I have assigned myself the obligatory essay: “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.’’
So far, June and July have consisted of morning walks around the neighborhood and watching the Braves on television every night. Our vacation to Amelia Island was wonderful. (My bout with vertigo the following week, not so fun.) I have played with our grandchildren, attended a journalism conference and sadly find myself still searching for a decent tomato to place between two pieces of white bread.
Oh, and I began writing my memoirs.
When I was young man, recording my life story wasn’t on my radar screen. After all, I had no full body of work to present. I needed more meat on my bones, more experiences under my belt buckle. Plus, I figured I had the rest of my life to compose it, like a student given six weeks to write a term paper, which seems like forever when you’re 15.
Even as I grew older and more sentimental, I was less concerned about telling my story than getting my parents to write their own. This was especially important to me after my grandparents died, and none of those family tales passed around the supper table had been dutifully written down. It left me with a deep sense of emptiness and regret.
I once interviewed a lady in her 90s who had written her autobiography. I asked what inspired her at her age.
“Because,’’ she said, “nobody should die with music inside them.’’
On my #summerofgris2019 bucket list, I still have places to go, people to see, books to read, trips to take and things to fix. Several tasks have been started. Some are finished. Others have been dumped in the trash pile of good intentions/not-so-remarkable results.
I am a compulsive list-maker. At the top of my summer pledge sheet was a promise to start writing my life story. I made it a priority. As Hunter Thompson once said: “Buy the ticket, take the ride.’’
I gave myself an arbitrary deadline, with the noble goal of completing it by Christmas – a gift for family and friends.
Yes, it is intimidating to begin the process of recalling all the dogs I have loved, cars I have owned and places I have lived. Where do I start and stop? What do I keep and delete? Has the statute of limitations expired on all those wild oats from college? Please, remind me this is not a confessional.
In a sense, I have had an advantage. I have been writing my memoirs all along. A lifetime of words has been captured in letters, emails and journals. I have spiral notebook diaries of church youth camps. I have yearbooks filled with reminders of friends who sat next to me in geometry class and awkward high school crushes.
I have written columns in The Telegraph for more than 20 years, so my life has been somewhat of an open book. Some of it already has been archived. There is a repository of personal experiences I have shared with readers. My children have grown up on these pages.
I also have had plenty of experience telling the stories of others. I wrote and published the biographies of Billy Henderson and Durwood Fincher. I have been teaching autobiography classes at local colleges, churches and retirement communities since 2003. I have assisted folks whose families have wanted their loved one’s stories told but grappled to find the words.
This summer, it has been my turn. I have cast my net into the past. One story has begat another and another. For Father’s Day, my sons wrote down their memories of the times we’ve shared. I have not worried about perfection. I have made an outline and kept it manageable by doing a little at a time. The title of the book will be “Gris I Know.’’
Each trip down memory lane has brought back more stories than my arms could carry. I have kept a Bic pen and a mini-composition book close at hand, transferring my notes to a larger composition book before typing them into Scrivener. I am now 9,916 words closer to a book than I was on the first day of summer.
There are no chapters but rather brief vignettes — 400 words or less — and they will fall into no particular order in the book. A random story about what my mother packed in my lunch box in the fifth grade (always a Hostess Twinkie) might end up on the same page with something that happened last week.
Am I close to being finished? Of course not. But, even now in the dog days of summer, I have not lost momentum. A wise man once said the journey is the reward.
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.