Memoirs Start Last Night

by Jerry Waxler

You start making memories every day. Last night for example, I went to a dramatic reading in Philadelphia. Jerry Perna’s play was dramatically read by himself and several actors, as part of a joint effort to provide actors with opportunities to express their craft.

The reading was being produced for a live video feed through the New Century television station, located in Newtown. My friend Mike Shoeman introduced me to the CEO of New Century, Ariel Schwartz. Instead of asking him for his story, I pitched my idea to publicize memoir writers. I would have preferred learning more about him, but I observed something about myself. When I had two minutes with the CEO of a television station my tendency was to talk about myself. That’s a good observation to file for further reference. Perhaps I’ll be able to use it in my memoir.

Speaking of memoirs, before the show I asked Jerry Perna how much of his play was based on his life. He said, “About 99.9%” Then watching the show, I saw what he meant. It treated issues of growing up in the sixties and his character’s relationship with his father. Afterward, I asked him if writing and performing it was therapeutic, and he said it was “more therapeutic than therapy.”

So what does going to a play have to do with writing memoirs? Here are a few ways that last night informs the project of writing about life:

* Life is a series of memories, starting from last night. That’s why people try to capture their memories in diaries or blogs (like this one). Or photo albums of birthdays and vacations. It’s all grist for the memoir mill. Lesson: Record memories.

* The play took place near the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. When I was in Central High School in Philadelphia, I did a research paper about the Pullman Rebellion. It turns out that the governor of Illinois called in the national guard to break up a strike against the Pullman Railroad. To research that school paper, I took the subway and trolley down to the hallowed grounds of the University of Pennsylvania to pour through the card catalog and go to find a dusty, precious book in the stacks. Now, every time I walk on that campus I remember powerful feelings evoked from the past. Lesson: Visit old haunts and write the memories .

Because I’m writing this blog entry, I’m reviewing a memory that happened as recently as last night. So I can apply memory writing techniques to find out more about it. Namely, I ask, “What was the emotional power in the scene? What did people want from me? What did I want, hope, and fear?” The event contained the possibilities for new beginnings, of a connection with the Philadelphia cultural scene, with several fellow writers I met, and with the people associated with New Century, Mike Shoeman, president of Life Act Coaching, Marta Reis, and Ariel Schwartz. Culture is a strange and powerful beast. It wants to give and share, and to do those things it needs to create community. Artists, writers, performers, and everyone associated with culture are hungry to develop community. Lesson: You can meet people who want to meet you when you offer something to their culture.

So where would this evening go in my memoir? Is it the culmination of a lifetime process, or the beginning of the rest of my life? Of course the answer is both. Lesson: Life keeps generating memories, and I can gather these memories together into a story.

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