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A Sense of Self

Big Grove on Google Maps

My history begins with today’s vantage: looking backward in time from an unfinished writing space in our Big Grove Township home. Such perspective helps our story makes more sense than it did while living it.

I understand all of my writing — countless emails, letters, social media posts, and blog posts — is derived from experience residing in memory. Sometimes it is unique, sometimes not.

I look, as if in a deer stand along a familiar pathway, hoping to encounter a subject, without its being aware. Armed with my senses, and hope I will find uniqueness in quotidian moments, I endeavor to capture such fleeting essence.

In that light I write this autobiography.

It is unthinkable that we are here only to consume, grow and die. There is a greater purpose, and in writing, I hope to reveal it to those close to me, to any reader who finds these words, and importantly, to myself. I find purpose in every piece I write, just as in more practical work like planting a seed, driving a lift truck, making the bed, or speaking in public.

There is a necessary organizational component to writing a longer piece. We shouldn’t be consumed with organization. Like an underground coal miner we need a framework of timbers, buckets, picks and shovels, water pumps, labor, and air circulation to do the work. We also need freedom to follow the seam where it leads.

Sometimes a remembrance stands alone as a solitary and specific instance of creation. Yet most memories are part of a social context. Understanding social context can make the narrative ours with broader applicability.

My autobiography is not as much about me, as it is about the people places and processes of which I have been a part. My task is not to chronicle events and ideas that were my experience. It is to tell a story of a life beginning in the present. It will include characters, locations, processes and events. Writing is a way to learn how to do that. Autobiography seeks ways we are unique grounded in shared experiences. If it is that, a finished work is more likely to have relevancy.

Writing autobiography is an American thing. I studied at university under Albert E. Stone who edited J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer. We Americans, especially in this century, often seem completely self-absorbed. There is a native impulse to write or tell a single, brief narrative of our life when more accurately it is a combination of essential, defining moments and multiple, broader narratives. At the root of autobiography, we must answer the question Crèvecoeur did, “What then, is the American, this new man?”

I will follow an outline. It is important to note the perspective of the present necessitates blending memory and experience into a life story. Likewise, the process of writing is an interrogatory, the answers to which must come through structured thought and research. I seek to gain understanding of which I am not now possessed.

I have a pile of subject cards on my writing table. I envision a story board, with segments centered around organizing principles, such as the locale, ideas, processes, and characters that have helped define me. Just as artists create self-portraits, this autobiography would also be one in a series of them.

There is something about the idea of artistic creation. While process is important, imagination is too. As I endeavor to capture fleeting moments of insight about our lives in society I eschew automatic writing and everything that means. From my perch near the lake I hope to take flight from time to time and bring back essential materials to make an engaging story. Whatever I write will be my story, crafted by two working hands and centered on a vision of understanding I discovered early on.

Fingers crossed the narratives have broader appeal.

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