Memoir or Memories?


Memoir appears to be the literary genre of our time – Angela’s Ashes, Liar’s Club, and Wild – it’s the happening form. It seems that everyone, including me, finds the form interesting. We use memoir to help us recall and explain our lives to others and, more aptly, to ourselves. We read memoirs voyeuristically to peek into the lives of interesting people seeking insight and the occasional salacious detail.

Creative writing programs are awash with memoir writing classes. They are the cash cows of “creative non-fiction” programs. Memoir writers think their stories are so interesting that others will want to read them. Writers with one short memoir under their belts become experts in the genre and make a living teaching others “the craft.” I’m not disparaging the form or the teachers though I’ve encountered bad examples of both. I’ve learned a lot about myself by looking back – not always flattering – and from writing workshops. I think the process can be therapeutic and even artful if the craft is polished and the content takes us from the specific to the general. When that happens the reader finds resonance with the narrative.

Not every story is compelling and, as writers, we are always in search of good material, for sources, subjects, and memories that feed the narrative. I often find myself struggling and in conflict because while I want to write more I also want to live more. I’m restless if I’m not seeing and experiencing the world in new and different ways. I suppose that’s the reason I’m drawn to travel writing. New travel certainly feeds the beast. I love to write and to talk about where I’ve been, whom I’ve met, and what I learned from the experience. I’m not able to plant myself in one place and write about what happened years ago, even if it’s something that changed the whole trajectory of my life. I’m not a fixed earth person, so I’m left with the memoir vs. memories quandary. I’m still in the collecting memories mode so the memoir is gestating. Here we are on the way to Key West this week with friends, Tom and Linda Reid, collecting a few nice memories.

Convertible in the Keys

Sometimes a new experience, like this one, triggers memories of earlier times. Last week at Dinner Key, the original Pan Am seaplane base and now the Miami City Hall, I literally walked on this piece of history and was awash in memories of the Pan Am years and the company’s illustrious history. I’m not as old as the seal (close) but my life is entwined with Pan Am’s. In addition to my tenure as a pilot, my former wife’s great uncle was a co-founder of the company and her great aunt, Mary Alice, probably stepped on this seal on her way to board one of the Clipper inaugural flights. Finding meaning in memories is the basis of memoir, but you need the experiences to build on.

Pan Am Seal

I’m still crankin’ away but the clock is ticking, and I need to get these things down on paper (or whatever) soon. For now it’s Seven Mile Bridge and four days in Key West. Jimmy Buffett’s on the radio and salt spray is in the air. Couldn’t be better.

Seven Mile Bridge


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