Autobiography, Series: Do-it-yourself

Do-it-yourself Family History, Part 5: Thinking about yourself

Prior to writing this article, I did a quick search on Google to see what other people thought about writing an autobiography. I was quickly disappointed to find that many believe autobiographies are simply self-serving or written in an attempt to make money. I’m sure there are those that use this writing method for those reasons. However, I think these folks are in the minority. In my opinion, an autobiography is simply a tool for capturing your history: who you are, what you did, and what life was like when you lived it. Consider this: no one else on Earth experienced life the way you did. Your perspectives are as unique as a snowflake. Personally, I like to think of autobiographies as time capsules. Someday I’d like someone to read about my life and say, “Ah, so that’s what it was like to drive a car without wings.”

How we approach our life’s story is a varied as those snowflakes. There is no right or wrong way. Some consider starting an autobiography at the very beginning – at birth – while others prefer starting in the middle. Both can be very useful because writing any snippet of your life can spawn other memories. Before you know it, you’ll realize your life is more complicated – and interesting – that you ever thought.

Take me, for instance. I’m nobody. I’m not known for inventing anything, walking the Red Carpet in Hollywood, or getting my name in the paper. I’ve never written anything that made money or produced any artwork that sold for $2.5 million dollars. I can’t sing, can’t dance, and can’t play a musical instrument (although I’ve tried many times). I’m a mediocre as they come.

But…

I’ve spent 30-years in the United States Coast Guard. I’ve had the opportunity to walk the trilithons at Stonehenge and Avebury, England. I’ve hunted for ghosts at the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia and aboard the USS Hornet in Alameda, California. I’ve run three marathons yet hate walking our dog. I’ve driven across the United States three times and even visited the UFO museum in Roswell, New Mexico. As a child I rode my bike without a helmet and survived. Each of these is a story worth telling.

So how would I begin? I’d take the easy road: an essay.

“Seriously, an essay? I hate essays! They made me do them in school.”

Most of us do. However, essays are the easiest things to write because they are written in the first person. You use “I” and “you” and “he” and “she”. It’s a story told by you to someone. “I once visited a haunted asylum and this is what happened” or “When I was a child, I jumped my first ramp on my bicycle without a helmet but scratched my chest on the handlebars when I flipped over the top.” Essays are easy because they come from you.

Focusing on a specific event or time can make a story easier to manage, too. Most of us have very strong memories of something so that’s where I’d start. As you write the words down, explain what it was and why it was important to you. It doesn’t matter if others thought it was important – only that you did. For me, music was a big influence.

My friends and I circa 1982 as Kiss. I'm painted as Ace Frehley.

My friends and I circa 1982 as Kiss. I’m painted as Ace Frehley.

I still remember the first rock concert I went to in 1982. A few friends and me went to see Rush at the old Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York. In those days they allowed smoking. Our seats, in the nosebleed section, were smack-dab in the middle of the cigarette, marijuana, and god-knows-what-else cloud that hovered near the roof. I still feel the pounding music and hear the guy behind me vomiting. What could have been a miserable experience turned out to be one of the best. I still love Rush and saw many concerts since. Oh yeah, and the tickets were only $8.50 a seat.

This short event spawns others. It was at the Auditorium that I attended my senior prom. That event, however, wasn’t nearly as great as Rush. I was never a social butterfly and, like I said, couldn’t dance. Nevertheless, I have memories of that place. It was important to me. It was a sad day in 2009 when it was torn down.

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” You can build your autobiography the same way: one event at a time. Does it have to be chronological? Not necessarily. Most start at the beginning and advance through time but you can do whatever feels right for you. The important thing is that you write it down.

You have value. You may not think so now, but someday someone will want to know more about you. The autobiography is a great way to do this.

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