bio published with your story. You can send in stories on any of the weekly themes at any time, so please don’t feel constrained by the calendar. I will sort your story into an appropriate week and consider it as an entry for the Story of the Week during its appropriate week.  There are 26 weekly topics which we will cycle through twice over the course of this one year adventure in blogging.

You may also submit essays (approximately 300-600 words) for a weekly Guest Blog. I invite all of you to do this. Please just answer the question,”What Do Better Endings Mean to ME?” Please answer from the depth of your own unique life experience, career background, and interests. I’ll publish at least one Guest Blog entry every week on Thursdays. If a lot of entries come in I may publish two days of Guest Blogs per week.  Authors for our Guest Blog posts will also receive a byline and a published bio.

So, let’s get started with WEEK ONE!

Our first Weekly Topic is Historical Events.

Where would America or indeed where would the world be today if the Supreme Court had awarded the US Presidency in the year 2000 to Al Gore ? That was a very strong possibility that did not come to pass, and it has undoubtedly affected the course of history in radical ways.  Or what if Lincoln had leaned over to whisper an endearment in his wife’s ear just as Booth’s near-fatal bullet whizzed past his head (or, JFK or MLK, similarly)? Historical events become collective, cultural memories, or “memes”, and they can mark deep impacts on those who tell their stories later. Especially tragic events tend to be held as collective scars in the popular mindset over many generations. Books are written, movies made and remade, exploring every angle, every nook and cranny of these legendary crises and pivotal events.

So here is YOUR opportunity to alter that collective mindset and in so doing to subtly re-map–at least in your own and in your readers’ minds–the very landscape of a long-established cultural memory. Consider the possibilities! How might things have gone differently If? When? Because? …and how might history itself and the world we live in be potentially impacted or even radically changed because of the ‘better ending’ you envision?

The only guideline  that I would like to establish for your Better Endings stories that you submit is that “better endings” will have life-affirming, wellness oriented and personally fulfilling outcomes. I maintain the right to filter out strongly negative or destructively oriented stories and comments. But at the same time, a “better” ending need not necessarily be a “happy” one. Maybe a tragedy still occurs but somehow what someone learns from their hard experience affects later decisions or other people in a positive or constructively meaningful way.

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So let us embark and have a free tilt at History!  I heartily invite each one of you to COMMENT below any Post with your ideas, questions and insights. I will Reply to your Comments and the rest of you can chime in with follow up Comments too, so we can engage in a conversation about our themes and about the overall experience and principle of Better Endings. Of course also, if you enjoy this experience, join in! And please LIKE and SHARE this site with others.

BEShare YOUR stories about Better Endings. Our first weekly theme beginning Friday, Nov. 15 will be historical events. Here is your opportunity to rewrite History. Imagine the implications and consequences if a well known historical event were even slightly altered. Send in your story and yours will be discussed online and may become the Story of the Week on Sunday, Nov.24, with your published author’s byline and brief bio. Or answer: “What Do Better Endings Mean to Me?” based on your own unique outlook and experience to receive a Guest Blog spot on Thursdays, here at betterendingsnow.com.