My mother may have been the first American practitioner of feng shui. Before this ancient Chinese philosophy of bringing harmony to the home by moving furniture and other objects to create a balance – sort of an external chi thing – became popular among the trendy, New Age, upper-class, my mother was moving things around our home to restore balance and harmony. During the 1950’s when I was still in grade school, my father had the habit of coming home drunk from the Elk’s Club after a hard night of playing Gin Rummy with his old drinking buddies. If this happened once or twice a month, my mother, being a docile sort, might have let is slide. But, after cooking several meals that got cold on the stove in one week, she refused to go gentle into that good night. It became her habit to wait until around 11PM for my father’s return. That time was his line in the sand. Once it was past, I could hear the surreptitious scraping of chair legs across the living room floor as she rearranged the furniture and created a different obstacle course each night. When Dad stumbled in at whatever time he stumbled in, I always awoke to a distinct pattern of sounds – thump “shit” crack “damn” crunchjinglebangrattle “holy sweet jesus joseph and mary mother of god” and after several nights of bruised shins and stubbed toes and cracked knuckles, my father was home every evening for supper till I graduated high school. Our home had its balance back.
This is a story created about an event that really happened in my childhood and one that will appear in a new book I working on right now. After years of writing both poetry and nonfiction, I’ve come to believe that the term, “storyteller,” best fits what I do. Sometimes I tell stories about things that really happened in my life, sometimes I write narrative poems about things that really happened but with a healthy dose of invention added to the tale, and sometimes I make things up using my imagination. The point is that no matter what approach I take to the material at hand, I’m always relying on the tools of the storyteller to construct an interesting narrative, rearranging the furniture so to speak. If I do it well, the story will also take me to a place in which I know something I didn’t before the telling began. This is how you begin to know you are becoming a writer, when you quit using your writing skills simply to express and begin using those skills to discover.
One of the most fascinating aspects of memoir writing, which is a very popular and useful form of story-telling, nests in the idea that everyone has a story to tell. I’ve heard complaints from pretentious literary critics that most of our stories aren’t worth recording and I find that statement almost as useless as the critics who believe it. The very fact that you don’t have to be famous or important to the world is an advantage because it allows you to start with a universal bond between yourself and an audience. Your record of life will be similar to a lot of other people. It becomes interesting to a reader for that reason and it remains interesting because of the way you tell it and what you discover in the process. This is why I've already written three and am working on a fourth.
Not only that, but reading memoirs is as good a way to expand your knowledge of the world and your understanding of what it means to be human as writing them. With that said, I hope you will consider two things. First, consider writing down some stories of your own. Secondly, buy my new book soon to be released from Blue Heron Book Works called Off Track, Or How I Dropped Out of College and Came To Be a Horse Trainer in the 1970's While All My Friends Were Still Doing Drugs. It's a story and it really happened. So, it's also a memoir and I believe you will really like it. Meanwhile, I'll keep working on that new one so you can figure out how my mother and father managed to stay married for fifty-four years.
Jim McGarrah’s poems and essays appear frequently in literary journals. He has published both poetry and nonfiction in North American Review and been a finalist twice in the James Hearst Poetry Contest. McGarrah is the author of three books of poetry, Running the Voodoo Down (Elixir Press, 2003), When the Stars Go Dark (Main Street Rag Select Poetry Series, 2009) and a new collection of poems, Breakfast at Denny’s (Ink Brush Press, 2013). His memoir of war entitled A Temporary Sort of Peace (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2007) won the national Eric Hoffer Legacy Non-Fiction Award, and the sequel, The End of an Era, was published in 2011. His newest nonfiction book - Off Track, or How I Left College to Become a Horse Trainer in the 1970’s While All My Friends Were Still Doing Drugs - is under contract and due to be published in October, 2015. (Click Here)
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