Reader Friday: Autobiography

I’m writing an unauthorized autobiography. – Steven Wright

What would be the first scene in your own autobiography?

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15 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Autobiography

  1. The first scene would be my first day of school when I had to be dragged down the stairs, pushed into my mom’s car, and cajoled into our local parochial school. Later, I spent significant periods of my adult life pushing and angling my way into colleges and universities.

  2. Hmmm, what a though-provoking question. Unless you are really famous like Hemingway, autobiographies can be a little dull. Agatha Christie began her autobiography with describing her happy childhood living in her “happy house.” I loved the diaries of Anais Nin because they read more like scenes from her life. I’d begin with a dramatic scene, a turning point, in my life and move on from there. But then on second thought, maybe I’d project my death scene and become a ghost who haunts my relatives and friends, and I’d listen to their conversations about me at my funeral. Ha! That would make it much more fun to write.

  3. Actually, my life did not begin with me. It began with my great-great-great grandmother who survived both the Sand Creek Massacre and Custer’s cowardly attack on Black Kettle’s camp on the Washita River.

    Then there was my great-great grandfather, an orphan who came north out of Mexico with a traveling party of Kiowa men. And, even though he was not an ethnic Kiowa, he eventually became the tribal Sun Dance priest who stopped the summer event because many young Kiowa men were driven to warrior frenzy after participating in the dance, and they would go out and start attacking white people and white soldiers. The Sun Dance ban still holds despite attempts by some to start it up again.

    His son, my great-grandfather, who became the first ordained minister in our tribe, brought the Gospel to the people with the urging and help of Miss Isabel Crawford, a Canadian Baptist who traveled to Indian Territory in America. She got into trouble with her mission board over a point that, in today’s Non-Catholic church, could be settled with a phone call. She was forced to leave the little church she had help found. But she returned years later to be buried in the church’s cemetery. My great-grandfather was a builder of people and their Spiritual strength–at a time when many did not live long because of the diseases and poxes that came into our tribe. One heartbreak of his story is that, on various occasions, the parents of a child who did not survive would come forward at a church service and give the last offering to the Baby Fund in their child’s name.

    I might start with my uncle, a Comanche Code Talker. I won’t mention his name out of respect for my cousins who have their own stories to tell about him and his contribution to the Victory in Europe.

    I could start with tales and scenes about my Dad’s family. We are related to a the last Principle Chief of our tribe before Oklahoma statehood, and who could conceivably have become the governor of the proposed Indian state of Sequoyah, until the government reneged on it’s commitment (again), and that state became Oklahoma. And, could it be–I don’t know yet–that we are also related to the first American Prima Ballerina to perform in Europe. I sigh. If it’s true, then it could be great encouragement to a granddaughter who is a dancer of childhood school programs.

    As I said, my story doesn’t start with me. My autobiography is a story of US, and how we fit into the great American adventure and experiment.

      • I’ve given some thought to writing an historical series based on both sides of my family–Roots Meets Dances with Wolves. The only problem with that is, I see four or five years of historical, social, and anthropological research involved. And, I am an old man.

        My current series takes a lot of my time, and I’m also establishing a Bitcoin affiliate business online. My one hold-out thought is my great-great-grandfather lived to be 100 years old–perhaps older. And I have aunts and uncles who are in their early and late 90s now.

    • This is a story worth preserving for your family and hopefully, shared with the world, Jim. Yours is a beautiful example of how a family history can be much bigger than the people involved. Everything your family experienced wrote a new page in that American experiment you mentioned. How many of us come from families whose growth or demise shaped some new aspect of a nation but we’ll never search out or reveal that story? How many of us forget that who we are is in some way shaped by those family histories?

      I hope you write that autobiography/biography, Jim. I’d read your book in a heartbeat.

      • Thanks for your thought, Suzanne.

        By the way, my grandparents, my uncle, my Dad, and my aunts grew up in a house surrounded by river bottom land, mosquitoes, malaira, and–get this–apparently bigfoots.

  4. I’d make my first scene comprise the whole first chapter, a one-page scene/chapter that’s a snapshot of my life at that present day in time.

    Beginning with chapter two, I’d make my autobiography sequential, starting with a pivotal childhood event when I was eight years old: the day in court when my stepfather adopted me.

  5. I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain — actually, that’s not the way it was. In reality, it was snowing, which was highly unusual in September in Illinois.

  6. I think biographies (as with any narrative work) should encompass some form of theme. Not just, “Here’s the story of my life,” but, “Here’s the story of my life as a rock star,” (or a priest, or a pedophile).

    So … with that in mind … my autobiography might focus on my life as a serial customer service representative for massive corporations. The first scene would be the day I was stomped by a mob of high school graduates as I attempted to protect my employer’s business from being vandalized and robbed.s

    (For what it’s worth, the police were called and in short order it seemed like a scene out of some Michael Bay film with twenty squad cars surrounding the mob, behind each of which were two officers, one with a shotgun on with service weapon drawn. A guy on a bullhorn trying to diffuse the situation. All in the name of customer service.

  7. Mine might start in the dark. In the movie theater where I worked in high school. In many ways it set a tone for everything their after. The sound would be very loud and a pair of bright red lips would fade in from the black. I would be standing at the edge of the screen and then, “You have seen all kinds of movies. But you have never seen anything like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

    I spent about a year and a half with “Rocky”. Learned a lot. Some of it useful.

  8. Don’t have an answer for my own life, but your question made me recall one of the best biographies I have read: “Nureyev: The Life.” The opening scene is of the famous dancer’s birth in on a train traveling through the vast emptiness of Mongolia. His birth attracted a crowd because he was such a beautiful infant and was tinged with myth. (That he had been bought at a trading stop en route). The chapter is titled “Vagabond Soul” which comes to describe much of the dancer’s life.

  9. Debated about screenplay or novel format. Decided to go with a bad dialogue screenplay, but couldn’t get the format to work in these comments, so bad fiction format it is. I would destroy this if it were a first page submission.

    Prologue (avoid these)
    A young woman sits on a medical exam table, crinkling its paper in her hand. The doctor is saying words like “frank breech” and “kidney damage” and “c-section”. The baby needs to come out now, even though its due date isn’t for a few weeks.

    January 9

    What should have been just another rainy morning in Seattle was instead pure snow. It blanketed the hills in a silence broken by the sound of a car engine as it chugged its way to Doctor’s Hospital, sliding down Pill Hill before landing in the parking lot.

    Inside a woman was prepped for a routing c-section. After her last goodbyes to her husband, she was wheeled into a tiled operating room where an anesthesiologist put her to sleep and she knew nothing more.

    The doctor later told her that the surgery had gone smoothly, that the surgery had been “well-tolerated” in medical parlance. He chuckled as he told her that when they opened her up and reached for the baby she was still asleep. Yes, she slept through her own birth. They’d had to slap her to wake her up, and boy did she let out a cry at that.

    Yep, that was me. Born at 6.18 in the morning on a cold and snowy day, sound asleep and resting ass first, condemned to share the same date as Tricky Dicky and Waity Katie. To this day I still hate the cold, my ass is too big, and I never have and never will be a morning person, and something always goes wrong on my birthday.

  10. This is a thought provoking question. I’ve given it a lot of thought over time. I think I would do flashbacks of defining childhood moments interspersed with scenes of how these moments manifested in my adulthood and the meaning of the moments has morphed in my senior years.

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