by Jerry Waxler
Memoir writers face the daunting task of turning life experience into a story. To do so, we must select from a variety of storytelling techniques, and find the ones most suitable for our own situations. In this part of my multi-part essay about fantasy techniques in memoirs, I review two more, inspired by a close reading of Andre Agassi’s memoir “Open.”
Weapons and weapon masters in Memoirs
Each James Bond adventure begins with a visit to Q, who provides special purpose tools of war, communication, and deception. This mythical role of the weapons master turns up in a variety of stories. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was loaded with experts in the intricate arts of swords, axes, and arrows. And the role of the weapon master is alive and well in Andre Agassi’s memoir, “Open.”
The first weapon in “Open” is the tennis machine, code named The Dragon. This device acquires an almost mythical power over the boy, who had to return every ball that belched forth from the depths of the beast. His father custom tailors the machine, making his father the first weapon master in the book.
The weapon at the heart of the story are his tennis racquets. Agassi is obsessed with his racquet, its grip, and above all its strings. Agassi’s weapon maker is the guy who strings them. Before a match, he won’t let anyone touch his weapon. The psychological intensity of his obsessions with the proper care of his tools build to an almost magical crescendo, blurring the line between real life and fantasy.
Warriors also rely on their mode of transportation. A car or horse often contributes to the protagonist’s power. Agassi recounts several scenes in which driving in a fast car is an important part of his life.
Other memoirs offer variations on importance of tools and weapons. In “American Shaolin” by Matthew Polly, the main weapon was the fighter’s own body. Many of the martial artists turned parts of their body into “iron.” Other memoirs focus on the machinery of transportation. For example, Mark Richardson in “Zen and Now” talks at length about keeping his motorcycle in working order. Doreen Orion in “Queen of the Road” focused on details of her luxury motor home, an effective device that proves that with enough creativity you can create a story out of just about anything.
Most of us don’t have advanced involvement with weapons, but if you let your imagination roam, you might see tools with which you defend or express yourself. Musical instruments could fill this slot nicely. How did you care for your violin or guitar? If cooking was important, you may have cared for your pots and pans. Gardeners, sculptors, painters all have special equipment that must be cared for, often with ritualistic attention. If you had a special relationship with your mode of transportation, write a scene to show the power and intensity. Horses are especially rich sources of drama. What rituals went into maintaining your motorcycle or bicycle?
Magic Potions in Memoirs
The protagonists of fairy tales and fantasy fiction often use potions to gain special strengths, cures, or visions. There are truth serums, knockout drops, and antidotes to poison.
In the middle ages, alchemists searched for the elixir of life, that would grant immortality. And of course, deep in Christianity is the communion, drinking wine in order to become one with the divine presence. In everyday life, we take cough syrup, alka-seltzer and an endless variety of intoxicants, to help us find fun, forgetfulness, and liberation.
Potions played a key role in Andre Agassi’s memoir “Open.” His sports trainer had a knack for concocting special drinks, some to build the tennis champ up before he played, some to sustain him during a long match, and other’s to help him recover. Agassi spoke with awe about these potions, to which he ascribed great power over his state of health, strength and stamina.
Probably the most common use of potions is to intoxicate. These mental releases sometimes open windows, and just as often close doors. When Agassi was in a dark funk, he took crystal meth, a move that gave him temporary pleasure and jeopardized his entire career.
What meds, coffee, vitamins, mind altering drugs and alcohol or other “magic” potions played a role in your journey?
This is part of a multi-part essay about Andre Agassi’s memoir “Open.” For the start of the series, see
When is a memoir by a celebrity not a celebrity memoir?
For the Amazon page for Open, click here.
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.
To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.