I remember when I was around twenty years old, and I decided to write my autobiography. Yeah, it makes me laugh now, too. What in the world was I going to say about myself at such a young age when I had no idea what I even wanted to do with my life?
I don’t know, but I was undaunted. I didn’t know how to start writing my story, so I decided to write a series of poems about my upbringing in order to bring out different themes or ideas which would help me write. Actually, this was a pretty good idea. I was, after all, going through my poetry stage, writing all kinds of poems from rhyming couplets to visually arranged poems similar to E.E. Cummings. I wrote Shakespearean sonnets and Walt Whitman inspired lyrical phrases about mundane items like a log or an ant. I even wrote an epic poem based on the style of Alexander Pope. (More on that later.)
Anyways, I started writing poems about my young life. I still have them, and they are quite sweet, actually. One is a reminder of how my dad used to come into my bedroom on Sunday morning to wake me up for church. I never greeted such reminders with much enthusiasm, but one Sunday I had a brilliant idea. I woke up early, stuffed blankets in the shape of a person under my covers, and then hid behind a door in my room waiting for him to arrive. He came, calling my name and shaking the bed. The look on his face was priceless. I jumped out from behind the door and scared him. I wrote this all in a lovely poem which I still have. I wrote several other autobiographical poems and then finally abandoned my autobiography in despair because I felt I could never write it. In my estimation, my life had been utterly too boring. I had nothing at all to say about myself.
Truth was indeed much more boring than fiction.
But what I didn’t understand at that point was that stories are meant to be manipulated, embellished, re-written, and apocryphal. There are, of course, those historical biographers who aim to “get it right” about a person, but I was looking at myself too literal. Yes, I was a literal person who had literal experiences, but why would I want to shackle the writer of my biography with facts and mundane activities when I could use what I know to create something much more interesting?
A writer’s mind cannot be bound to fact. It has to be allowed to explore and discover unique means of being able to present the universal truths of humankind.
I’ve long since moved on from the desire to write an autobiography, but I have learned to feel free to use snippets of my experiences, adding them to completely fictional elements in order to create something wholly new, original, and engaging.
Perhaps those poems will continue to inspire me in the future. I am glad I wrote them.