Over the next week, I’m going to share with you a few different types of writing.
Today’s post is a memoir. According to Wikipedia, a memoir is:
A biography or autobiography tells the story “of a life”, while a memoir often tells a story “from a life”, such as touchstone events and turning points from the author’s life. The author of a memoir may be referred to as a memoirist or a memorialist.
The two most important influences of my writing career
During the summer of 1981, my life was full of turmoil. I considered leaving my teenage marriage of five years and try to find some happiness. I wasn’t content with my life, and I certainly wasn’t getting any closer to my goals being married to my first husband.
In the spring of that same year, I’d attended a concert to see Harry Chapin live in a small venue in Seattle, Washington. We had front row seats, and though I was familiar with ‘Taxi,’ ‘W.O.L.D,’ and ‘Cats in the Cradle,’ I didn’t know too many of Harry’s other songs.
That concert in March of 1981, just a few months before his sudden death, Harry Chapin became a vital person in my world. He inspired me to pick up my pen again.
The songs I heard that night were stories written to music. He wove parts of life into an intricate tapestry of melodies. I was entranced. Tears rolled down my face when I heard ‘A Better Place to Be’ for the first time.
But it was the ending of that concert that moved me the most. Harry was out by the concession stand, as he told us he would be as he and the band left the stage.
“I have no heavy plans for after the concert. I’ll be out in the lobby at the concession stand. It gives me a chance to sign anything you do buy and kiss the pretty women. Sorry guys – maybe next year.”
Now, during the concert, since I was in the front row with my then-husband, Harry noticed me. He saw me because my face reflected all of my emotions as I listened to his stories.
I was too late to get one of the ‘Harry Keep the Change’ t-shirts, but the pile of his poetry books stood high, and I grabbed one and got in line.
For a brief time during the concert, I had an incredible vision. In it, Harry and I walked together in a garden of beautiful flowers. Each flower represented one of his songs. Then we walked to a far corner of the garden, and the soil was plowed and ready for planting.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“This is your garden, Patty.”
“Yes. When you start writing, you will have a beautiful garden filled with your words and the stories you create.”
“Yes. I can see that.”
After a moment, I asked him, “Do you think I can?”
“I think you can do anything you decide to try. And I know you are a great writer. Remember the stories you wrote when you were a kid? You could make your mother, your aunt, and your grandmother cry with one story. Imagine the impact you will have on the world.”
“Don’t be modest. Yes, you.”
When the concert was over, the vision of Harry and I in the garden vanished.
Finally, it was my turn to pay for my book and have it signed by Harry. He gave me a knowing smile when he took the book from me.
I felt as if he’d glimpsed a part of the vision. At that moment, I knew he and I traveled together over space and time. In fact, we’d done it many lifetimes before.
After he signed my book, Harry looked directly into my eyes.
He’d said he would kiss all the pretty girls, so I wasn’t astonished when he started towards me while giving the book back to me. What did surprise me was the way he grabbed me and leaned me back into a dip.
The kiss was magical. In those brief moments, I felt our souls greet one another. I felt like I was home after a long time of being on my own.
Now, my husband stood in the concession area and watched the kiss. He didn’t say much. He didn’t say much over the long ride back to Bremerton, where we lived.
Harry’s kiss and presence in my life lingered. He awoke the part of my brain that loved to write. I started to journal again. I always had a notebook with me, so I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to write down a phrase or an idea. The author in me was awake for the first time since I was sixteen.
On July 16, 1981, just a few months after I’d met him, Harry died in a freak car crash. It seems that the Volkswagen Bug he was driving lost power while he was in the far-left lane of a highway. The tractor-trailer truck behind him hit his car from behind, and Harry left this world.
When the news came on the radio while I was on my lunch break, I felt as if I’d just lost the most critical person in the world. I was bereft as if I lost my spouse or best friend.
And then in the most generous gesture, I’d ever known from him, my husband of five years went to the record store and bought me every Harry album he could find.
Unfortunately, it was a case of ‘too little, too late,’ but now, even after forty years, it still makes me smile to know my first husband truly cared. He just didn’t know how to love.
In September, I left my husband. I took my collections of albums and the books I’d been toting from place to place since I was sixteen years old.
Among my treasures, Harry’s book of poetry topped the list. I didn’t have very many things in that little studio apartment, but that memento sat proudly next to the small B/W TV I bought at the local K-Mart.
In early October, a woman I worked with brought me a large bag full of novels. She knew I was going through a rough patch, and she also knew I loved to read. I was delighted and took the bag home with me.
It was Friday night, and the winds were howling outside. I was glad for something to do, so I looked through the bag until I came upon one of Stephen King’s early novels. I read ‘Salem’s Lot’ from cover to cover that night.
Now, I didn’t sleep very well, but in the forward, Stephen King spoke to his love of writing and how it made his life possible.
Suddenly, I was back in that walk in the garden with Harry. Only now, Stephen King was with us, too. And they both told me how important it was for me to share my stories with the world.
Thirty-six years later, I self-published my first novel. Having the ability to write full-time because I’m retired, I think about my two heroes a lot.
Steve-o is still alive, and his books always come into my life as something new is published. But nothing in his work inspired me as much as Harry’s songs did—until I read the following quote,
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free so, drink. Drink and be filled up.”
And so, I believe writing is magic. Drinking this special water of life is what makes the writer different than most.
And there you have it. This is an example of how you would write a memoir – though it is NOT the only way you can write an episode from your life. I hope you enjoyed this – it will be an integral part of a memoir I’m currently working on.
As you can see, the memoir is an account of something that happened to you during your life. However, rather than straight ‘reporting,’ you use literary devices, and ‘tell the story’ of the incident.
In my next blog, we will be taking a closer look at the personal essay and discussing the differences between the memoir and it.
Until next time,