by Jerry Waxler
In a famous scene from Star Wars, when warrior Luke Skywalker was learning how to fight, his mentor told him to close his eyes and “feel the force.” The training was a crucial step in the young man’s journey and a perfect demonstration that heroes need to learn skills in order to succeed.
To see how this applies to memoir writing, consider the brilliant, detailed treatment of training and mentors in Andre Agassi’s memoir, “Open.” To become proficient as a tennis champ, Agassi relied heavily on sport trainers. In his description of his training, Agassi offers us a bonus, demonstrating the distinction between two fundamental types of training. One type could be called “fight training” relevant for battle. In his case, the battle was tennis. The other form of training was his ordinary schooling, which was supposed to teach him how to live in peacetime, if he had stuck with it. His struggle to balance these two types of training became a key dramatic tension in his memoir.
Tension between School and Sports
As a teenager, Agassi was sent away to live in a special high school for aspiring tennis champions. He only attended ordinary classes for a few hours a day and the rest of the time he practiced to become a fighting machine on the tennis court. He hated the mundane schoolwork and pressured his trainer to let him drop out. After Agassi quit, he became even more immersed in tennis. He listened to his coaches and worked hard, constantly striving to succeed.
His progress, at first glance, seems like a perfect model for a successful life: study, challenge yourself to get ahead, and rise to the top of your field. Despite Agassi’s success on the tennis court, he had the nagging regret that he had missed one of the foundations of being a human being. His lack of general education did not interfere with his ability to earn a living but it gradually revealed itself as a missing piece in his heart. When he began to search for fulfillment off the tennis court, he tried to fill in this piece, not by going back to school himself but by building a school that would give this opportunity to others.
Write about your own two types of training. Consider the type of training that prepared you for battle. Perhaps you were a soldier and you really did have weapons training, or an athlete, a violinist, or any other skill that you used to make your way in the world. Show scenes of the warrior training, including classrooms, coaching sessions, discussions with mentors.
If you can’t think of any obvious “warrior training” loosen your definition and use metaphors to search for your warrior side. For example, if you went to business school or fashion school, imagine it prepared you to go forth to do battle in your career. If you engaged in social activism, or fighting against poverty or ignorance, what training helped you fight these “battles”? If you engaged in sports for fun, write a scene of those competitive situations to see what warlike aspects of yourself you can reveal. Or perhaps your warrior nature is expressed in board and computer games. Such activities are inherently competitive. You win, they lose. Write a scene about these skills and activities, to see if they can reveal more about that aspect of your experience.
In the peacetime type of training, how did you learn to live with people, socially, understanding your culture, your home and hobbies, and the less competitive aspects of life. What lesson or experience gave you the wisdom to be smarter about just being yourself? What mentors, beliefs, books, or classrooms helped you become a wiser person, easier to live with, more helpful to your community, family, and friends?
When and how did you feel torn between the practical form of training and the more general, peaceful one? Which aspect was over-accentuated, and which under?
When have you passed the training along, paying it forward, or returning to your community to share your learning with others?
Another example of the way training can change lives, is, The Pact by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt in which three boys in the ghettoes of north New Jersey band together to overcome their environment and became doctors.
This is part of a multi-part essay about Andre Agassi’s memoir “Open.”
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