Friday, February 8, 2013

Preface To A Memoir

I get tired very quickly of “I.” Even on this, my blog. I try to keep the incidence of the first personal pronoun to a minimum. So the whole question of memoir writing is problematic for me. I’m just not wild about the “I, I, I” thing, even if the “I” is someone else, and I positively disapprove of the “I! I! I!” thing. I wonder though, if “I? I? I?” could be more interesting.

A big part of my chosen profession was counseling, giving people legal advice. The advice that I gave other people was always much better than the advice that I sometimes gave myself. I advised myself to go to law school, for instance, and that turned out to be terrible advice. I’ve never had clear ideas about things like: what should I do? Where is my best interest? Who am I? I can see other people’s problems quite clearly. My own? Not so much.

That being the case, if my advice to myself is not to write a memoir, perhaps it would be a good idea to do so. How would I know?

Writing Focuses The Mind

There’s another way to look at memoir writing. In my current incarnation I am a university lecturer and I freely offer advice to my students. Not about career choices, I don’t have much of a license to talk about that. I’m very comfortable, however, talking about good study habits and how to prepare for important tests. About the former, I have a wealth of experience as both a very bad and a very good student, I’ve seen that one from both sides and I know what is required. About the later, as an adult I formulated, practiced and benefited from techniques that made me a great test-taker.

The key to both things is the same: study with your pen.

In my opinion, it is impossible to master complex material simply by listening to lectures, reading the material, reviewing it, and considering it all. You can read and understand it, even highlight the good bits, and it may seem to you that you have learned it, but you have not. When you review the material it will look familiar to you because you have read it all before. This reinforces the illusion that you know the material. On-the-fly note taking in lectures doesn’t add much advantage.

If you try to write about the material, in your own words, under time pressure, especially if you try to relate the material to a given set of facts, you will find that you don’t know the material as well as you thought you did. This is what happens on a test. Why should the test be the first time that you tried to write anything on the subject?

The Secret

The secret is to write your own summaries of the material, in your own words, over the course of the study. Include all of the key words and concepts in sentences and lists of your own design. Then combine them into an outline of the material written wholly by yourself. Composing the sentences and writing them down with a pen gets your whole brain involved in ordering the material. When you first attempt this process, I guarantee you will discover that you don’t really know the material, not really. Further study may be required, or at least further contemplation.

Understanding Ourselves

That’s where the memoir angle comes in. It could be that when one merely contemplates one’s life, one gets it wrong. Maybe thinking about our lives only brings us to that illusion of understanding. (The lies that we tell ourselves complicate this process further, but that’s a different subject.)

The writing of a memoir could be a critical step in understanding one’s own experiences in life. With that in mind, I’m reconsidering the idea of writing a memoir.

Please control your anticipation though. No memoir will be written before considerably more dust has settled on this old earth. Count on that. Protecting the guilty, you know.

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