Kahoolawe, 2

We got to the Hawaiian island of Kaho‘olawe by first taking an airplane to Maui, then a fishing boat, and then a small Zodiac. We climbed out of the Zodiac and waded over an uneven rocky beach bottom onto shore, trying to stay upright as waves broke against us.

About 70 people were there on that four-day weekend 20 years ago. In addition to college students like me, there were Boy Scouts wearing red t-shirts, and young Hawaiian immersion school kids and their families who all spoke Hawaiian. The first afternoon, I came across a young boy sitting on the beach with his ‘ukulele, picking out the theme song to the TV show The Addams Family. Our stay on Kaho‘olawe was never as ominous as that suggested, though. It was a very positive experience.

We were being hosted by the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO), a group working to restore the island that the U.S. military had been bombing for decades. After decades of protests, the Navy’s live-fire training exercises ceased in 1990, and the island was transferred to the jurisdiction of the state of Hawai‘i that same year I visited: 1994. The Hawai‘i state legislature established the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve to restore and oversee the island and its surrounding waters. Today it can only be used for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual and subsistence purposes.

There were boundaries as to where we could wander, the PKO people told us as soon as we arrived on the island. We could hike about 10 to 15 minutes in each direction, they said, but don’t go further than the green beach that way, they said, unless you’re with someone who knows it. They spoke about it casually, but you could tell they knew what they were talking about. I had no desire to go where they said not to go. Places were not off-limits for the reasons we’re used to. It’s not that they were someone else’s property; it was that they might still have live bombs on them. Sometimes bullets work their way up in the sand, they said, and don’t pick them up because some are live.

But other than that initial warning about what’s off-limits, there wasn’t much talk or worry about bombs. Hakioawa, the valley that the PKO uses for its home base, had been checked for live ordinance – “cleared” – eight or ten times, someone told me. “Though last time they did find a fire bomb in the back,” he said.

That first day, a woman named Kalei gave us a small tour of the camp area. When we got to the men’s heiau (temple), only the men went up and we women waited below, and vice versa. The women’s heiau, which was much larger but also more exposed to the wind and eroding, is across the riverbed from the men’s, and lots of baby rattles and other women’s and babies’ things have been found there, she told us. And there were burials of babies who didn’t make it. She pointed out one area and asked us not to walk on it because a burial had been found underneath. “If it were my grandmother, I know I wouldn’t want you walking there,” she said. She told us that this place, and a site being covered up by construction of O‘ahu’s H3 highway, were the only ones known to have heiau situated right across from each other like that.

We hiked up on the cliff to look at the fishing shrine of Ka‘ai‘ai, and a traditional fishpond, whose shape and function was destroyed by the military. She explained that they bombed large targets they could easily see from the air.

We saw the mo‘o that the Hawaiian goddess Hi‘iaka fought. She severed its head, which is now a prominent rock on the hill, and she threw its body, which landed directly across on Maui and became a small hill that’s easy to spot. The mo‘o’s tail landed in the channel and now we call it Molokini.

Leslie Lang, Hawaii Writer, Ghostwriter,
Molokini  (photo by Forest & Kim Starr)

The U.S. Navy, charged with clearing the island of live ordnance now, stays on the other side of the island where all the white sand beaches are, and we never saw them or had any sort of interaction. That other side is also the site of Smuggler’s Beach, where opium smugglers used to stop. But the PKO chose this valley for their site because it has the most mana: there are heiau, petroglyphs, and it’s where people used to live. It’s not the best part of the island physically, one of them said, but it is spiritually.

They asked us to sign two legal releases, one from the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, and the other from the U.S. Navy. “We’ve been known to withhold food from people until they sign,” the PKO’s Hokulani joked, or was she serious? Everybody signed.

It’s unusual, as an adult, to be completely dependent on others for your food! But it was never a problem. The kitchen, which was also the gathering place where people hung out, was outdoors and well-appointed with huge gas burners and pots and enormous woks. I helped make egg salad sandwiches for lunch that first day, and there was also peanut butter and jelly, and pretzel sticks, carrots, celery and apple and mango slices. There was always coffee on, a very nice and civilizing touch, I thought.

Dinner that first night was turkey chili with brown rice, and a vegetarian stir fry. There was also cole slaw and fish soup, which was salty – I think they used seawater. There was plenty to eat and it was tasty, in that way that eating outside is almost always better.

After we ate, we went around in a circle and talked. A guy named Peter said he had just graduated from medical school, so he would be the doctor if anyone needed medical care, but only if it was easy. Otherwise, he said, he’d ask the nurse who was along. Someone asked him where he graduated from and he said, “UH.” Someone else joked, “So don’t ask him any hard questions.”

One man talked about growing up on Maui and how his sister used to scream in the night when their windows shook because of bombs exploding on nearby Kaho‘olawe. The circle was quiet as he spoke. Another woman, who’d grown up in Lahaina on Maui, said she never dreamed that someday she would be on Kaho‘olawe.

Tom told us that the island can tell you a lot, but you have to listen. “You’d be surprised,” he said. I slept very well that night and dreamt a lot, but could only remember the dreams being of people and things in my everyday life. I didn’t hear Kaho‘olawe speaking to me in my dreams that first night.

A few of us hung out there after dinner, drinking hot cocoa and talking some more. We got to talking about Farley Mowat’s book Never Cry Wolf, which came to mind because of all the mice on the island. It was a great group of people. Among a handle of others, there were a couple of our hosts from the PKO, including the guy in charge of the water project and reforestation/revegetation work who lives off-grid in Ha‘iku on Maui. A UH student from Moloka‘i had also grown up without electricity – both were used to going to bed and waking up with the sun. There was a professor from UH Manoa, and a neuroscientist from USC and her husband, who is with the American Friend Services. The Friends do work on peace and justice issues and have an interest in the return of Kaho‘olawe to the Hawaiian people, I learned.

The atmosphere on the island was relaxed. Breakfast the next morning – a work day – was hearty and solid: it was oatmeal, to which you could add granola, raising, peanut butter, guava jelly and or honey, and it was at 8:30 or 9, not at the crack of dawn. Things got planned and done, but at a good and relaxed pace. There was no hurry.

Some people, mostly men, hiked up after breakfast to work on the watcher catchment. I’d hiked up there the day before to look at it, and what a beautiful view from that point: Lana‘i off that way, Maui over there. You could only see the water tank, which was painted camouflage, from the beach if you knew it’s there and looked for it.

Most of the women stayed down at the camp. Tom, from the PKO, said a bunch of ‘ōhi‘a logs we’d brought on the boat needed to be moved from the beach to the thatched hale they’d constructed on the island, where they would replace some that were rotting. He said, thinking out loud, “They’re pretty heavy, though. Some of them weigh up to 200 lbs. If they don’t get moved this morning, that’s okay.”

A young college student spoke up in a strong voice. “Hey, we’re women!” she said. “We can do anything!” It was an empowering and rallying call and I think we all stood up straighter. We worked together and easily moved every one of those logs, and then a bunch of other, longer and thinner ones that needed to be moved, as well.

Afterward some of us women hiked out to the “bathing beach,” about a half mile off and kapu after 4:00 for women only. Fresh water is a precious commodity on Kaho‘olawe, and it’s not wasted on bodies.  The bathing beach is a sandy beach where you easily walk into the ocean and wash your hair and clean off red earth of Kaho‘olawe off your body. Your feet (and the rest of you) get very dirty with the island’s rich-colored red-brown dirt. They call it a Kaho‘olawe tan. I felt very clean and renewed afterward.

Read Part 1

 

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Kahoolawe, 1

In June of 1994, I was a very busy student at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, earning a master’s degree in anthropology and taking a lot of Hawaiian language classes while working full time at an airline. An opportunity came up to go to Kaho‘olawe with a group from the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO), and I jumped at it. I knew that four days on Kaho‘olawe – where there was no electricity, no houses, no roads – would be very different from the busy life I was living on O‘ahu, and I was curious to meet the island itself. It’s one you cannot visit on your own; you have to be with an authorized group.

Kaho‘olawe, near Maui, is one of the major Hawaiian islands but it has no permanent residents. For decades it was used for live-fire bombing exercises by the Army. Now a dedicated group of people was working to restore the previously heavily bombed and barren island. They occasionally took small groups to the island, both to educate them and to get some help with the work.

Kahoolawe, Hawaii, Leslie Lang, Writer, Ghostwriter

From Wikipedia:

Kahoʻolawe (/kəˌh.əˈlɑːw/; Hawaiian: [kəˈhoʔoˈlɐve]) is the smallest of the eight main volcanic islands in theHawaiian Islands. Kahoʻolawe is located about seven miles (11.2 km) southwest of Maui and also southeast of Lanai, and it is 11 miles (18 km) long by 6.0 miles (9.7 km) wide, with a total land area of 44.97 square miles (116.5 km2). The highest point on Kahoʻolawe is the crater of Lua Makika at the summit of Puʻu Moaulanui, which is about 1,477 feet (450 m) above sea level. Kahoʻolawe is relatively dry (average annual rainfall is less than 65 cm or 26 in) because the island’s low elevation fails to generate much orographic precipitation from the northeastern trade winds, and Kahoolawe is located in the rain shadow of eastern Maui’s 10,023 feet (3,055 m) high volcano, Haleakalā. More than one quarter of Kahoʻolawe has been eroded down to saprolitic hardpan soil.

Kahoʻolawe has always been sparsely populated, due to its lack of fresh water. During World War II, Kahoʻolawe was used as a training ground and bombing range by the Armed Forces of the United States. After decades of protests, the U.S. Navy ended live-fire training exercises on Kahoolawe in 1990, and the whole island was transferred to the jurisdiction of the State of Hawaii in 1994. The Hawaii State Legislature established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve to restore and to oversee the island and its surrounding waters. Today Kahoolawe can be used only for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes.

My friend and I arrived at the Honolulu airport with our duffel bags and looked around for other people equipped like us, with water jugs and their belongings packed in plastic bags (there are no direct flights to Kaho‘olawe, and you have to have some contact with the ocean to get there). It occurred to me that it sure took a lot of planning and packing and stuff to prepare to get away from civilization, at least the way we were doing it. But anything you need on the island, you have to haul in. There are definitely no Safeways or 7-11s on Kaho‘olawe.

We spotted a couple others and together we flew to Maui, where more Kaho‘olawe-bound people had gathered. We all jumped into various pickups and station wagons belonging to Maui members of the PKO. The Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana is the group that forced the end of the bombing of the island – at, it turned out, great personal cost.

In 1976, a group of individuals calling themselves the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana (PKO) filed suit in U.S. Federal Court to stop the Navy’s use of Kahoolawe for bombardment training, to require compliance with a number of new environmental laws and to ensure protection of cultural resources on the island. In 1977, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii allowed the Navy’s use of this island to continue, but the Court directed the Navy to prepare an environmental impact statement and to complete an inventory of historic sites on the island. On March 9, 1977, two PKO leaders, George Helm and Kimo Mitchell, were lost at sea during an attempt to occupy Kahoolawe in symbolic protest. In 1980, the Navy and the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana promulgated a consent decree that allowed continued naval training on the island, monthly access to the island for the PKO, surface clearance of part of the island (10,000 acres), soil conservation, the eradication of feral goats and an archaeological survey. – Wikipedia

They dropped us off at Maui’s Ma‘alaea Boat Harbor, where we stacked our belongings on the dock in front of the Pualele, the boat we would take in the morning. Someone told us, “This is where you’ll be sleeping, and we’ll be back later.” We spread our sleeping bags out along a grassy slope between two roads, right there in the middle of the boat harbor, and I thought 3:30 a.m. would come fast, but it didn’t because I lay awake for a long time. My friend and I saw some tourists come out of a nearby steak house and ogle us; we heard them say, “Look at the homeless people!” That gave us the giggles.

It was a beautiful night. The full moon in the very pale blue-gray sky was making the ocean shimmer with silver. Straight ahead of where I lay on the dock, a tall, majestic-looking mast and a coconut tree waved back and forth in the breeze, the coconut tree making the bright moon peek in and out. I saw a shooting star.

We could tell when it was getting close to 3:30 a.m. because there started being some activity. In the bathroom I put on my bathing suit, shorts, a t-shirt and sweatshirt, we sealed our bags as tightly as we could with duct tape and then we formed a human chain from the line of plastic bags to the boat and passed it all onboard, holding it up out of the ocean. Then we got aboard ourselves.

The early morning boat ride from Ma‘alaea and Maui, which took us along the Alalakeiki Channel, was glorious. We went along the Kihei side of the island and eventually passed the small, beautiful, crescent-shaped islet of Molokini. The air was so clear that I could see the Big Island beyond Makena. As the sun rose, it looked as though it exploded out of the top of the Maui volcano Haleakalā: an intense ball of light in the dawn sky, outlined and glowing.

We watched Kaho‘olawe getting bigger and more defined, and then when we were close, a small Zodiac ferried us and the gear most of the rest of the way, in several trips. When it was my turn, I saw that they took us in close, and then we got out into the waist-deep ocean. Again, we formed a line from the boat to the shore and passed all the plastic-bagged goods, water bottles and food supplies to shore, hand-to-hand. A huge sack of cabbages was passed through the ocean, and I wondered if it would taste salty when we ate it. We stepped onto Kaho‘olawe, and carried all the water and food up the marked stone trail to the well-established outdoor kitchen.

Then we went and found our campsite. We hung the tarp we’d brought above where we would sleep, to protect us from rain, and raked away keawe thorns with a rake from the tool shed there. We put down some of our large plastic garbage bags and spread out our sleeping bags atop them. There were tiny bold mice everywhere on that island, so we hung our snacks in a backpack from a tree.

Every time the Zodiac dropped off some more people from the Pualele, someone sounded a pū summoning us to the beach and again we went into the water to pass their things onto shore. It got easier each time, because all the kitchen stuff had come in on that first boat, and also because there were more people to help each time.

When we’d been approaching the island by sea, all I could see was a small dark rocky beach surrounded by keawe that looked dead and lifeless. But when we went ashore and got busy, I realized there were signs of life everywhere. Vegetation, and tiny but carefully marked cartons of “dry water,” which was time-released water, I learned later, for the reforesting. Carefully laid paths. A nice kitchen area, with coffee, and an old Navy locker set up a smoker. There was fish in there, ulua, that first day.

In 1993, the Hawaiian State Legislature established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve, consisting of “the entire island and its surrounding ocean waters in a two mile (three km) radius from the shore.” By State Law, Kahoolawe and its waters can only be used for Native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes; fishing; environmental restoration; historic preservation; and education. All commercial uses are prohibited.

The Legislature also created the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission to manage the Reserve while it is held in trust for a future Native Hawaiian Sovereignty entity. The restoration of Kahoolawe will require a strategy to control erosion, re-establish vegetation, recharge the water table, and gradually replace alien plants with native species. Plans will include methods for damming gullies and reducing rainwater runoff. In some areas, non-native plants will temporarily stabilize soils before planting of permanent native species. Species used for revegetation include ʻaʻaliʻi (Dodonaea viscosa), ʻāheahea (Chenopodium oahuense),kuluʻī (Nototrichium sandwicense), Achyranthes splendens, ʻūlei (Osteomeles anthyllidifolia), kāmanomano (Cenchrus agrimonioides var. agrimonioides), koaiʻa(Acacia koaia), and alaheʻe (Psydrax odorata). – Wikipedia

When everybody was there, we stood in a circle near the shore and people from the PKO thanked us for coming. They said how important it is for people to see what they are doing there, and what it’s like on the island, and why they keep coming back. We went around the circle and when I introduced myself, Tom, one of the people in charge, said, “We’re very happy to have you here.” I told him, very sincerely, that I was very happy to be there, too.

(to be continued)

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Voyaging Through Time & Space

June 2, 2014

The Hokule‘a and Hikianalia, two traditional-style Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoes, just left from Hilo Bay for the first leg of a trip around the world. The trip is called Malama Honua, and it will be a three-year circumnavigation of the earth covering 47,000 nautical miles with stops at 85 ports in 26 countries.

There is an excellent website about Hokule‘a and Hikianalia, where you can track the voyage on Google Maps, and read much more about it.

Hokulea, Hikianalia, Hilo, Polynesian Voyaging Society, Hawaiian Tradition, Hawaiian Culture

It’s one of the coolest things in 21st-century Hawai‘i, in my book, and has such an amazing story.

Traditionally, Polynesians traveled the oceans in this sort of wa‘a kaulua, double-hulled canoe, without, of course, modern navigational instruments. Over the centuries, though, Hawaiians, and most of their Polynesian cousins, lost that knowledge. Back in the 1970s, a small group of Hawaiians went looking to learn how to revive this tradition. Few people in the Pacific still knew how to navigate across the ocean traditionally, without instruments, but a handful of people in the Pacific did. For the most part, though, they guarded their knowledge and wouldn’t share it.

Finally the Hawaiians found Mau Piailug, of Satawal in Micronesia, who still knew the ancient techniques and agreed to teach them. It’s an enormous, amazing story reaching across both space, cultures, time, more:

In 1975, no Hawaiian living knew these ancient techniques forblue water voyaging.[21] To enable the voyage, the Polynesian Voyaging Society recruited the Satawalese Master Navigator Mau Piailug [of the Weriyeng school in the Caroline Islands (map) of the Federated States of Micronesia (map) ] to share his knowledge of non-instrument navigation. While as many as six Micronesian navigators had mastered these traditional methods as of the mid-1970s,[22] only Mau was willing to share his knowledge with the Polynesians.

Mau, who “barely spoke English,” decided that by reaching beyond his own culture, sharing what had been closely guarded knowledge, he could possibly save it from extinction. Through his collaboration with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Mau’s mentorship helped “spark pride in the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture”, leading to “a renaissance of voyaging, canoe building, and non-instrument navigation that has continued to grow, spreading across Polynesia (map) and reaching to its far corners of Aotearoa [New Zealand] and Rapanui [Easter Island].” (Thompson, Reflections on Mau Piailug, 1996) – Wikipedia

The canoes are such a symbol of Hawaiians and their traditions, their culture, their achievements and excellence and abilities. And the Hokule‘a, and the crewmembers, have been around since the 1970s, so we’re well into another generation of students now. They are all about sustainability and education and science and more. This tradition is unlikely to die out again anytime soon.

On the website, you can read, in both Hawaiian and English, about honoring the ancestors who went before us, see photos of the two wa’a departing from Hilo for Tahiti, read about Polynesian navigation, and more.

Do you love that the Hokule’a has a blog? I do.

Here’s a post about the canoes leaving at Richard Ha’s blog, which I edit. He is a local businessman and farmer, and supplied bananas and tomatoes for the crews.

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Zinsser, Memoirs & ‘No Project Too Weird’

June 1, 2014

Today I’ve been reading William Zinsser. It started when I dragged out his book On Writing Well, the classic guide to writing nonfiction, to reread his chapter on Writing Family History and Memoir (the chapter is, generously, online at that link).

An excerpt from Zinsser’s chapter, which is at The American Scholar:

Go to your desk on Monday morning and write about some event that’s still vivid in your memory. What you write doesn’t have to be long—three pages, five pages—but it should have a beginning and an end. Put that episode in a folder and get on with your life. On Tuesday morning, do the same thing. Tuesday’s episode doesn’t have to be related to Monday’s episode. Take whatever memory comes calling; your subconscious mind, having been put to work, will start delivering your past.

Keep this up for two months, or three months, or six months. Don’t be impatient to start writing your “memoir,” the one you had in mind before you began. Then, one day, take all your entries out of their folder and spread them on the floor. (The floor is often a writer’s best friend.) Read them through and see what they tell you and what patterns emerge. They will tell you what your memoir is about and what it’s not about. They will tell you what’s primary and what’s secondary, what’s interesting and what’s not, what’s emotional, what’s important, what’s funny, what’s unusual, what’s worth pursing and expanding. You’ll begin to glimpse your story’s narrative shape and the road you want to take.

Then all you have to do is put the pieces together.

He’s a wonderful writer himself, and seems like such an interesting person, too. I looked him up on the Internet to read more about him and that rabbit hole led me to a page of his great essays at The American Scholar. I learned that, as of a year ago, he was 90, blind from glaucoma, and still enjoying his life.

From the New York Times in April 2013:

…A little more than a year ago his many friends and former students received a written invitation from Mr. Zinsser “to attend the next stage of my life.”

He explained that his old enemy, glaucoma, had caused a “further rapid decline in my already hazy vision,” forcing him to close his office and end his nearly 70-year career as a writer. But he was now making himself available as a teacher, mentor and coach from the apartment he shares with his wife of 59 years, Caroline Fraser Zinsser, 82, an educator, historian and his partner, he says, in all things.

To be more specific, he would be available “for help with writing problems and stalled editorial projects and memoirs and family history; for singalongs and piano lessons and vocal coaching; for readings and salons and whatever pastimes you may devise that will keep both of us interested and amused.

“I’m eager to hear from you. No project too weird.”

What a great “next act!”

Do you know how a memoir differs from an autobiography?  Both include a person’s memories about moments or events from their life, both are (supposed to be) factual, and both are told in the first person.

But an autobiography summarizes and tells the whole of a person’s life. It is the story of a life. A memoir has a narrower focus, and tells a story from a life. Author (and memoir writer) Gore Vidal describes the difference this way: “A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dated, facts double-checked.”Memoir, Leslie Lang,

Memoirs go way back. Julius Caesar wrote memoirs. Louis de Rouvroy, duke of Saint-Simon, who lived in France in the Middle Ages of 1675-1755, wrote them, as did others at the time. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854) is a memoir about two years of his experiences in that cabin he built near Walden Pond. The memoirs of the 20th and 21st centuries are numerous.

A couple years ago, a writer at Flavorwire went out on a limb and selected what she calls 10 of the Best Literary Memoirs of All Time. Here is an NPR article called 6 Memoirs Written With Heart. There are countless others. It would take a very long time to read all the interesting memoirs out there, but I’d love to try.

It’s such an incredible act to be trusted to help someone write his or her memoir. The number one most important, of course, is getting it just right. There is no place for laziness in writing, or “good enough.” Each angle, thought, sentence and word choice has to be just right, in a precise and exacting way, because otherwise you did not quite capture his or her truth. And by “not quite” capturing it, I mean you got it wrong. And that’s a big huge fail.

It’s a lot of work but very satisfying to help someone capture a story and get both the details and its meaning just right.

Zinsser also edited Inventing the Truth, The Art and Craft of Memoir, which has wonderful essays by memoir writers who describe the pleasures and problems of writing a memoir. The well-known authors contributing to this book include Russell Baker, Jill Ker Conway, Annie Dillard, Ian Frazier, Frank McCourt, and I randomly left out a few others just as worthy of being mentioned. I recommend it.

Do you have a favorite memoir? I’d love to hear. Let us know in the comments.

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Editing: One Of My Superpowers

Day after day, month after month and year after year, I have shaped my life around words. (And my words around life.)

I have taken, and continue to take, many, many courses, classes and workshops. I have been edited myself, and read books and articles about using words, and written and edited hundreds of pieces of writing. I have learned from it all.

And in the course of doing all that, I have become a strong wordsmith.

Editing is one of my superpowers. It’s not as flashy as scaling skyscrapers or similar, but it does come in handy.

Leslie Lang, Writer, Journalist, Author, Family History, Personal History, Memoir, Hawaii, Big Island, Talk Story Press, Editor, Editing

A Truth: If you are self-publishing a book, you must — in order to be taken seriously — spring for two things: professional editing, and professional book cover design.

I don’t do cover design, but I can definitely help with editing.

This article, showing what are purportedly some actual errors that got into print due to a lack of editing, is eye-opening. What if this were your book?

“An Australian publisher has destroyed 7,000 copies of a cookbook after a recipe called for ‘salt and freshly ground black people.’ The recipe, for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto, was meant to call for black pepper, but a typo led a computer spell-checker program to insert the erroneous word.”

That is an over-the-top example of the importance of editing, true, but much less dramatic errors will also cause readers to discredit you and your book.

This Huffington Post article ‘Honor Your Readers, Hire an Editor’ lists some of the comments at Amazon.com about one self-published book that wasn’t edited well. Horrifying.

Your spouse, the English major, or your friend that’s really good with words might help you with earlier drafts. But trust me: Once you’re getting serious, you need to hire a professional editor who knows the business.

From Go-Publish-Yourself:

It’s the Book Editing, Stupid. Why You Need a Good Book Editor

If you don’t spend time and money with a good book editor, everything else you do to publish and market your book won’t matter. A poorly edited book is a waste of time and money. Every dollar you spend promoting an error-prone book might as well be spent in Vegas. Read the rest

From www.forbes.com, Business section:

Thinking Of Self-Publishing? Ben Galley Has Some Advice

…Objectivity and professionism are key, Galley said, emphasising the need for self-published authors to take care over the editing of their manuscript:

Editing is an imperative. It is what will set you apart from other self-published authors out there. Self-publishers think they don’t have to put the work in, that people will be forgiving, but that’s wrong. You have to be as good as, or better than, traditionally published books, and traditional publishers’ editors are very good at their job.

“Editing is the key to being taken seriously. You can do one or two rounds of editing yourself, but then you have to give it to other people because you’re not objective enough to take it to a professional level.” Read the rest

Hawaii self publishing book editor More on the importance of hiring a professional editor herehere and here. I could go on.

I edit self-published books (and other works) often, and am happy to help you with yours. Here are some comments I’ve gotten just this month from editing clients:

• “Thank you for your help on this project! Your work is first class. I think you’re awesome.”

• “I must say I am absolutely impressed with your thorough work. Thank you again for doing this for me.”

Are you self-publishing a book, or working on another type of writing that you want to ensure is as polished as possible?

I’m happy to talk with you about how we would work together. You can reach me at 808 964-1494 or leslie@leslielang.com.

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The Past, Present & Future of a Time Capsule

My good friend Don Falk was just telling me a goosebumps-inspiring tale about researching his family’s history.

He and his brother now have 56,000 names, and many stories, on their family tree; clearly theirs is not a casual endeavor, but an intense one filled with travel and heavy research. His brother Stephen Falk’s History of Genealogy blog details their research.

One of the goals is to keep a running account of new discoveries — discoveries which are as likely to be new interconnections between the Jewish families (or families of Jewish ancestry) of Breslau, towns in Silesia (e.g. Brieg, Namslau, Staedtel, Zuelz, Kreuzburg, Cosel, Kieferstaedtel, Myslowitz, Tarnowitz, Beuthen, Oppeln, Krappitz), and towns in Posen (e.g., Posen, Lissa, Rawitsch, Kempen, Inowroclaw), as discoveries of new ancestors or distant cousins. 

Don told me about visiting an archive in Berlin in 2011 and discovering at the very last minute – as the offices were about to close, on their last possible visit there before leaving Germany – that a distant, previously unknown half-great-great-uncle had given a multi-generational family tree to the archives.

He and his brother were so excited, he said. They were like excited little kids. They stayed up late putting newly-found ancestors onto their computerized family tree, saying each name aloud in an act of remembrance.

He says that it was as though Uncle Curt left them a time capsule.

A time capsule! This Uncle Curt from the past took what he held as important, and left it with an archive for – well, he did not know for whom he was leaving it. But he left it anyway, and generations later it was received with joy and delight and thanks, more than he probably ever would have imagined.

Leslie Lang Talk Story Press
Ida Jacobsohn (1857-1939), Liebstadt

When he did this, Uncle Curt didn’t know there were people yet unborn who would think about him because he’d done this. He didn’t know they would be so excited and so grateful. He didn’t know that, because of clues he left in this “time capsule,” his descendants would finally be able to locate their great-grandmother’s grave – to push back 70 years of ivy from atop her gravestone and find her.

All because of his information. His time capsule.

This is what happens when you go a step beyond. When you gather your family stories into a book that then sits on bookshelves in several homes, each volume being passed down through the generations, you are creating a time capsule for people not yet born.

You might never know them, but because of the gift you’ve left behind, they will know you – and your family, and your parents and grandparents and beyond. They will know what you know about how your family got to this point, knowledge that ordinarily dwindles with each generation. They will learn about your values, if you want to share those, and even what you hope for them, the ones to come after.

Leaving a written, family history “time capsule” is a way to leave a significant legacy, even if you are unable to pass along a monetary inheritance. It will probably last longer than most anything else you could leave behind, and be more valued.

Have you heard the saying that people die twice? One time when they leave this earth, and a second time when there’s no one left alive that knows their name.

Creating a “time capsule” – organizing what you know about your family’s history and leaving it behind for those to come – means that someday, your grandchildren’s grandchildren will know your family’s stories.

They will know your name.

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Swabbing My Cheek For Deep Ancestry

There’s family history and then there’s family history. I’m going deep.

I just swabbed the inside of both my cheeks, put the swabs into a vial, and stuck them in a package, ready to zip it off to National Geographic’s Genographic Project.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 1.23.34 PM

A short description of this project is that they are using cutting-edge DNA analysis to study how people populated the earth.

Here’s a longer one:

The Genographic Project is a multiyear research initiative led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Spencer Wells. Dr. Wells and a team of renowned international scientists are using cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand our human genetic roots. The three components of the project are:

• To gather and analyze research data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional peoples around the world

• To invite the general public to join this real-time scientific project and to learn about their own deep ancestry by purchasing a Genographic Project Participation and DNA Ancestry Kit, Geno 2.0

• To use a portion of the proceeds from Geno 2.0 kit sales to further research and the Genographic Legacy Fund, which in turn supports community-led indigenous conservation and revitalization projects

The Genographic Project is anonymous, nonmedical, and nonprofit, and all results are placed in the public domain following scientific peer publication.

Soon I will receive analysis of my DNA that reveals my “deep ancestry.”

Since 2005, the Genographic Project has gathered DNA data from more than half a million people (577,000!) from more than 140 countries.

This book, Deep Ancestry, Inside the Genographic Project, is by the study’s director Spencer Wells (that’s him above). I want to check it out.

In this concise and well-written work, Wells (The Journey of Man) provides an accessible introduction to genetic anthropology, the study of human history using genetic evidence. Wells is the director of the Genographic Project, which collects DNA samples from a wide array of world populations to better understand human history over the last 200,000 years. Wells does a fantastic job distilling both genetics and genetic anthropology into straightforward topics, presenting sophisticated material accessibly without oversimplification. He gives the reader the basic concepts (Y chromosomes, mtDNA, haplogroups, genetic markers) and then proceeds to step through genographic research from its 19th-century origins to the present day. In so doing, he takes the reader back to the 170,000-year-old female genetic ancestor of every person alive today: the so-called African Eve. It is a remarkable journey that will appeal to readers of all backgrounds interested in exploring the science and research behind human evolution, although those with more experience in the sciences may find some of the material elementary.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

While helping scientists understand how humans populated the world, we learn more about our own family’s migration route out of Africa. I find this all fascinating.

Because really, we know so little about our histories. True, a royal family might know, what?, several hundred or a thousand years of information about its forebears. Maybe a little more? And then there are cultures like the Polynesians and others who have very strong oral traditions and can tell the story of their people going extraordinarily far back in time. Which I also find fascinating, by the way.

But most people don’t know the story of their ancestors over the last 60,000 years. Harper’s magazine once estimated there have been 7,500 generations of people since the first Homo sapiens. Once many of those people left Africa, which way did they go, where did they settle along the way, and what brought us here?

Most people, groups, cultures, just do not hold on to that kind of information over that period of time! But it turns out our cheeks do.

For a woman, the Genographic Project analyzes thousands of genetic markers on her mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down each generation from mother to child.

But that would tell only part of my story, so guess what my brother got for Christmas? Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 1.05.55 PM

I got him his very own Geno 2.0 kit, and he swabbed his cheeks today too. Since his DNA includes the Y chromosome passed down from father to son, his results will tell us about the paternal side of our ancestral migration story.

Everyone’s DNA is analyzed for more than 130,000 other markers, too, which reveal “regional affiliations” of your ancestry (“insights into your ancestors not on a direct maternal or paternal line”).

Including — how interesting in this — our hominid cousins the Neanderthals and the newly discovered Denisovans. As we modern humans were first migrating out of Africa, more than 60,000 years ago, Neanderthals and Denisovans were still living in Eurasia, and we (okay, “scientists”) now know that they met and mingled. Most non-Africans, according to the Genographic Project, are about 2.5 percent Neanderthal. Anyone with solely sub-Saharan African ancestors is not, because their ancestors did not migrate through Eurasia.

You can follow the Genographic Project on Facebook, if you’re interested in learning more. Or read about the Genographic Project here. Or buy your own Geno 2.0 kit here.

So I’m off on an adventure. I am really looking forward to hearing the results of my DNA analysis (and my brother’s). This modern technology! I tell you.

Here’s an interesting article about DNA genetic testing: Genealogy enthusiasts mine DNA for clues to evolutionary history.

Have you done DNA analysis, whether with this sort of migration study or one of the ancestry ones, like Genetic Genealogy or 23andme? I’m really interested in that, too, and you know I will probably end up doing one of those someday, too.

Please comment below if you have participated in any of these DNA studies and tell us about it. Which project? How did you choose? What did you find out? I’d love to hear.

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Book Review: ‘Reunion, A Search for Ancestors,’ by Ryan Littrell

reunion coverOn Facebook a couple weeks ago, I saw an ad for the book Reunion by Ryan Littrell. Its subtitle is “A Search for Ancestors,” and it definitely caught my eye. (Isn’t Facebook good at targeting its ads!)

I read about the book and then impulse-ordered it.

Turns out it’s a good book. I’m glad I did.

I was hooked early on by this passage about looking at a photograph of two nineteenth-century ancestors; this passage almost could have been pulled out of my own head. I think about things like this. Do you?

You can’t see in their eyes what you see in a friend who trades a knowing glance with you, because these ancestors never had the chance to know you, and so they never spoke of you, they never cared about you. What would they have thought of you if they were around today? Would they invite you in, like you were some long lost grandchild of theirs, or would they be polite and distant, the way they might treat a strange new acquaintance?

Each of us could ask these questions, but we know that there can be no response. We were never given the chance to know all the ways he would look after us, or how she would smile at us, or how they might have spoken of us, even when it was just the two of them. Our ancestors are never going to return our calls.

But spookily, they’re here. Their DNA is our DNA, in us right now, influencing everything our bodies and minds do….

I recommend this book to anyone who is curious about – or is currently researching, or ever has or will research – his or her family’s genealogy. Littrell brings the reader along as he researches, travels, meets distant cousins and uncovers the history of his family. It’s a great look at, and example of, how to do good genealogical research, and it tells an interesting story, as well.

He includes some Scottish Highlands and clan history. This book will be of special interest to anyone who traces their roots to the Scottish Highlands, and to people descended from McDonalds/MacDonalds or McDaniels/MacDaniels. Though neither of those categories apply to me, and I totally enjoyed it, too.

The synopsis:

Where do I come from? That question sets Ryan Littrell on a journey that crosses centuries and many miles. An anonymous letter, found at the bottom of a box of black-and-white pictures, reveals the first clues about his grandmother’s family story, and soon those clues lead him to a country graveyard and a long-lost cousin. Then faded names in old books, along with a DNA surprise, unearth one more generation, and yet another. And as one hint leads to the next, from the 19th century back into the 18th, he discovers his family’s place in a people’s tragic struggle-a tale of heartbreak, betrayal, and unfailing strength. A real-life account, Reunion shows how our ancestors just might still be a part of us, and how our story began long before we were even born.Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 12.06.26 PM

Click for an interview Ryan Littrell did with the family history blog Moultrie Creek Books.

In that interview he discusses one part of his story that I find especially interesting: How he used DNA testing, our newest tool in the genealogy arsenal:

Q. What was your most surprising discovery related to this project?

A. That’s a tough question, because there were so many discoveries along the way. But if I had to pick one, it would be that email revealing my uncle’s DNA results: Each person who matched my uncle’s DNA was descended from a single family that lived for many generations in one particular spot in the Scottish Highlands. My whole life, I’d had no clue where this part of my family had come from. But suddenly, with one cheek swab from Uncle Chuck, we knew the truth.

Reunion is an interesting and well-written book; recommended. If you’re interested, buy the paperback here or download the Kindle version here.

If you’d like to know more, here’s a short Ancestry.com article by Ryan Littrell about his family history search.

You can follow Ryan Littrell and learn more about him and his book at Facebook.

As always, I hope you’ll come back here and let me know if you read the book, so we can talk about it some more!

 

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Storytelling For Fun & (Business) Profit

Which business would you rather work with?

  • The one that displays a paragraph on its website listing the year it was founded, by whom, how many employees it has and that it belongs to the local Chamber of Commerce?
  • Or the one with the interesting story about how its founder started his 600-acre farm by trading chicken manure from his family’s chicken farm for banana starts and how things developed from there? (True story.)

Some of what we do here at Talk Story Press is to gather families’ stories together in one place and weave them together into an interesting narrative arc. We retell them in a rich, full way, and then help the family create a printed book from it all. We also do this for individuals who want to tell their own stories, or that of a family member or dear friend.

And we do the same thing – tell a good backstory – for businesses. Because what’s more interesting when someone wants to learn about a company they may hire, or decide to work for? Reading an ad or a dry press release? Or reading a story – a narrative – about how the business came to be?

Talk Story Press, Leslie Lang

This Wall Street Journal article, Why Your Company Needs a Moving Start-Up Story, uses a Bruce Springsteen encounter, among others, to talk about the importance of having an epic story.

Take the legend about FedEx founder Fred Smith’s gamble with the last $5,000 in its checking account. In the book “Changing How The World Does Business,” Roger Frock, one of the founding executives of the company, told the story of how, in the make-or-break start-up days of the company, Mr. Smith took the $5,000 in the company’s checking account to Vegas and bet it all….

Read the rest here.

You can use your epic start-up story to make employees feel like they are part of something amazing, and, of course, to draw in customers. To show them what is special about your company. To make yourself stand out from the competition.

We also help businesses and organizations write special anniversary books that capture the whole history of a company.

Can we help you write the story of your business? Let us know if you’d like to know more or to explore the idea.

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Saving Face, & Voice, & Stories

My father died in 1983, when I was 20 and he was only 50.

I don’t know of any recordings of his voice that still survive, but I’d sure love to have one.

He died way before we were all walking around with cameras capable of recording video and audio in our pockets (or our hands).  Apple II

How he would have loved this digital age, by the way. Because of him, my family was an early adopter of the Apple II, with its Pong game and all, but really my dad missed about all of this digital era. He was a “techie” type, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have loved it.

But nowadays, with all this readily available technology all around us, making it so easy, do we remember to videotape/audiotape our parents? Our grandparents? How often do we record our family moving around and talking, so we can show our kids and grandkids later? So that later they will still be real people, just like us, instead of just names on a page? So we ourselves can see and hear them again decades from now, like magic?

And if we do, I don’t know if we always make sure to back up the recording and store it separately. And put it on a DVD, and label it. Does everybody think to make a few copies, and give them to different family members, or at least store them in different places, so they don’t all perish in the same disaster?

It’s so easy to do, whether casually or professionally (if you don’t have the time, know-how or energy, we can help you with it here at Talk Story Press). And it’s priceless to have later.

Verlyn Klinkenborg (is there a better name, by the way?) writes in the New York Times about getting his old voice back, after surgery to remove a papilloma on his vocal cord. And about voices that “recover memory and emotion and loss itself.”

What would we know if we could hear the voice of Cleopatra? How odd would Napoleon’s Corsican accent sound to modern French speakers? And what if we had two minutes of the voice of Shakespeare, who managed to leave so little of his personal self behind?

We might feel awe at hearing these voices, but very likely the recordings would be mere artifacts, overwhelmed by legend, deed and word. And these figures would still be strangers. It would be nothing like hearing again the intimate sound of a voice that has gone missing in your own life, a voice that recovers memory and emotion and loss itself.

Read his whole New York Times essay So Many Snapshots, So Few Voices Saved.

And don’t forget to take advantage of this great technology we have all around us, and record your family members – their faces, voices and stories. Someday, you, and others who come along later, will be so glad you did.

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