stories worth a thousand words #1


[I decided this morning to publish my "autobiography", which I composed towards the end of last year, on my main blog one chapter at a time, every few days. It will at least ensure I have something to post on a regular basis!]


Written November 14, 2004

I would say I had stumbled across my grandfather’s World War II memoirs at least a half a dozen times before.
Each time I would close the red hardbacked notebook as quickly as I had opened it. This time however, it was able to grab my attention, as by now Joseph Lee was permanently bed ridden at the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook and his condition was deteriorating on a daily basis.

I took it upon myself to type out what he had written for posterity. As I was doing so I was fascinated not only by its content, but also of his mindset at the time of writing. At a few points during my transcription I noticed he made references to a “Mom” and I was confused as to how his mother related to his story so closely. Then it dawned on me – the “Mom” was in fact my grandmother, and the account was written for me.

I would estimate that the writing had been done between the years of 1992 and 1994, when I was living in the USA with my new bride. Although we had always planned to return to Ireland after a few years of travelling, it is only now that I can clearly see my grandparent’s point of view – as we set off they believed that it would be the last time they ever saw us. At the airport that day I shrugged off my grandmother’s tears; now they make perfect sense. As she had said several times that her husband needed a hobby, I assume it was on the strength of her nagging that he started writing.

Tragically he did not get very far. He documented his basic training and his journey to Luxembourg via England and ended the missive around the time of The Battle Of The Bulge. After copying everything word for word, I was left with a zillion questions, and I was kicking myself for not being as curious when I could have asked them. I did not just wonder about his war stories; I wanted to know about his whole life right up to when I came into the picture in March 1969.

So why not ask my grandmother? She is still in relatively full possession of her mental faculties at the amazing age of 95. Unfortunately her knowledge of her husband’s activities was as poor as mine; such was the nature of their relationship. He has since passed away and so I am permanently left with my curiosity.

At the time of writing I have two wonderful children of my own, aged 9 and 7 respectively. I hope one day they will have a similar interest in their own parent’s backgrounds, and this project is designed to fill that potential need, at least from my perspective – their mum can write her own book!!! And who knows, my daughter "RA" has shown a desire to write her own little stories, maybe one day she will do the same. Now suitably inspired, all that was left for me to do before setting off on my literary journey was to come up with a format.

We live in an age where the term “the pen is mightier than the sword” needs to be modified. If that metaphorical pen goes on to write hundreds of pages of endless tedious rhetoric which contains long drawn out descriptive accounts laden with colourful adjectives, its might would be more equivalent to that of a toothpick. If you look at advertising, newspapers or any kind of media you want, this can be borne out. It seems to be the quirky soundbyte that grabs the attention of the masses, not the eloquent prose. It was with this in mind that I came up with the “1000 words on…” restriction.

I could now do the chapters in random order, completing each one as sufficient motivation came to me. And so I set about my first piece, and with the attention-grabbing desire fully in mind, I decided to make it about the time I lost my virginity. I pictured the finished work in my head, and imagined my kids going to the “Table of Contents” and heading straight for a chapter with anything to do with sex in it. My assumption, of course, is based on what I would do if I had a similar book on my grandfather!!!

In my view this would not be worth the paper it is printed on without the “warts ‘n all” directive. If I’m not careful I may fall into the trap of making this work little more than a testimony, defending my errant decisions to my kids, and leaving out vital bits of information which I fear my descendants may judge me on. Of course, too many “warts” turns it from a testimony into a confession, so expect an air of balance!!! I suppose my aim would be to make it like wearing my heart on my sleeve without having to get out too many bloodstains afterwards.

All I needed now was a limit of chapters within which I could work. At the end of October 2004 I heard about a website for aspiring writers which posed them the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel before the end of November. There was no way I would have the time to do THIS, but it did give me the idea to set myself the target to complete 50 chapters by New Year’s Day 2005.

Once I had my format and my target, there was no stopping me. Although this chapter will be the first in the finished work, it is actually the 15th I have written, and I am well on course to being completed in time. I find writing them extremely therapeutic, and the whole project is so far proving to be more of a snapshot of my life in the Ireland of 2004 from which I can benefit myself. And as the saying goes, “a picture can be worth a thousand words”!!!

© JL Pagano 2004

Next , #2 : "1000 words on...Before I Came Along"


Mike Todd said…
This is good stuff! Best of luck with the rest of it. I know a thing or two about doing three chapters and never looking at it again. Keep firing 'em out here. I, for one, will be checking back from time to time to see some more of it.
Geo said…
Well! Hurrah! An inspiration! I'm really impressed with your idea for the autobiography, and even more impressed by the fact that you actually followed through with it. Funny, but one of my girlfriends just an hour ago said she could see me writing an autobiography one day, and it set me to dreaming of the when and how of it all. I almost never "surf" Blogger for random folks, so it's also funny that your blog was the first to appear after my magical mystery mouse-click. Thanks for your sensitive, intelligent writing. I will be back and back and back to read more of your good work. Wow, I'm astonished. What an incredible gift for your children, and it's not a shabby offering for us over-the-shoulder readers.

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