Sense of Place

Sunrise on the first day of summer 2021.

I just finished reading Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir and it inspired me to write this introduction to my autobiography. I don’t know if I’ll use it, but I think it works toward identifying my voice in the narrative, as she suggests we should. There will be revisions in the coming months and years as I continue to work on the book. Feedback welcome in the comments.

This memoir was written in the unfinished lower level of the split foyer home we built in 1993. We thought we would have finished our home by now. In a not-specific year I framed a couple of rooms with two by fours and installed drywall and book shelves in what would eventually be my writing place. The county assessor got wind of the improvement and sent someone out to inspect. They decided to wait until I finished before increasing the assessed value. Piles of building materials bought at the time remain stacked around the space. The current lumber shortage has me thinking about selling the two by fours.

I can’t say when finishing the house will be on the agenda. However, finishing this book is front and center.

We have a wireless router that connects everything. Who in my cohort doesn’t? What’s significant about the library table surrounded by book shelves is not the Dell desktop resting on it. This refuge is a chance to get away from the internet and be the person I am with my successes and failures. My non-internet traffic is more valuable than what I write online.

Our arrival in Big Grove Township coincides with broad adoption of internet service providers. Before mobile telephones, I used a pager and stopped at a phone booth to answer a page. It felt a bit risky, especially when I stopped near the Robert Taylor Homes on the South Side of Chicago at a well-lit bank of payphones. It’s what we had and truck drivers who paged me couldn’t wait.

I used a typewriter until we lived in Indiana, when we got a word processor with a dot matrix printer. In Iowa, we got our first home computer in 1996. The accelerated pace of improved personal communications since then was unlike anything we knew. This impacted this memoir.

In the chronological first part of my life I’m dealing with experiences, memories and outside sources to create a narrative. My memory is faulty. The majority of my experience is embedded in me or in boxes of photographs and papers. Growing up during the time of Polaroid and Eastman Kodak, the photographic record is significant. Likewise, the boxes of documents going back to kindergarten have a lot of information in them. Old documents, like my parents’ wedding announcement, may exist online but most of my remembrance of those days is a physical presence not far from me. The act of selection for inclusion in this book had a significant influence on the narrative.

My memory and experiences are subject to interpretation and people’s remembrances of them differ. Like any memoir author, I had to address that before presenting the finished work. This book is an effort to tell the truth and say what I know about my life as best I can.

The story relies less on memory after graduation from university when I started a hand-written journal. The continuous written record since then was enhanced by the adoption of email, social media, and personal blogs. Digital photography was an important aspect of the record beginning in 2007. There is plenty to draw upon and it can be quoted as-is, avoiding the interpretation of others.

My view of the world is flawed. What I see isn’t always what others see, and that’s what could be a reason to read further. Perhaps the most clarifying part was writing the story of my Polish ancestors in Minnesota. Drawing on memory, artifacts, my personal journal, and interviews with local informants, it became clearer than ever the kind of people from whom I rose. It revealed a type of life that could provide meaning in an rapidly changing social environment.

This is my story. I hope you find value in it.

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