February 20, 2018

On Writing and Memory

Bill as a boy, at his deskA memoir, after all, hinges on memory. What do I recall and why? What do I make of the themes in my life? How did my choices lead to inevitable or perhaps surprising outcomes? How much did circumstances limit my options compared to the degree of courage or vision I exercised? What about the battles of nature and nurture, including social norms in my time and place? What is the best way to engage in memory – for me, for you, for the world?

I’ve been pondering all of these questions and more as I prepare to launch my memoir. Focusing on midlife transformation in The Crane Dance provided a time parameter, but flashbacks to my childhood cried for attention, as did “bookend” trips to India as a 22-year old Peace Corp volunteer and a return to my India family at age 56.

Books about memory could I suppose fit together into a single syllabus but it would have to resemble the wide-ranging interdisciplinary course on India that I had in college. Memory includes history and psychology, sociology and economics, culture and customs, philosophy and theology, all mixed together in smells and sights and sounds echoing through time. Not to mention from literature to journalism, with image, reporting, narrative, and healing wrapped together into a glorious gift of passion and purpose.

This blog springs from a vein of ore familiar to many of us. Going down the mineshaft into our story leads to the essentials of life – the spirit lying at the core. Whatever we think of the word “spirit,” mining our past can help us care about the essence of our life on earth now.

As we many millions of baby boomers head into the last quarter of our life, with productive years potentially stretching into the ninth or even 10th decades – did you hear that Roger Angell of New Yorker fame published another book at age 95? – many of us find our courage to move forward when we look backwards.

The poet Stanley Kunitz put it this way, writing in his 70s: “When I look behind, as I am compelled to look before I can gather strength to proceed on my journey, I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon and the slow fires trailing from the abandoned camp-sites.”

This blog will link memories with daily life, starting with notions of journey cakes and of spirit. Carrying sustenance with me, to feed my body and soul, conjures up a wide range of emotions and images – gratitude, spiritual practices, and more detailed memories like watching my father early in the morning at work at the coffee table in the living room. He was with me as I sat early this Saturday morning, awakened by a dream I think, as I finished this blog.

Good luck charms, stones from beaches and lakebeds, a mask that I made at my first men’s conference with dried leaves and berries like giant tears. Each functions as a talisman, all journey cakes for the soul, morphing from memory into part of the spirit that drives me forward.

Notions of spirit loom larger for me as I grow into this time of life without deadlines at a job, without expectations from a boss or colleagues. Expectations of time and my essence within it spring inevitably more from spirit than from structure. Yet, I need boundaries for my spirit, structure, a moderate stress one might say, to sort out elusive images from night dreams and day ponderings, from images emerging from the birds at the feeder, and the mystery of new life in our three-month-old grandchild stretching and crying her way through her own rhythms.

So, come join me in the explorations that unfold – mine and perhaps some of yours if you find this a place that resonates with your own journey of the spirit.