Elements of Memoir

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? And what is memoir anyway? In this blog I explore the concept of memoir as well as offer some possible ideas you might consider in writing your own memoir story. I'd also like to hear some of your ideas about memoir in the comment section. Let's talk about memoir.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mom, I Miss You

      It has been one year since you left us, Mom.   In some moments I forget that you're not there for me to call.  I think of something I need to ask you or want to tell you and reach for the phone, but then suddenly realize that you won't be there to answer.

      Life sometimes seems long while we're living it, but looking back it all went by too quickly.  Our family had some great times and so often it was you coordinating it all.  We never lacked for anything.  Food was always on the table at mealtimes.  Our house was a home where all my friends were made to feel welcome.  You were like a second mother to many of my friends as well as the friends of all of your children.

      Now the living room of your old house is still and silent.  There is rarely activity in your kitchen.  The furniture was all taken out last weekend with few traces of a home that once was bustling with people coming and going.   You reigned like a queen and indeed you were the queen of that house.  

       That house will soon be sold and only be another part of my memory and the memories of your children.   Happy times and sad times in the shadowed corridors of our personal histories.   We will remember and pass the memories to our children who also remember from their own experiences.

        Mother, you shaped lives and created a home that may no longer exist in a physical tangible place where we can be,  but will continue to exist nevertheless as a place of comfort, warmth, and safety in our memories.

         I love you, Mom, and I miss you.

                    In Memory of Lois K Jackson

                                    April 11, 1929 -- November 21, 2014

Saturday, November 14, 2015

El Cumbanchero (from the Soundtrack of My Life)

      Have you ever imagined living your life with a soundtrack playing through key scenes?   Do certain songs evoke special moments or eras in your past?  This is what I've been doing with my "Soundtrack of My Life" series of posts:  Looking back and putting my life to music.

       Robin has been doing the Soundtrack of my Life posts on her blog Your Daily Dose.      I had done a few of my own "life soundtracks" on my Tossing It Out blog as well as the song series (starting at this post) I did for my 2014 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge on Wrote By Rote.    Be sure to visit and follow Your Daily Dose  for more Life Soundtrack info.

A set of juggling clubs.
A set of juggling clubs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

"El Cumbanchero"

        For effect you can listen to the music as you read the story below.

"El Cumbanchero"

           My earliest memories of music are the ones that involve the musical backing for my parents juggling act.  When they performed they had live music.  This was the performance norm in the 1950's.   Any nightclub that provided entertainment had a house band.   Stage show productions assembled union musicians to play the dates.

          A professional act had to provide orchestral scores to the musicians if they wanted music back up.  My father bought sheet music copies for a number of different instruments and eventually even went to the expense of hiring a professional to orchestrate some of the songs they used for their acts.  All of the music was neatly organized into folders for each section of the orchestra.   He was ready for a small combo or a big band--whatever the producers had provided for the acts.

          Early on for my parents passing act they used songs like "Fine and Dandy" and "Happy Days Are Here Again".   But my father wanted to create a perception of greater speed for an act where fast juggling was becoming what they were most noted for.  They had developed an exciting act and wanted the music to match.

         Though Latin music had been popular for decades, the fifties saw a surge in popularity of the Latin rhythms of the cha-cha, rumba, mambo and many other snappy percussive styles.   The bands of Perez Prado, Xavier Cugat, and Desi Arnaz were well known to American audiences.  This music did not slip past my father's ears as music ideal for fast juggling.

           "El Cumbanchero" was a gold standard song of circus acts and entertainers looking for fast rhythms to back up what they were performing.  The song was quite popular during the 1950's appearing on many albums and released as a single by many artists.  I'm not sure when my parents first started using "El Cumbanchero", but I believe it may have been around 1957.  The song became a staple performance song for the Juggling Jacksons duo act and then later for our four people act.  Due to the fast paced excitement of the song it was used as the grand finale number for the fastest part of the act.

         Sometimes the strains of "El Cumbanchero" echo in my mind as I recall the clap clap rhythm of juggling clubs flying among my family members slapping firmly into our hands.  The driving rhythms made us want to pass the clubs faster and harder.  If it was exciting for us I can only imagine the excitement the viewing audience must have felt.  The applause during the performances and the accolades heard afterwards indicated that the audience enjoyed what they saw when we performed.

           There are several songs that we, the Juggling Jacksons, used in our act, but "El Cumbanchero" is one that stands out most for me.  Not only did I hear the song repeatedly as a child watching my parents perform, but it became my soundtrack feature song when I became part of the juggling act.  Even now I'm juggling in my mind as I listen to the frantic strains of "El Cumbanchero".  

           Have you heard the song "El Cumbanchero" before?    Is there any particular memory or situation that you associate with Latin rhythmic music?    Is there a certain song that you would associate with a work situation in your own life?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bali Hai --The Soundtrack of My Life

      Robin has been doing the Soundtrack of my Life posts on her blog Your Daily Dose. I had done a few of my own "life soundtracks" on my Tossing It Out blog as well as the song series (starting at this post) I did for my 2014 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge on Wrote By Rote. Be sure to visit and follow Your Daily Dose for more Life Soundtrack info. 
"Bali Hai"

       After the film version of the musical South Pacific was released in early 1958, my parents took my sister and I to see it in the theater.  They also bought the vinyl LP version of the soundtrack. It was an album that I listened to frequently when I was a child.  I was most drawn to the haunting sound of the song "Bali Hai".   This mysterious sounding song made me think of places that I'd like to go one day as well as places I'd been that stood out in my memory.  The lure of that certain special place is something that is likely common with all of us.

        Here is a version of the song as played by a "10l Strings" style orchestra.  I'm not quite sure if this is the original 101 Strings Orchestra that released so many albums over the years, but if not, this version is certainly close to it.  My mother used to have several albums by the 101 Strings Orchestra and other similar groups.   This recording I present here might be the same one that I used to listen to or at least close to it.

The Bali Hai Lure of Adventure and Experience

          My spirit for adventure was inspired by my father.  He was always ready for a road trip or to go visit someone.  We used to go to movies, circuses, unique attractions--wherever my father's sense of curiosity drew him.   If he wanted to meet someone he would make every effort to make contact and usually it worked.  Often when visiting circuses or other similar entertainment venues he'd get us free access by explaining that we too were entertainers.   Good for his pocketbook and great for our being able to experience more.

         The lure of the unknown, the exotic, and the interesting has always been within me.  Even my own backyard was a place of adventure ready for me to explore or invent new forays into my imagination.   Moving to San Diego in 1959 delivered me to a young boy's dream.  I was 8 years old went we first arrived.  The vast tract neighborhoods were new and still under development.  The canyons near our house were still wild, a veritable wonderland for a boy's imagination.

         My sister, my friends, and I would spend hours of summer days exploring those canyons.  An abandoned old ranch house with debris scattered about the yard was a draw for us though we were cautious about entering the structure.  I made up stories in my mind about who might have lived there.  For me the spirits of Indians who had once dwelt in those canyon lands seemed to be all around us.

         Once we had bicycles our ability to explore the neighborhood and the communities surrounding us increased even more.  Any concern about kids being out on the streets was not particularly on most parents minds and we as kids felt little fear about our safety.  It was a different world then.  We exploited our freedom to the extreme and life was fun and free.

          The thrill of exploration and discovery continued into my adult life with adventures in hiking, camping, and long drives.  This was expanded even further for me once I started working on the road.  My travels allowed me so many opportunities to see places and meet people that would have been unlikely if I'd been tied down to a normal type job in one place.

          How many "Bali Hai's" I've been to in my life is something of which I have lost count.  And more wait for me.   There are places to which I'd like to return as well as places I haven't been to yet but would like to visit one day.   One Bali Hai?   Not one but many.   The world is such a vast and varied place.  The song "Bali Hai" plays in the background as I gaze upon pictures of exotic places and run my fingers along the highways on the maps in my road atlas.

           Bali Hai is calling me.  It always will until the day I leave this Earth.  Then maybe I will reach that ultimate Bali Hai.

           Do you have a special "Bali Hai" that lures you?   Is there a special place that you've been that stands out in your memory?   What is it that constitutes your concept of a Bali Hai type of place?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Do You Have Ghosts?

Zimmerman portraying a ghost.
Zimmerman portraying a ghost. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       There have been many things in my life that I've said or done that I wish that I hadn't or at least wish had been handled differently than they were handled at the time.  I'm not a big believer in dwelling on regrets.  What's done is done and if it can't be changed it's usually a waste of time dwelling upon it.  On rare occasions we might be able to fix what we've damaged or at least say we're sorry for something that might have happened so long ago that most of those involved have stopped thinking about it.  Still, we often have those ghostly nagging memories that keep coming back to haunt us.

       Some of my ghosts come from childhood while others are more recent.  I have no doubt that new missteps will arise to haunt me in the years to come.  Like any of us, I am only human and prone to making mistakes that I'll wish I hadn't made.  That's life for any of us.   And as bad as our mistakes might be or seem to be, they can be valuable life lessons as well as subject matter for memoir that can help others learn from the mistakes we've made.

         Besides being lessons from which to learn, in the end our mistakes should not be heavy burdens to shoulder, but part of the story line of who we are and the journey that we've traveled.  Our mistakes should not define who we are unless we are among the unfortunate few who continually return and never learn from the things we do wrong.  The story of this type of person is a sad one indeed and uplifts no one unless there comes a revelatory moment that results in a substantive change for the better and redemption at the end of the tale.

         There are probably few who desire this transformative evolution from bad to good, inept to adept, or lost to found, though when it happens it can be a great story.  The ghosts of past deeds will always be there to haunt us long after the occurrences.  Our choice is whether we allow the ghosts of the past to haunt us into a dark place of retreat or to accept them, try to understand them, and hopefully learn from them.

           Our memories are specters that we must find a way to live with and eventually at some point make peace with.   Allowing bad memories to haunt us into a fear of living and a remorse for having lived achieves nothing positive for us.  You and I all have ghosts of past memories and mistakes.  Rather than becoming a slave to them, make them work for you.   A haunted house can be scary while a haunted life is tragic.

            What ghosts from your past haunt you?   Are bad memories a bad thing?    How do you turn the tide on personal negative thinking to make your past a positive?

           Please visit Tossing It Out tomorrow for my next Battle of the Bands post.  The song I'll be using relates to what I've discussed in today's Wrote By Rote post.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Greeley Incident

English: A car that has been burglarized. Bad ...
A car that has been burglarized. Bad for me, good for Wikipedia.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
        Sometime in July of 1984 our van got broken into during the early morning hours while in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Greeley, Colorado.   We never suspected anything as we slept peacefully in our fourth floor hotel room.  The perpetrators of this crime, which irksomely occurred directly across the street from the Greeley police station, took quite a haul of our possessions though upon discovering the incident it didn't immediately dawn on us exactly how much stuff had actually been taken since there was so much still remaining in the van.  After all we were living on the road and carried a good deal of stuff with us.  The window that the thieves had busted out was bad enough, but the loss of our goods was extremely annoying.

       The point of this story is that within a short time after this incident we had the smashed window fixed and most of the items not just replaced in kind, but also in additional quantity.   For example where one case of cassette tapes had been stolen in the burglary it was not long before we had more tape cases filled with tapes than any burglar could easily carry off.

        Some of our stolen possessions were replaced by my coworkers who had felt bad about our loss.  A couple of them had gone to a pawn shop and bought us a bunch of used cassettes that they thought we might enjoy.   While there they looked around to see if they could recognize anything that we had lost, but even if our stuff had been fenced to a second hand goods dealer, by the time it had we were gone from Greeley and in our next town.

        Stuff comes and goes in our lives.  Theft, loss, or just throwing it away dwindles our ownership of goods as we in turn keep buying more and have more given to us.   Material possessions are often so ephemeral that we eventually don't even notice when they are gone.  Others on the other hand are sadly missed and even mourned.

         A briefcase containing a lot of my writing, including a journal that I had kept about events in my life and a notebook full of original songs, was stolen on that sad night across from the Greeley police station.  We replaced most of our lost goods, but the contents of that briefcase cannot be adequately replaced.  That was my biggest loss on that night.

          Soon after the Greeley incident we had a car alarm installed in our van and all of our vans after that included an alarm.  Still our vehicle was again broken into twice over the following six years.  None of those break-ins resulted in as significant losses as that first one, but nevertheless they were a hassle.  Especially having to replace the broken windows.

           Taking into account all of our years on the road with a van load of personal possessions, I guess we were fortunate to not have had more incidents like the ones we had.  Road life is a risk, but so is living in one place.  Only once, many years ago when I lived in a dump of an apartment, has my living space been violated with break-in and theft.   Crime can happen anywhere and anytime.  Precautions are well advised, but never completely fail proof.

           Crime against our stuff can be disconcerting, but much less so than crimes against our persons.  In that respect I've been very lucky.   That's a crime I'd rather never experience.

           Have you ever been the victim of a break-in?   If so, what was taken?   What do you do to avoid being a victim of crime?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Success (Soundtrack of my Life)

Crown Navarre
Crown Navarre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       Success is measured differently by each of us and often we have different views of our own success within our own lifetimes.    The standard of success might be the amount of money we have, what level we've achieved in our careers, who knows us or whom we know, or any other number of factors.  The view that others have about your success might be very different from how you view your own success.  There is no one standard that defines personal success.

         Naomi Ruth Eisenberg who was a vocalist and violinist with Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, one of the finest bands to come out of the early 70's San Francisco music scene, wrote the song "Success" which appears on the final album of this particular incarnation of the band.   Last Train to Hicksville...The Home of the Happy Feet is now considered an album classic from a band that could have offered so much more if they had continued.  Still, Hicks went on to form the Acoustic Warriors and perform as a solo artist.  Eisenberg continued playing with other acts including her own band Naomi Vice and occasional reunions with the Hot Licks.

        The song "Success" pretty well sums up the feelings of many in the entertainment industry as well as any other field of endeavor.    Success is always playing with our minds.  Enjoy the song and let me tell you my own thoughts pertaining to success as it relates to my own life.

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks "Success" (1973)


       When I was a kid I had dreams of what I wanted to be someday.  Those dreams changed at times and at times those dreams were pretty big.   Back then my hazy concept of success had more to do with recognition from others than any tangible understanding of money or other personal assets.  For me at that stage of life things like a house, a family, and everything that might surround me one day were merely a given that somehow I accepted would be there in some way, but nothing specific or definable.

       In junior high school a class social studies project had us looking to the future to research five potential fields that we might like to pursue as an adult.  My chosen fields--entertainment, music, writing, photography, and teaching--were each achieved by me to some degree in my life.  This is a certain success that I can claim though the individual success I achieved in each realm might not be especially significant.

       Millions pursue a successful career in entertainment while relatively few make much of a mark in the field.  Just having the opportunity to have worked and actually made a living in entertainment is my claim to having achieved a certain success.  I have little to claim as far as fame or money, but my experiences have been a wealth deposited to my bank of life memories.  I wanted to do something that many people dream about and I actually did it and made money.   To me that was a success.

        Success as an all-encompassing term that defines me is not something to which I can lay claim.  However the cumulative small successes in my life have brought me some degree of satisfaction.  I feel like I'm still on that proverbial road to success and I still have a long way that I can go with time now running out.  Not knowing when my time will run out puts me at some disadvantage though still I would have to ask one question:   If I knew the end of my story would I be more likely to achieve the success of which I dream?

         Let's face it, success can sometimes be pretty arbitrary and it's never guaranteed for most of us.  Many years ago I decided that while I could aspire and admire the success of others, my own success was what I would recognize it to be.   Over the years I've been pleased with a good many of my career accomplishments.  Maybe they were not especially impressive to many when compared to the success of others, but my success worked for me and most importantly I've never just stopped to bask in the sunshine of what I've achieved.  There's more to come I hope and I hope my dreams will not be thwarted too soon.

        As the song "Success" asks, "Will they remember me or leave me far behind?"  Riches and fame are nice, but what will my legacy be?   And even if I am remembered by a few if only just for a short time, I don't think that memory matters as much as the life I lived while I was living it.  Success is mostly a personal measurement and that's what is most meaningful to any of us.  I've enjoyed my life and want to continue to enjoy many more years of accomplishment.   What others think is important--I won't dismiss that fact.  But what I think about my life, what I've felt while living it, defines success on a personal level.

         I hope that I leave something worthwhile behind me.  I hope that I have contributed some modicum of positivity to the world.   I hope I have enjoyed my life once I have left it.  Hope--perhaps that's the most important thing we have.   A life without hope must be a dark place to be.

          What have been some of the successes to which you can lay claim in your life?   Do you continue to plan on future successes in your life?    Is the pursuit of success ultimately meaningless?

       Robin has been doing the Soundtrack of my Life posts on her blog Your Daily Dose.   I had done a few of my own "life soundtracks" on my Tossing It Out blog as well as the song series (starting at this post) I did for my 2014 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge on Wrote By Rote.  Be sure to visit and follow Your Daily Dose for more Life Soundtrack info.  I hope you'll also visit my current Battle of the Bands to vote on your favorite version of the Dan Hicks song "I Scare Myself".  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

My Life According to my Books

The forty five cent paperback version published in 1967.
I still have it intact!

         Earlier this week on my blog Tossing It Out I mentioned about how I had pulled an old paperback book off of one of my bookshelves in order to read at the auto dealership as I waited for some work to be done on my van.  This copy of The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder was one that I had purchased in 1967 for forty five cents.  It had been required reading for my junior year of English and rather than borrow a copy from the library I chose to purchase a copy of my own.

       Coincidentally as well as ironically I had read a Los Angeles Times review of a book called Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson the day previous to having pulled my old high school paperback off the shelf to read at the car dealer.  Monson's  book consists of essays regarding the things found tucked away in and written on the pages of library books.

A corner torn from an English class vocabulary quiz.
I doodled my strange little drawing after the
 paper had been returned to me

       Opening my book I discovered that the bookmark that still remained hidden within was a bit of paper torn from a vocabulary quiz.  In my own cursive handwriting (which was not too bad I think) I had written my name, the class, and the date of December 20th of 1967.  On the outer margins of the book pages I had drawn in pencil sequences that when the pages were flipped through depicted animated scenes of cars and a person running.  Throughout the pages I had circled (or more accurately "rectangled") vocabulary words selected by Mrs. Vincent, my English teacher.

One of over 100 tiny drawings on the outer margin of the
book.  When the pages are flipped animated sequences
are depicted.  As you might see, art was never my forte.

        I was never one to mark up my textbooks for fear of being charged for the damage at the end of the school year, however I did occasionally deface my own books.  Thankfully I did not treat too many of my books with disrespect so most that I still own are in decent condition despite their age.  In fact, I have rarely marked books with notes, underlining, or highlighting.  Most of the time I considered my books my treasures unless I happened to be using them at school where boredom frequently set in.  Mindless scribbling was often my act of defying the tedium of school.

        Looking through my current personal library I would undoubtedly find odd scraps of paper--receipts, religious tracts, newspaper clippings, candy wrappers, and any other number of bits that would have served as the makeshift bookmark for the moment.  If there are books with penciled in marginalia, those written words or drawings were probably because the book had belonged to someone else and the markings were not done by me.

         All of the doodlings, notes, and detritus to be found within the pages of books are artifacts of history in a sense.   Those that are mine represent some part of my past that I might immediately recognize while other findings might be more puzzling and require some deciphering of my past.  When such ephemera comes from a book that has been acquired from a friend, a family member, a spouse, or even a second hand acquisition from some unknown past book owner then the artifacts become more of a mystery that might be solved or more often might remain something upon which to speculate.

         My rereading of The Bridge of San Luis Rey was worth the time spent though no specific memories were roused from the book itself.  However it was interesting to see the tiny drawings and the writings done by my own hand.   Some memories were revived.   I don't plan to be riffling through the pages of all the books in my home library, but I will now have a heightened awareness when I do happen to look within one on those old books.

        Our books are often a storehouse of small hidden treasures that can stir up the dusty hallways tucked away in the recesses of our minds.  A note scrawled on the page of a book can revive a forgotten memory as well as present a puzzler on which to ponder.   That odd scrap grabbed in haste for a bookmark might be a relic that awakens the past.  If you have old books from high school or college or just from a younger day, flip through a few.  You might be surprised by what you might find.

         Do you write on the pages on the books you own?    Have you ever made an exciting discovery within the pages of an older book?    What is the oddest thing you've ever used for a bookmark?