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May 31, 2007

I've been reading memoirs lately and I've started to wonder what makes someone know that it's a good idea to write their memoirs. How do we realistically know that our life was interesting enough or important enough for use to leave it as a legacy for others? Some of the most fascinating memoirs that I have ever read have been written by people who's lives were seemingly normal. The simplicity, beauty, honesty, or spirit of their writing can somehow render the most mundane life activities as extraordinary experiences. Suddenly the mere act of arriving in an unfamiliar airport, attending a tiny elementary school, or marrying the wrong person become intimate memories shared between author and reader.

I think it's somewhat normal for all of us to wonder what our lives would seem like to others. Our lives and the experiences we share are of the utmost importance because they are our own. Yet we live in a time where the live of others, those with money, celebrity, and other notoriety, are open to all. The media is constantly bombarding us with images, facts and falsehoods, and imaginings about these others and it is almost impossible to keep from comparing our lives to those we see flashing before us. Our middle class is disappearing as people charge card themselves into poverty in their attempts to obtain the lifestyles they see before them. Keeping up with the Johnson's is an illusion now because everyone on the block is paying with imaginary money that can eventually ruin their lives.

And so how do we know that our life is worth leaving for others to read? Is it the shocking facts of our childhoods, our amazing achievements in higher education, or the activist in us that makes us interesting? Or perhaps it is merely the ability to turn the shocking into something quiet and beautiful and the mundane into something truly remarkable that makes something worth writing.

For a book that is not a memoir but that creates descriptions of aching beauty in some of the sparest and most difficult of situations I highly recommend James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The photography is by Walker Evans. It is a social and emotional commentary on the lives of sharecroppers during the Great Depression. It is many other things though too. It is not always an easy book to read but an important one.

Currently Reading:

True North by Jill Kerr Conway, a memoir about coming from Australia to the U.S. to study at Harvard. Reads like a celebration of learning, friendship, and academic experience. Excellent so far.

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon, the fourth in the Outlander Series. I never though I would like ANYTHING that was technically romance but after making it rather stumblingly through Outlander I found I appreciated the depth of her character development and the history of both Scotland and Colonial America.

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Posted: Thursday May 31, 2007, 7:44 am
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Heather Stritzke
female, age 35, married, 1 child
Newberg, OR, USA
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