Monday, August 16, 2010

My Very Private Memoir

By Pamela

A few weeks ago I lamented here about my lackluster life and how nothing ever exciting happens to me, therefore, a memoir is certainly not in my future.

But for some reason I’ve been drawn to reading them lately—memoirs and biographies…fascinating stories about the lives of others.

Last month I reread The Glass Castle and enjoyed it just as much as the first time. (I’d read it several years before and even went with Joan to hear Jeannette Walls speak in Richardson.) I still found myself turning to Jeannette's photo on the book jacket, marveling that she lived to tell her story.

Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen CarpenterThen this week I finished Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter by Randy L. Schmidt. I grew up a fan of The Carpenters’ music and admired how Karen was a drummer-chick. How cool! Like Schmidt, years ago I watched the biopic of Karen’s life on a made-for-TV movie and sat enthralled by how her seemingly fairytale life tragically ended. Schmidt was so taken by Karen that, even though he was just a young boy when she died in 1983, he set about learning all he could of her life and now has a book of his research. It’s a wonderful read that I highly recommend.

My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-UpNow I’m reading a much different memoir by Russell Brand: My Booky Wook. Brand is a popular British comic-turned-actor. (You might have seen him in Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Get Him to the Greek.) My son and I are fans so he bought the book for me. If the photo captions are any indication of the story’s tone, I’m expecting it to be loads of fun.

Next in my stack to be read is Mary Karr’s Lit. Karr has led such an interesting life that Lit is her third memoir. Wow! Also in my stack are some sports-related memoirs that I’m reading as research: The Blind Side by Michael Lewis, Standing Tall by C. Vivian Stringer (head coach of the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights) and coach Tony Dungy’s Uncommon.

Even though I don’t think anyone else will ever be interested in my life story, the other day I was reminded by my daughter that she cares. She climbed up on my lap and asked me about my mother. And then my mother’s parents. She wanted to know how her Great Great Grandma and Grandpa Hamming made it across the ocean on a boat from Holland. So, I pulled out the photo album I have of my mother’s family. There were the family members she never got to meet, smiling back at her through black and white images. (We realized that her face is strikingly similar in shape to my Great Aunt Anna’s.)

We put away the album then pulled out the journal I keep near me in my office, a recording of the funny things my kids say and do—touching memories I’d surely have forgotten had I not written them down. Carefully tucked away in my bedroom bureau are more journals. One from high school that is a sad testament to my immaturity. A second that contains my poetry. Another a collection of creative writing from my high school class. Those she can read years from now.

I need to find another blank journal and begin writing for her and her brothers—telling the story of my life in case one of them cares to know more about me. Because maybe it matters to them. In fact, the other day while I was with my daughter at her horse-riding lesson, I told her and her trainer about the time I was riding a horse and someone didn’t properly tighten the girth on the saddle. When I tried to keep the horse from stopping to eat every five minutes by pulling back on the reigns, the saddle slipped over the horse’s head, tossing me to the ground and knocking the wind out of me. My daughter started laughing and looked down at me from her mount. “Mom!” she said. “I never knew that happened to you!”

Did I ever tell her about the time I ran into a tree on my motorcycle? Or snagged my grandpa’s nose with a fishhook when we were fishing together in his rowboat? Or the times we slid down Barbara Ridley’s laundry chute and the neighbor’s haymow…or…


  1. I love memoir! And it's not an exciting life that makes a great memoir, but how the story is told.

  2. I do too, Jill. And you're absolutely right. I've read some memoirs that are incredibly engaging that are very much slice o' life and others that were hugely successful, just didn't resonate with me. But, having finished Russell Brand's Booky Wook only yesterday, I'll say this: It's not for the squeamish but he's an excellent writer and has quite a story to tell.


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