Saturday, 16 October 2010


It's a cold, Autumnal day in Scotland and I've been preparing for winter. I had planned to be out painting my porch. Yet, other than it IS cold and I don't feel like climbing ladders today, for whatever reasons I've found myself reflecting and thinking -

"At what point do personal memories become of shared value? And I've found myself wondering - "At what point should you consider telling your own account eg: Shona's story?"

When my mum was in her seventies, I remember hearing about a local history project and suggesting she should take part “Och no” was her almost embarrassed, response, “what would I have to say that anyone would want to hear”. 

Yet ten years on, in the last chapter of her life, mum saw the full extent of the 'need' to create a community legacy to preserve people's stories for the future.

Realising the importance, the need to preserve a person's story of their life need not be about them but that their life is just another part in a bigger picture, the desire to create a record, a snap shot of life caught in time so future generations can look back to experiences of life from a time now forever gone.

Starting with my mum's fishing family stories, and continuing on to gather more stories and photos from the wider community (from Edinburgh, East Lothian to Eyemouth) – when all that mass of information was summarised and presented by me (with photos and subtitles in my free People and Songs of the Sea exhibitions), as many as 12,000 people came to see the 300+ photos and text. 

Measuring the reaction of those people who viewed my exhibitions, the numbers tell me unequivocally that personal stories (of ordinary people) no one person is 'ordinary' - everyone has a unique story to tell and shared stories are of a GREAT value to others.

Through today's media, you could think that unless a person is a CELEBRITY (for whatever reasons) then a person's story has no worth. BUT NO! I think that every single person's life is of value and, as my mum would say, "every family, every person has a story to tell". So, whether it is that we relate to the tales of other people because we see something in them that reflects in our own life, or that, their stories simply spark of personal memories, perhaps even hidden deeply within us and forgotten – stories have value.

We do not grow up in life or pass through this world alone. So too the memories stored in us can touch and influence others. BUT, at what point should we start to recollect? I find myself uncomfortable in asking that question to myself? Maybe with a blog there is no fixed ‘start point’ – maybe we just need to talk and the stories will arrive!

In the way I build my regular Celtic Reflections Photoblogs on Facebook, maybe I don’t need to plan everything out here with a beginning, middle and end – maybe I just need to start to talk and to share! To write down my recollections and illustrate my stories with the photos which come to mind. Sharing even small things that make me smile, like getting caught in the rain yesterday at sunset. And, even although I was drenched - telling others later of how wonderful it felt to be outdoors in the middle of such a scenic downpour!

Duddingston Loch, Edinburgh in a downpour at sunset
© Shona McMillan. All Rights Reserved

In my project work (People and Songs of the Sea) for over four years I have been completely focussed on gathering together the memories of other people. Indeed, I would feel quite horrified to think of myself as being old enough to share my life stories, my memories with others. I feel as young and full of life as I did when I was 18 but then, when my mum passed away at 80, that was one of the last things she said to me “strange to be nearing the end of my life when I still feel as young and full of life as I ever did”.

Stay young and full of life! :-D
I think it is great when people retain a positive outlook on life (being happy should be irrelevant to age). So, to use how we feel as an indication when to start, is to risk that appropriate day never arriving. So for me, it's today! 

In thinking to write out stories from my life, it is NOT about writing things down to say that 'my life is more remarkable than any other persons and so it should be shared' - I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT believe that. But, just as I have been interested in other peoples stories, maybe some day, people will be interested in mine. I grew up before mobile phones, computers, colour TV - WOW, even for me to think back on a world without all these norms seems unimaginable. Yet, I did experience life without these things. Therefore, my stories may one day touch those who never saw the world as it was then - just as happy a place and maybe sometimes even happier because it wasn't cluttered up with so many distractions from what is trully important in life which is simply to live, laugh and love.

Arthur Seat, Edinburgh
© Shona McMillan
For whatever reasons to write -

If I have prompted others to share their stories with me, maybe it is time I share some of my own.

My recollections would be formed around my life in Edinburgh, my connections to East Lothian and the coast, my love for the Highlands.

And of course, my equally strong feelings for Ireland and all the other lovely countries I've got to know on my travels: Canada, America, Italy - goodness, the list can go on and on...

In setting out to write any story, I want to look for a beginning, a middle and an end. Writing about myself there is an obvious problem – I am not looking back at a life which has been completed and therefore, one that has been all nicely organised into a natural story telling order. So, I need to come up with another way to organise these accounts. Accordingly, I think it easiest to pick topics and write about these. It would be good if they were ordered (my logical mind prefers that). However, people's recollections can and usually do just tend to spill out in a random fashion. In making this process as easy on myself as possible, it seems then my plan is to 'go with the flow’.

If you are sitting comfortably?
Then I will begin...

Over the coming weeks, months - the time ahead, I will look back and share stories on topics including: Family, Friends, School, Childhood, Holidays, Sayings, Music, Travel and so on. Chapters filled with daily events which build to form stories from a life.

Welcome to "Shona's story".

Bathed in sunshine, Yellow Craigs beach, East Lothian
All Text and Images © Shona McMillan. All Rights Reserved

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