What sparked me to write a memoir of my youth? It wasn’t particularly troubled. I didn’t end up in juvie hall, get sent to “reform school” (although my parents did threaten), and I certainly didn’t get my arms broken in vicious beatings. No, what sparked me to dive into this popular medium was the most trivial of reasons. I got one of these.
For years, in order to write something, I would sit in front of the computer screen as a specific time and place, get my thoughts together, and write. Then I met fellow writer Keith Connes in a local writing group. In his book Stop Typing!, he maintained that if you had a data recorder and a copy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, you could literally write your book anywhere by whipping the recorder out, and then transcribing it later.
That’s not quite how it happens – I usually dictate only notes and short sentences on the data recorder – but it’s close enough in the convenience aspect. All I needed was a topic on which to try it out, and soon I got one: My review of Keith’s book. It was surprisingly easy to do. Then I published a blog posting about a dancin’ fool, which was heavy on nostalgia and reminiscence. People seem to like it, and I decided to continue.
Why did I focus on middle school? I wanted to make humor a big element, and what can be more of a hoot than making fun of your adolescent self, the period of time in which you made mistakes daily, had wild misconceptions about what worked and what didn’t, and learned fast how to get out of trouble. I talked to some friends from the early ’60s and they offered a few ideas. I also decided to write about some of the cultural artifacts of that time, like the music, the fallout shelters, the politics and paranoia, the cockeyed morality of sex education books, and of course the Catholic faith that I inherited like my “double joints” and shorter right leg.
I started remembering many incidents and characters, and discovered a diary I’d written when I was 13. In the course of the ten months I kept it, it changed from being a boring-to-others compendium of everything I did each day, to reflecting on events in the Catholic high school my parents had placed me in. I also had a father who took pictures with a 35mm camera throughout my childhood. Some of the photographs are from that era, like the opening one above. Others I’ve used as illustrations tend to be strange items I picked up on the Internet, like the aspergillum.
When I tell people what I am writing about, they give me their own stories, and enjoy comparing them to mine. This makes me realize that evaluating one’s adolescent years (specifically, middle school between 12 and 14) is not only pleasurable but can tell us much about ourselves; for example, screwing up in a certain way may have been a revolt against something boring or wrong that was foisted upon us. My diary says that I was “BORED!” by the religious retreat we went on early my freshman year. I hadn’t become a skeptic yet, but this could mean the rumblings were starting. Other things I learned had nothing to do with school, like how to talk to a girl for more than a minute straight.
I’ll be publishing chapters as I write them. Enjoy!