According to urbanist Richard Florida, “The city or community you choose to live in can shape our lives in powerful ways. In fact, it is the most important of all life decisions we make, impacting everything we do. . . We each make three big decisions in our lives: our career, our choice of life-partner, and the place (city and neighborhood) where we live,” Florida adds. “We get lots of advice on the first two, but little on the third. Yet, choosing where to live is the most important decision of all. It shapes and influences the kinds of careers that we pursue and the kinds of people we will meet.”
I’ve lived in at least a dozen cities and more than 30 residences – not an extraordinary amount by any means. According to data from FiveThirtyEight, the typical American experiences 11.3 lifetime moves.
The entire “Where Now” autobiographical account is a trip into all the “places” of my past, as well as an examination of the present, and a rough prognostication about the future. It is written in multiple tenses in a journalistic style, along with strokes I would categorize as factually true literary nonfiction.
My notions about place cover how I continue to develop psychologically, socially, philosophically, and spiritually. Since I am writing this account in my early sixties, I eventually get to talking about aging and the nature of work, retirement, and feelings about death and despair – where I am now. Before I get to these later years, I must get through all the other detritus from years past, a process that is both painful and enthralling.
Interspersed throughout are references and quotes to many intelligent minds who have shaped my thinking about all these topics.
Of course, everywhere I have lived has deeply shaped and influenced who I am.
In reading about and from memoir writers (mostly through Kindle samples) such as Mary Karr, Frank Conroy, Tobias Wolfe, Mary McCarthy, Vladimir Nabokov, and a growing cadre of other extraordinarily talented individuals, I have concluded that my own memoir may not have any tangible merit merely because I feel there is nothing overly painful or out of the ordinary about my life, other than the common everyday ups and downs that many of us experience over a lifetime.
Mary Karr, for instance, dealt with sexual abuse as a child and alcoholism as an adult; Tobias Wolfe wrote about his step father’s violence; Mary McCarthy was orphaned at a young age and dealt with severe abuse brought on by her family-related step parents; Vladimir Nabokov came from Russian nobility and was an astonishing genius.
I do hold onto the hope that something important has come out of this book, generated from all the places I have passed through, and from the abundant interactions with people from all walks of life, from the lowliest criminal to university presidents, I have experienced — as well as my inner growth.
I have always been extremely fortunate. One of my cousins calls it the Lorenzo Horseshoe. The only nasty challenges I have faced deal with a small number of medical-emergencies that had me knocking on death’s door. In short, I am lucky in comparison to the millions upon millions of humans throughout time who have experienced enormous dread and fear and the real possibility of imminent death and danger at every turn of their lives. Think of the numerous refugees, for instance, the numerous people trying to eke out a decent living in war-torn countries, the numerous people dying of starvation and pestilence, the numerous people living in extreme poverty, the numerous people who cannot enjoy freedom – we Americans often forget how fortunate and even spoiled we truly are.
I think it is a healthy and humbling exercise to place one’s self within all of humanity throughout time, knowing that from an historical perspective these current times are indeed the best of times, especially if you live in a free country, despite what confronts us on the news each day. According to a recent NYT editorial by Nicholas Kristoff, “2017 [when I am writing this] is likely to be the best year in the history of humanity.”
I’ve never been put in a situation in which I could be shot at, never experienced any grave source of evil or violent encounter about to ruin my future, and I have always been blessed to feel excited and inquisitive about life, in general. I’ve always enjoyed the freedom of an American citizen in full charge of his own fate, free to pursue whatever I desire. So, my memoir is really about a common American Everyman, who, now at the ripe age of 63, has not been unencumbered by any seriously tragic circumstances. I haven’t experienced the pangs of a divorce, and my wife and children are always close by. I have not been abused in any way, nor have I ever faced any serious trauma other than a few health issues. I did not grow up in a completely dysfunctional family. I have not abused myself to any great deal through drugs or alcohol or an eating disorder. I do not have any kind of mental illness, other than trying to be a writer.
Moreover, all the great memoirists are extraordinarily detail oriented, filling page after page with rich, poetic-like, and insightful words that engage their readers’ keen interests and inquisitive natures. It is somewhat difficult for me to write in massive detail because I can only stomach so much minutiae before getting bored. Let’s get on with it please; enough about the cloud formations. Or, perhaps it could be that my brain is not capable of taking in too much, resulting in a less-than-insightful account. Or, perhaps my vocabulary is relatively small. After reading from the works of many talented memoirists, I get a depressing feeling that my observational senses are weak. I see relatively small spurts of meaning, clichés fill my thoughts sporadically, without warning, and frequently, and I have often avoided looking more deeply into the nature of everything perhaps out of sheer laziness.
Many successful memoirists profess how vitally important it is to be completely forthright and expose everything in one’s history, even your darkest, most embarrassing and shameful flashes of life. In other words, don’t hold back, get it all out there. I feel it is no use talking about every bit of darkness that has disheveled and interrupted one’s true essence, and it is a writer’s right to pick and choose those elements of life he decides to share. We all have some darkness, those times in our life when we behaved badly. So, to be honest, this is not a complete memoir. It is, in short, a selfish exercise that records most, but not all, of the most important elements that ultimately define my bildungsroman. I was first introduced to that word as an English major. It has always fascinated me, and it means XYZ.
I have hope that people might read this and shake their heads in agreement and feel a camaraderie that they, too, experienced a similar kind of American life; that reading this will bring back their own numerous, significant memories they can piece together and hopefully see a pattern that helps to explain who they have and will become.
I know that over the past year or so in my early sixties I have fallen into this remembrance-thinking like never in my life. At times, it feels very strange and awkward to suddenly think of something that happened years ago. These memories come without warning and without any logical explanation. They simply arrive in semi-vivid picture frames in my thoughts. I don’t know what to do about them other than write. I suppose this kind of thinking is common. Don’t many of us focus on the rear-view mirror too much? In any event, what I refer to as frequent remembrance-thinking can become self-annoying. I do not know what to make of it other than attempt to record it.