Too Young for a Memoir?

Today one of the many articles featured by The Globe and Mail is entitled "Is 36 too young for a memoir?  Not for Michael BublĂ©" and poses a very interesting question.  At what age is one qualified to write a memoir?  Does it matter who the person is?  Delving further in pursuit of the fundamental basis of this question, what is needed to write a good memoir?

A memoir is, as the name suggests, a collection of memories and reflections.  It is very personal, though how far into private matters it goes depends upon the author - the cynic in me would like to say it is the editor, publisher, and the public who truly decide such matters.  Regardless of who controls the depth of the material, the source is always the same - the one whom the memoir is about.  In a way, a memoir is like an autobiography; it tells the story of the author's life.  The difference between the two emerges in the way the story is told - a memoir is not meant to carefully detail and outline every single important experience in the author's life, rather to share the thoughts and feelings surrounding personal life-changing events.  An autobiography is, in a sense, more factual than a memoir as it is supposed to be based upon verifiable, quantitative, and preferably documented events.  In comparison, a memoir is the qualitative, emotional, story-like companion to the autobiography; its material is not found in national records, likely is not documented, and has a very clearly biased perspective.  They are not the same, though they run along similar lines - and because of the differences in their nature it is not advisable to apply the same criteria standards to them.

What qualifies someone for an autobiography, or a memoir?  Upon what criteria are they to be judged and deemed capable?  Essentially, what is necessary for either?  For an autobiography, the answer is simple - important events.  What has the person done during their life that is of great importance to the world around them, what sort of records are there to research and analyse?  As stated, an autobiography is factual in nature and based upon quantitative facts.  The "personal" element is important, primarily to keep the reader from sheer and utter boredom, but the purpose of the work is to address the what, not the why.  A memoir, on the other hand, is like the tabloid of social historical research.  It has its basis in fact - it is not a work of fiction, after all - but its focus is not on objective analysis.  Here, the "personal" perspective is the entire purpose of the work, its sole source and its essence.  Unlike an autobiography, a memoir is designed to address the why, not so much the what.

"Is 36 too young for a memoir?"  As expected, the answer to this is vague and utterly useless - it depends.  A memoir is based on memories of the important happenings in one's life that influenced and shaped the person.  Age itself is of no consequence; experience, rather than breaths, is the true determining factor.  No one but the holder of the memories and reflections can be the judge of that.  An autobiography, on the other hand, is much easier to determine - what has the person done so far?  Most people have not accomplished enough by the age of 36 to warrant an autobiography, but perhaps they have been through enough life-changing experiences to feel they have something to share with the world.

Taylor Swift, a young singer and songwriter from the United States, is said to be writing a memoir (or perhaps already has, I do not follow these things closely because I truly do not care).  She was born the year after me, so she is younger than me.  And she is ready to write a memoir.  I am not able to write a memoir now, nor do I think I would be able to write one for many more decades.  I am 23, after all, and just out of school.  Yet, someone younger than me has gone through enough and lived enough to write a memoir.  This does not bother me in the slightest, nor does it make me feel like I have accomplished nothing in my life.  In fact, I am happy to see someone younger than me willing to take on such a challenge.  If she has something to share with the world, then by all means, share it.  Show people that age does not matter - because truly, it does not.  Age is just a number we assign to track time, but as any geriatric will tell you it is what you do during that time that defines who you are.

So is 36 too young?  First tell me what that 36 means to you.  If it is the number dictated by the calendar, then yes, you are too young.  But if it just some form of measurement for the time you have spent living, learning, and exploring life, then perhaps you are not too young.  Generally, if you feel you are ready to write a memoir, then you probably are - regardless of age.  So go for it.  Show the world what you are made of.  Show the world what it has made you, and what you have become.  Share your story - but first make sure you have one to share.

"Is 36 too young for a memoir?"

Fairytale Romance

In fairytales the princess is always in need of rescue and when her prince slays the evil dragon saves her from the tower, they live happily ever after.

By slaying the dragon, breaking the spell, or defeating the windmill as the case may be, the prince is going through a lot.  He must succeed where everyone else has failed, a challenge hard enough to prove his valour and worth.  To the princess waiting to be rescued, it proves her worth too.  She must know how hard it is to get through to her, after all who in their right mind goes after a dragon and to statistically guaranteed death?  The test of valour ends there, before scaling the tower and rescuing the princess.  That extra distance her prince is going for her.

There are many flaws to fairytales, but the happily ever after makes more sense.  If going forth to statistically guaranteed slow, painful, and torturous death, slaying the dragon/spell/windmill holding her captive, and then climbing a tower all in hope of rescuing the princess is not a sign of love and devotion then what is?  Part of it can be written off as tests of princely character, but the rest is still far too taxing to just be after sex.

If a man is willing to endure the most extreme tests of his physical, mental, and whatever else the story contains character for someone, he has most certainly proven how much this person means to him.

What War is to a Child

A mate of mine sat down with her young son (about five years old) to write cards for soldiers as a part of Operation Christmas Cards. He had a few questisons for the soldiers, and they were just so cute I had to share them with everyone. When I told my dad, he laughed and then said "what war is to a child." It is adorable, and once again points out the innocence of a child looking at violent conflict.

His questions for the soldiers:

  • Have you killed any dinosaurs?
  • Have you met Iron Man?
  • Have you seen any robots?

Thinking of You Candle

Thinking of you
Missing you
I know you've gone on to a better place
That's why I didn't cry when I saw you lying there
Or when they lowered you into the ground
Because I know you finally found peace at last
You're finally free
But I still miss you
You were always strong
Even when your body was not
And your mind was breaking
You were always strong
Thank you for it all
Now that you're gone
I still think about you
But I know you're in a better place
Because now you are at peace
Finally free
But I still miss you

Died in Vain

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the ending of the War to End All Wars.  Thousands of hopeful, youthful, energetic, and ambitious young men went off to fight in the Great War.  Most never returned; those who did were never the same afterwards.  Why did they go?  After a couple years it was clear the devastating impact the fighting had on the soldiers, but still many volunteered and went off to fight.  Why would they?

Some did it for King and country, others for the money, some for the adventure, but most went for the hope that this truly would be the “war to end all wars.”  So many fought and died for this idea, believing their sacrifice would save future generations from having the same pain they did.

We look back on “the Great War” and refer to it as “World War One” because less than twenty years later Germany had begun what we refer to as “World War Two.”  To us, in our modern perspective, the two wars are connected, and it is rare to consider one without the other.  But to those who lived, fought, died, suffered, waited, endured the first war – it was all with the hope that it would be the last one, that there would be no more war.  To them, it was the Great War.  No number, no “world war” title; it simply was “the Great War, the War to End All Wars.”  When armistice was called at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (11:00, 11 November 1918) the world sighed in relief – it was finally over.  Peace, at last.

Or at least it was supposed to be.  That was supposed to be the end of “buying the farm” for young soldiers – a phrase originating in the World Wars, meaning a young soldier had died.  (The money his family would be paid for his death was frequently used to pay for the family farm).  Look at us now, almost a century after the “War to End All Wars” ended.  When the church bells in Europe ring out the eleventh hour on 11 November 2011, will there be no warring, no fighting across the world?  Have we really learned anything, or did those men all die in vain?  Is their sacrifice truly worth that little to us?

There is a small town in Poland with a very unique tune that plays from the church tower.  It is centuries old, and although it is now done electronically, the tradition has remained in place since the Middle Ages.  The story goes like this: one day a young trumpeter saw the enemy’s army approaching the town walls and knew he had to raise the alarm.  Sounding the bells properly would have taken too long, so he climbed to the top of the church tower and played out his warning on his trumpet.  Before he was able to finish he was shot through the throat with an arrow.  He died, but the town was warned and they were able to fight off the attack.  Since then, the tune is always stopped at the same point he had been stopped, to forever remind all future generations of his sacrifice. 

Je me Souviens

There is a poppy I carry throughout the year, not just for the one day a year when the country gathers together to officially remember.  Because it is not just one day a year that men and women have suffered and died in hopes of making my life better.  Because it is not just one day a year that I check the Army's list of fallen soldiers for people I know.  Because it is not just one day a year that their sacrifices matter.  Because for those who make it back and those left behind one day is not enough.  Once a year we recite "In Flanders Fields" and try to instil upon the children the costs of their freedom and their lives, but it is not once a year that we enjoy it.  The poppy is just a symbol - but it is a powerful symbol.  It tells us all to remember the fallen, remember the survivors, remember the sacrifices, remember the costs.  Ironically the plant itself can help one forget - but we use it to remember.  From the English saying "Lest we forget" to the Quebec motto "Je me souviens" we must remember.  We must never forget.  We must remember every single day, because every single day we live the way we do because they died the way they did.

Whispers in the Night

It has been a while now that I have been back and thus far I have accomplished nothing except stress and panic and the like.  But, somewhere amongst the "oh my god I'm a complete loser who has done nothing" chaos, I have found time to think and reflect.  I do believe it is high time I share some of these whispers.

Being back "home" again is not easy.  This has been listed as my permanent address for the past ten years, but several of them were spent far away.  When I returned in September people would ask me if I was happy to be home. Edinburgh is my home, this is just my permanent address until I can leave for good.  Until then, however, this place will be my residence and I will need to find a way to deal with the problems.  Some of the people who know me know I was not a happy teenager (putting it mildly) and had many issues, some of which continued on well past high school.  Well, this is where most of them happened.  Being back but without the same problems is strange, and while I try to embrace the positive differences, many of the same stressors are still present - and as much as I hate it I feel like I am slipping back again.  Sometimes my daily struggle is just to stay afloat.

I have mentioned my mate Sherri a few times when writing about myself, usually in reference to some of the important lessons she taught me.  Her way of addressing issues is very academic, very focused on identifying and addressing needs and wants.  If you read her blog this ought to make more sense; I have witnessed it firsthand.  As I probably have mentioned, her approach has been incredibly helpful to me.  Whether it is intentionally academic in nature or not, I can understand why such an approach is helpful to her and me.  It allows someone who does not have the same basic foundation as everyone else to mimic the expected actions in a wholly rational and logical way.  It justifies everything and provides a solution to the problem.  Think of it like a scientific equation, if you will.  Identify, rationalize, address, justify.  By doing so the need is not only recognized and fulfilled, thereby justifying it, but one's existence is also justified.  To you it may seem obscure, but to me it is the most important part.
Learning to identify the specific need and put it forth as a requirement is hard.  Explaining it to others and hoping they will understand is even harder and by far scarier.  For me social interaction is one of the most challenging parts of my life.  Telling someone very directly "I need this" referring to an intangible can be very tough, especially if they do not understand.  Sometimes it goes far better than expected and life becomes a lot easier, but even so the important part is being able to identify and address the need properly.  It may be a blunt system, but it works for me.  It makes sense, it is logical and understandable.  Just like identifying hunger again (the first,time I said "I think I'm hungry.  I should eat" was a very emotional moment) being able to say "I need you to respond to my messages so I know you read them" is very intimidating - but worth it.  No matter what happens next, I gave my need a voice and put myself forth as worthy of the request.  Small for many, I hope, but it is a huge step for me.

So even though I feel like I have gotten nothing done and have nothing to show for my life, I know that I have come a long way in my own life.  Realizing that it was not until the end of January/early February that I started to overcome my issues and looking at how I am dealing with problems now, in early October, I cannot help but smile.  It was tough, incredibly hard - but I did it.  Yes, from time to time I come close to going back to what I knew, as it is as familiar as this place, but I never seem to make it that far.  People may think I am simply being overdramatic with a lot of what I say, but no, not really.

Looking at me now I hope one would not have thought nine months ago I was the way I was.  For me it still is a reality shock I have troubles with sometimes.  But when I am stressed so far past gone I take insane to new definitions (cue recently) I am still able to rationally identify what is going on and say that I am scared out of my mind and that is the problem.  I can look at old memories and say "not now, I still need some time for this but I will be back" and know that I am not missing my ex, instead I am missing the feeling that someone loved and cared about me.  And when I see that, I can remind myself that I am strong on my own, as I am, for who I am.  So even though there is a slight sting, I can accept it for what it is - a growing pain.  It may be a purely academic approach to emotions, etc, but I do not care.  I would not understand it any other way, and if I cannot understand what I am feeling how can I take care of it?  It may be rough for others, but this is me and who I am.  I still have some learning left to do and I intend to do it.

(picture of me late September; I was hoping to compare it to one from December but evidently do not have 
that one at the ready.  Silly me)

Too Busy to Care

Earlier I wrote about the famine in the Horn of Africa and the needless suffering of innocent people, especially in Somalia.  Whether you continued to follow the story or not, the situation has not improved.  People are still dying, parents are watching their children starve to death, children are watching their mothers raped in front of their eyes; the earth continues to spin.  Life goes on.  I would think it goes without saying life as a refugee, particularly in a refugee camp, is not to be wished upon anyone.  The atrocities and tragedies described during the global appeal for Somalia were shocking to many; sadly, they are the harsh reality in most refugee camps, especially those that are overcrowded and unable to support the vast number of people who arrive hoping to flee an even worse situation.  Most of the time, these people go unnoticed by the rest of the world as others are far more concerned with other issues – the economy, the Palestinian bid for statehood, the tumultuous situations in Libya and Syria, to name a few.  For the individual, problems of direct and personal importance take priority over the suffering of others – after all, how can one help refugees a world away when there is so much at home to fix?  Is that not the job of some politician or bureaucrat somewhere?  Yes, it most likely is someone else’s job to fix the problems faced by refugees inside and outside of camps, but does that exempt one from caring?  If you were faced with similar circumstances, how would you feel knowing the rest of the world had that same idea?  What if it was you or your family there?  Think about it.


When it comes time for your family’s evening meal, imagine being there with your children and having no food for them today.  Tonight they must go to sleep with empty stomachs.  There is no water to quench their thirst, either; they must go without.  Instead of sleeping on a nice bed or in a sturdy crib like you have at home, your children will have to spend the night on the ground, in squalor, with little or no protection.  Surrounding them are thousands of people living in the same conditions as you, suffering from the same lack of care.  No power means no nightlight, no glass of water or bedtime story, certainly no stuffed animal or any other bedtime necessity.  As your hungry children try to sleep in these conditions, you cannot honestly reassure them it will be better tomorrow – the truth is this is your new home, and although it is somewhat better than the one you left, this is reality.  When your children wake again, there will be no food to give them, no water, no comfort or reassurance.  Hopefully today no one will be attacked or raped; hopefully all of you will survive the day.


Imagine your life without your children – they once existed, but now they are dead.  You loved them dearly, there is no denying that, but circumstances were terrible and some could not survive – you did everything you could but you just did not have enough food or water or shelter for them.  Even now, your own survival is in question and it is quite possible you will not see tomorrow either.


Tonight when you go to tuck them in, stop.  Turn around, leave them there.  Do not say good night to them, do not turn on the nightlight or read a story; simply ignore them.  When they start crying, continue to ignore them.  Listen to their pleas, but do nothing.  Know that they are suffering and hurting – but do nothing.  Go ahead, try to ignore it or drown out the sounds.  That will not make them go away, though, and you know it.


How long could you do that?  Does it bother you to know they are there and you are doing nothing to help them?  Why, because they are children and they need to be cared for by those who can?  Or is it because they are your children, and you can hear them crying?  Do you think I should care that they are suffering?  They are not my children; what does it matter to me?  Your children could die right now, screaming in terrible agony, and my life would carry on without even noticing.  Tell me, why should I care at all, even if the circumstances leading to their demise was preventable?  My life is not affected by them and I have plenty of other problems of my own.  Yes, it is a terrible tragedy, never should have been allowed to happen, you will never be the same, la dee dah, life goes on – for everyone else, that is.  Your life is ruined, but no one else in the world cares.  It could have been avoided quite easily, but no one did anything.  Sorry, but they have their own problems to deal with like making sure their children go the better school or buying more luxury goods they could easily live without.


After all, it is far more important to have a fancy new car with all the options than it is to spare $5.00 and a few minutes to save your child’s life.  If you are lucky, they may find the time to say “what a tragedy” it is when children die from something so easily preventable – but do not liken this to action, as nothing more will be done.  Too bad, so sad; now get out of my life forever.  Refugees are not people anymore; they are facts and figures.  That is why you are not concerned with helping them, right?  Or is it because your children need to have a dvd player in your fancy new SUV more than other children need to eat?  Sure, thousands of people are starving to death – needlessly – every day, but your children are your priority and it is very important they have the best money can buy.  So what if you could have saved a few lives instead – so long as it is not your child.