An Examined Life 9 December 2017
The famous dictum attributed to Socrates goes like this: The unexamined life is not worth living.
Regardless of who said it, I believe it states a valuable truth. Many use this quote in support of psychotherapy and that certainly is a valid way to examine one’s life. The penning of a memoir is another – much less expensive – method. I think everyone over fifty should give it a try, it’s therapeutic and – I found it – enjoyable. The idea never occurred to me until I was seventy-six and then only apparently by accident.
One day in November of 2011 when I was reminiscing about my childhood I found myself writing what I thought was an essay about growing up in the South. I became so engaged in my memories that the next thing I knew it was a week or so later and I had written over fifty pages.
That was the moment I realized that I was beginning an autobiography.
I had no thought of publishing the thing, I was simply having a good time exercising my memory. The process of digging up recollections of events and people long in the past is, in and of itself, a fascinating exercise. Mulling things over, connecting them with one another and being brutally honest about one’s own behavior may indeed be experienced as (self) psychotherapy.
Once the process was begun it was not possible for me to stop until I finished.
In the beginning there was no organizing principle, I just went with the flow. When I got to 1972, when I “retired” from acting it felt like the end of a book. (Three Stages) Then structuring my memoir as a trilogy seemed an obvious choice. The life being described breaks down into three clearly delineated sections. And in practical terms, one book would have comprised too many – nearly nine hundred – pages.
I was never a diarist. If I were this would have been a different opus. I had only my memory to rely upon; however the more I wrote the more I remembered. Perhaps memory is akin to a muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it becomes. That’s my experience anyhow. And that’s another reason I recommend the practice.
Somewhere in the writing timeline the realization hit me that I had lived a singular and eclectic life. I certainly wasn’t famous but that did not mean that what I had experienced wasn’t interesting. Since I got my first professional showbiz job before graduating college I’ve been, in more or less chronological order:
a professional musical theatre singer, an actor, a line gang grunt, a jackhammer operator, a lifeguard, a water safety instructor, an Air Force medic, a gym trainer, a vaudevillian, a dancer (true, believe it or not), a theatre director, a jazz arranger, operating partner in a typography company, a magazine production manager, (Book 2 Circumstances Beyond My Control) a motion picture camera assistant, a sound man, a producer, a cab driver, a motion picture production manager, a first assistant director, a cameraman, (Book 3 Waiting for Elizabeth) a video editor, a video director, a mentor and an author. Oh, I was briefly an opera singer at the Met (Book 1). And I have known and worked with some extraordinary people, some of them famous, most not well known but very much worth writing about.
This realization was the point at which the idea of actually publishing my story came to me.
So, dear readers, with this newsletter I offer you missed memories that didn’t make it into the books, I offer you random thoughts and ideas on random subjects and I offer you occasional observations and opinions.
And I offer you a few tastes of my next book which I plan to publish in 2018, as my Grandpa Pete used to say, “Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise”.
I hope you enjoy my new platform (soap box?) and feel free to share my newsletter with your friends and enemies (if you have any). I hope you don’t. BB
PS: Feedback is welcomed. firstname.lastname@example.org