07 February, 2009

Pictures of you....

One of my favorite writing outlets is the personal memoir. I didn't realize this until I took a creative non-fiction writing course in college with one of my favorite writing professors. I had always viewed non-fiction as history, essay and hardcore fact, completely forgetting that some of my favorite non-fiction books were actually auto-biographies and memoirs. The thing that makes memoir-writing exciting to me is that no one ever remembers the same event in exactly the same way. You could have four different people experience an event, and two weeks later have all four people write down the memory of what happened. You can almost guarantee that while all four stories have a similar theme, each one will be completely different.

Not everyone experiences things in the same way. Not everyone processes things in the same way. It's one of the reasons that there is often discord within society. Mankind just wants others to see his point of view, to experience things in the same way he does, but it's just not possible. Sure, we meet up with people that we share views with all the time, but that's not the same thing as trying to get someone to see things exactly the way you do. This is where a good memoir comes in.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in Pennsylvania farm country. Though if you had asked me as a kid how fortunate I felt about that, I would have laughed in your face. My family bought a home slap-dab in the center of a middle-class neighborhood that housed about fourteen kids ranging in age from seventeen years to one year. Because of where the neighborhood was nestled, at the base of a small mountain and just above the banks of Muncy Creek, the fourteen kids in that neighborhood had more potential for adventure than you could possibly imagine. Even within the smaller branches of the group, generally based on age, we saw tragedies, wonders and learned a lot about ourselves from each other.

My memories of the way things were are probably much different than the people I grew up with. My views were shaped by perception and personal experiences that none of the others had gone through. My emotions were often altered by my own dealings with those other people, shaping my reactions and experiences. I often wonder how the people I grew up with would react if they were to read some of the stories I've told about our quiet little neighborhood. The revelation of a number of skeletons would probably horrify some, while drawing others together in mutual acquiescence. I often wonder what parents will think when they read some of the things we got up to, and not just my own parents, but parents I respected as a kid immensely. I wonder who would call my memories lies, and who might call them exaggeration, as both have been known to happen where memoirs are concerned, but in the end I don't care.

Those experiences were my own. They were some of the most vivid and colorful years of my life, even on days the color was a hideous shade of blackish-green.

If you've never taken the time to write a memoir before, I can tell you, the experience itself is liberating. All you need for inspiration is an old photo album, maybe some old letters, or just a little time strolling down memory lane. You can start out the process by telling and retelling stories to others by mouth. After all, the art of story telling itself was once verbal, and the more you tell your stories aloud, the easier it will be to write them down.

Many of us who are adults today grew up in a time uniquely different than the one we live in today. There were no cell phones or personal computers when I was a kid. There was no cable television or satellite in my neighborhood. We grew up so far out there that the cable company refused to run a line out our road. Kids didn't spend all of their time indoors battling imaginary video game forces. Sure, we had systems. I grew up on Atari and Sega Genesis, but we knew when to put the paddles down and go outside. As writers, even better as memoir writers, we owe it to our time and to the people who will never get to experience that time, to share our memories. Otherwise they'll be forgotten.

So next time you're wracking your brain for inspiration, and you just can't find a plot, why not take a trip down memory lane? Once you're on the path it'll come rushing back in ways you never dreamed, and that's the stuff history is made of.

Forever the smart ass...


Helen Ginger said...

I've never written autobiographical stories and haven't been much into reading memoirs. But I did recently read an excellent memoir (in my opinion). That was The Glass Castle. It was sort of an eye-opener for me since I could see that she wrote it from the perspective of her as a child, without the filter of looking back on those years and analyzing them.

Helen Ginger

Jenny Beans said...

Helen, One of the interesting things about writing creative nonfiction and memoirs is writing them like a story, instead of using the reflective narrative you mentioned. I do have some that I reflect on from adulthood, but many of them are written like short stories. Who was the author of The Glass Castle? I might like to check that out.