A while back I suggested that everyone, especially October/November folks, ought to consider writing their own personal memoir. After all, you have lived a full life. Chances are you have time on your hands and stories to tell. Seems to me those are the necessary ingredients for the most personal late-life project I can imagine…..one that only you can create.
So, what kind of response did I receive about what I considered a viable idea? Most replies sounded like……“I couldn’t do that. Why would I want to? I’m not a writer. Besides, who wants to read about my life?”
Those are all valid replies, but perhaps they are the right answers to the wrong questions. More to the point, they seem to miss what I have come to accept as the most important virtue of creating one’s own memoir.
What if the first and most important question to be asked is…. “What would I gain from writing my own memoir?”….What would I learn about myself if I took the time to study the most eventful pieces of my life, from beginning to now. Have I ever stopped to think about how those ‘pieces’ fit together to create the ‘me’ I have become?
Allow me to digress for a moment. I have mentioned before that I have walked that ‘memoir path’……378 pages of serious digging into my life through 2020. On the very first page of that story I said, “I want to know more about the ‘me’ I have become.” When I had finally completed that search I had the resulting book self-published, and ordered five copies, one for myself and each of our children. There will be no reason for any more copies.
Based on that experience I learned that the process of reviewing my life…… the highs and the lows, one step at a time……while trying to understand what each step meant to me, was an empowering adventure.
Most of us think of a memoir as something to be read by others……the few who may care enough to read our story. I am asking you to consider ‘your story’ as something by you, for you……..an opportunity for you to visit, and revisit, your life, one step at a time. Whether or not you ever ‘write’ that story, you may find that the time spent reviewing and reliving those ‘steps,’ outlining your own memoir, is the most productive part of the process.
With that in mind I have decided on what feels like an October Bold approach. What follows is Chapter One of the memoir I call In Retrospect…. My bumpy road to growing up, which explains my memoir logic about as well as I know how.
“An unexamined life is not worth living.”
“Only as we look back at the course our footprints have traced do we fully understand how we have read life’s inkblot.”
WHY TELL THIS STORY?
There are, of course, dozens of reasons to explore one’s life, and dozens of ways to approach that process. Beyond those matters of motivation and technique lies the most fundamental question of all. Why do I feel called to tell my story?
As I set out on this journey I have at least three reasons in mind. Chances are I will find others along the way. For now, however, I will be seeking to answer these questions.
1) Why did I choose not to concentrate on the opportunities I was gifted as a young man?
2) Why did I instead settle for my own ‘road less traveled.’ Making my way to a more satisfying destination?
3) And, how was I lucky enough to win the lady who would put up with all my foolishness, while providing a helping hand in my search?
I want to know more about what made me the ‘me’ I have become. In the process I will be retelling and perhaps even reliving bits of my life in hopes of gaining insight. To be sure, this will be the most personal writing I have ever attempted. And most importantly, I am doing it to satisfy myself, no one else.
At eighty-three it is high time to face this life of mine head on and see where my thoughts take me. Hopefully I can confirm that satisfaction and fulfillment are not prizes to be found in the world of ‘things,’ but are instead products of soul-deep expectations we cultivate in the course of a lifetime.
I won’t pretend to address every detail of my long life. Instead I want to gather the recollections that stand out to me, whether or not their importance is obvious to a casual reader. It is that hopeful gathering of long-dormant memories and emotions that draws me toward telling my story.
I know there are intuitions and aspirations, anxieties and injuries that inhabit the inner ‘me,’ like ghosts of times past. I want to know more about those invisible specters. What should they mean to me? How are they connected to the person I have become? How do those long-ago episodes, perhaps insignificant at the time, relate to the answers I am still seeking at this advanced stage of life?
Have you ever wondered how seemingly-minor, often-momentary events are able to create such lasting subconscious associations? You and I live daily with hopes and anxieties that confirm the significance of long-past events.
Are those yearnings and apprehensions real? Are they the basis of a fruitful life? Or simply illusions, unsafe to lean on in the heat of life-stressing situations?And where do all those questions come from?
More to the point, why is my octogenarian mind still seeking those answers? Surely, by this time of life I should have learned to live with my accumulated doubts and uncertainty. Why haven’t I created more satisfying answers by now? Seems that most people my age have managed that.
In the course of a lifetime all of us construct explanations that we rely on to create our ways of coping. Some of that logic may be shaky, barely able to hide the dysfunction it is meant to address. Some of it is more productive. I would like to know more about the ‘answers’ I have fashioned on my life journey. Which ones created real resolution? Which ones simply shielded me from the reality of unwelcome questions?
My search for personal answers, the strongest motivation of this exploration, may not make sense to anyone else. The drama and emotion of my seeking may be real only to me. Chances are an outsider will consider my questioning asides strange at best, occasionally humorous, and perhaps at times the work of a deranged mind.
For the most part my life answers have been adequate. They have allowed me to deal with the situations at hand, if not always well. Some questions that required an answer in an earlier time have ceased to be an issue for me. And, of course, there have been times when my answers were simply wrong and unproductive.
Like you I have spent a lifetime trying to create satisfactory responses to life’s challenges. In the process I have reached the supposed calm and quiet of retirement……yet there are questions that still remain.
Will this telling of my story, help me find those answers? How can I know that at the beginning? Ask me again when we reach the end. In the meantime why not join me on the bumpy road to my Becoming.
There you have it, dear reader. Whether or not you ever create a memoir, I happen to think that the process of thinking through the chapters that make up your life is a worthwhile exercise. I invite you to consider that challenge.