Reading someone’s memoirs changes your perspective of the writer and inspiration for the reader.
Photo by Michael Competielle
A few years ago I received an email for one of my best friends and mentor. Written in the body of the text was an explanation of how my friend 33 years my senior was entrusting me with his memoirs or at least the start of them.
Living an exciting life that he had created, my friend is quite the renaissance man. From a War Veteran to a banker, entrepreneur, Potter, filmmaker, botanist he is what we would call eccentric. With a remarkable passion to experience and explore, he dives headfirst into the turbulent waters of challenge. Armed with little more than an open curious mind and the tenacity to embrace the unknown.
As I began to read the letters of my friend whom I’ve spoken to almost daily for 10 years, I found a different person than I felt I had known. The same person but a different version of who he portrayed daily.
Armed with little more than a computer, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and a vibrant life of experiences my friend began to write. His style is not dissimilar to his storytelling with incredible detail and topics you’d often struggle to believe. Not because he stretches the truth but because he’s an opportunist that always finds himself in amazing situations.
However, some of what I found out was about a dark side. Not that he is evil or misguided. Actually how he came from a difficult beginning. With parents that struggled to parent, he and his brother and sister found themselves bounced around amongst relatives that opened their doors to help raise the family.
Money was tight making a normal childhood in a traditional household tough, combined with bad parenting.
The stories of his summers with Grandparents in the Poconos or hanging out at Monmouth beach are vibrant and entertaining. Always making new friends and often doing without things other kids had, his amazing character placed him into situations where people would show their love for him.
Christmas around his house was rough with little work his odd job lawn mowing father could round up to make Christmas magical as other kids enjoy. But my friend had generous and kind friends that invited him to their home to open their presents with them and play with everything they received. And always under the tree would be one present, the most special one of them all. The gift they had all chosen for my friend. He never felt more love and a sense of belonging than one those Christmas Days where he was accepted as one of the family.
Always struggling to fit in he played basketful for the High School team. Making what he believes a horrible game losing error, he rode home on the school bus mortified. The next day he dropped out of school and signed up for the Army.
After basic training and struggling to find an identity, he was pleased to be stationed in Alaska, which at the time wasn’t even a State.
With little more than some Superior Officers who liked my friend, he embraced his surroundings and was finding himself.
Upon returning to New York after his Army career, he applied for a job at Citibank. Dressed sharply as a soldier would, he walked into the employment office with his resume. The employment officer recognized that my friend not only didn’t have a college degree but he also hadn’t finished high school.
He was sent around the block to the employment office for tellers. The room was filled with a lot of sloppily dressed people hardly interested in obtaining employment. A hiring agent walked into the room and scanned the room and noticed my friend, well-groomed and professional looking. He was hired on the spot because he looked like he wanted to be there.
That evening he headed home on the train and cried, saddened by again his rejection and knowing he needed more from his life. He got off the train and headed to the Community College and enrolled.
Working full time, raising a family while going to school, my friend pushed himself to succeed. Immersed fully into every course and absorbing knowledge like a sponge. He was single handily reversing his course.
Then the oldest son became sickly. Life became more challenging and difficult than ever before. Working full time, college in the evenings full time and nights studying by his son’s hospital bed my friend saw no other choice but to continue.
Telling the stories and understanding the man his internal narration of his life helps to understand him and appreciate our relationship. He’s honest and forthcoming and I’ll go to him for advice and mentoring often. Armed with his worldly knowledge and experiences and a passion to help others succeed he will tell me if I’ve gone astray.
We’ve visited his boyhood Hoboken home, and shot films in his childhood playground of Washington Square Park.
He is certainly the single most person that impresses me as much as I impress him. Daily we challenge each other to take steps outside of our comfort zone and embrace the unknown. His mind is still sharp as he tells his stories and experiences.
This weekend he and his sons are heading into New York and have a boys weekend. He plans to show them some apartments he lived in New York so they have the perspective.
In the coming weeks, he begins his video memoirs where he plans to sit and record his life experiences. As he struggles to write what he thinks he’s using the technology of a voice recorder that he will dictate into and software that will convert those recordings into written text. The challenges of life hardly challenge if you find a way to circumvent them.