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How We Almost Lost Shakespeare Forever

Shakespeare. You know who that is, right?

The most famous playwright and poet in all of history.

Britain’s official favorite-person-ever.

Shakespeare was writing during a time that English was dropping a bunch of its rules, and he leaned into that trend by using the language in ways it had never been used before, inventing a lot of our common words in the process.

Bedroom. Freezing. Distasteful. Bump. Useful. I’m not going to name all of them, but if you’re a nerd like me, here’s the link, knock yourself out.

He entertained peasants and royalty. During his relatively short career (1589-1613) the man wrote 39 plays, 154 sonnets, and two long narrative poems. He was prolific, he was talented, he changed the way we use English much like Jimmy Hendrix changed the way we use the electric guitar.

Given all that, it’s only natural that his works are still around, right?


It’s actually very unnatural for us to have Shakespeare’s works. Of the man himself, we have zero portraits. He was a genius and huge success, but never commissioned a selfie. We have five of his signatures, and in NONE of them does he spell his name “Shakespeare” like we do today.

During his lifetime, his plays were printed in pamphlets so that they could be sold to other acting troupes. The paper quality was low, they weren’t intended for archival purposes.

After his death, two of his closest friends published all but two of his plays in a collector’s edition of sorts, using calfskin binding and fine French paper. “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies” is now regarded as one of the most influential books ever published in the English language. We call it “the First Folio.”

One book. The loving tribute of three devoted artists to their friend.

The man was a genius. The work was brilliant. Dozens of people had memorized the words, and recited them for audiences by the hundreds. But without that book, the works of Shakespeare would have likely died with their creator.

The lifespan of a spoken word is very short. But that same word written down, or recorded, is immortal. Click To Tweet

That is why we save the story.

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Stories are common. YOUR story is rare.

Be careful that you don't view your stories as common things and therefore not valuable Click To Tweet

I wear a lot of jewelry made with semi-precious materials and natural stone – materials like onyx, agate, pearl, amber and jasper. I love asking vendors at art fairs and jewelry stores for the names of the stone, and after a while I noticed that when it came to jasper and agate, I never heard the same name twice. Moss agate. Blood jasper. Navajo Jasper. The names are almost as beautiful as the stones.

As it turns out, jasper and agate are formed in the same way, the only difference is that agate is clear in places whereas jasper is colored all the way thru. The colors come from the mineral composition of the earth when the stone is formed. And every pocket of stone is different because the composition of the ground is unique. When someone finds a cache of jasper or agate, they name it because that’s the only place in the world that you will find that pattern, that unique blend of color.

Life stories are like that too.

Every person endures their own unique blend of influences, of circumstances. Even though our lives share many, many common elements every story is unique and colorful and beautiful. Our purpose with the memoir process is to dig it up, to mine it out, to polish it up so that you can appreciate the raw, natural, unique beauty that is your story.

I mean, these are just rocks, right? What if the person who found them was like “eh, they are just rocks, everyone has rocks, I mean it’s not like the world needs more rocks.” And yet, here they are. Loved and valuable. Displayed and admired.

I hear people use these SAME words about their life story.

“I’ve got stories, but everyone has stories. Who would want my stories? There are so many other stories that are better than mine.” Be careful that you don’t view your stories as common things, and therefore not valuable. It’s not true. Your stories are unique, and valuable, and if you just dig them up and save them they will be treasured by the people who love you.

Whenever I tell people that I help people write their memoirs, it’s very rare that they say “I need help writing my stories.” What I hear almost every time is “I need your help getting my parents or grandparents to write their stories because they don’t see the point.”

Or, more tragically, “I wish my grandparents had written their stories before they passed away.”

No matter how painful or how plain the story is, no grandchild has ever said “I wish they hadn’t written it down.” Click To Tweet

If you feel this way about your own relatives, then you know exactly how your family will feel about you someday. Will they be glad you saved the story? Or will they be heartbroken that you didn’t?

Stories may be common. But your story is rare.

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Desperate, not just driven, to save our stories

In 2012, I had the rare privilege to hike Little Petroglyph Canyon, a lava trench in the Mojave Desert that is full to the brim with ancient Native American rock art. At the time, I was working as a freelance journalist for the local paper and writing a personal blog just for fun.

Hiking between the walls of glossy black rock, etched everywhere with depictions of animals and people and the sun and mysterious geometric shapes, it was a true testament to the timeless human conviction that what we know must be recorded, preserved, and passed on. Here I was, working for a disposable publication, and blogging in a virtual landscape that required nothing from me. It was easy.

It was not easy for the people who carved these walls. For them, it was hard.

As we waded through centuries of rock carvings, a question burned in my mind – “What were they trying to tell us?” Whatever it was, it felt very important to them. They couldn’t let it go. It had to be made immortal. It had to be set in stone.

One of the greatest misconceptions about the digital era – with all the noise and chatter and content and sharing and posts and NOISE – is that we share stories on a whim, because it’s easy to do. Because we’re narcissistic by nature.

But it takes more than a slight inclination and a big ego for a man to spend days carving their story into lava rock with their bloody, bare hands. Saving the story was carried out with a determination matched only by the will to survive.

Much like early people groups went to great lengths to obtain salt, it was like they instinctively knew that stories are essential. Not extra.

What if they were on to something?

What if passing on our knowledge is essential to our survival in some way that we don’t understand? All we have is this instinct, this nagging impulse to save the story.

So yes, the internet is noisy. There are more stories written online everyday than you can read in a lifetime. But volume of content isn’t us reacting to this sudden access to free publishing. Rather, it’s the other way around.

We don’t share our stories because it’s easy, we have MADE it easy because we are naturally driven – almost desperate – to save the story. tweet now