In Pat’s Own Words
I have to believe that my motivation to write has a great deal to do with my sense of mortality. When I was 30, 40, even 50, it seemed that there would be lots of time left after the working years to think about my life. At sixty, I started to negotiate with Mother Nature about how much time I had left. If I lived to my mother’s age of 92 (of course she did not drink as much as me, but I exercise more), I still had more than thirty years left. I felt no pressure to come to terms with anything, plus I was still working. But by seventy, the notion that life does not go on forever hit with a new urgency. My timeline shrank to twenty, perhaps fewer, years left, and if I was going to share any thoughts on life and family, I had better get cracking. What if my mind were to disintegrate swiftly or I got run over by the proverbial bus? Today I keep meeting people who still, even with Ancestry.com everywhere, do not know much about their most immediate predecessors. And I, as well, wish I had asked my parents more about their families. So much is lost and left to the imagination.
One thing I feel good about is that I did finally make a start a few years ago at the youthful age of seventy. But where to begin? Many people write in chronological order—where and how I was born and raised, went to school, married and had children, etc. I decided to start with something easy, so I wrote about the role of dance in my life (which has been considerable and continues to this day). Then, with the help of a cousin who has written a number of books on genealogy, I compiled a brief summary of my mother’s family. I was aided in this by a scrapbook left in my mother’s belongings after she died. It was put together by her mother, my grandmother, and it was full of memories as well as some of my grandmother’s poetry and newspaper articles reporting her community activities. This treasure has affected me deeply. These vignettes I composed were just a beginning and since then, I have written about other experiences including growing up on Long Island, New York and living in a commune.
Now that I have completed several subject pieces, I am returning to the concept of chronology. It goes like this: If I write a book-length memoir, wouldn’t it be more interesting if, instead of laying everything out individually (which would involve a certain amount of repetition), I reconfigured it somewhat chronologically? Would a chronological accounting add some mystery as to what actually happens over time (or in the end!), so the reader wants to keep at it?
This then also suggests the question: Who should my audience be? When I write, I do not think it is specifically for my son or my sister or even my grandchildren. Rather, I imagine what I record is for others who will come along later. Will my way of life seem foreign to them? Can my memories add some historical perspective to whatever their world turns out to be? How do I know what they will and will not find interesting or amazing or downright Neanderthal?