If you want to start something, start at the beginning. Then go to the middle, get to the end, and stop. I’m misquoting a movie line (about Scheherazade and the art of storytelling), but it’s solid advice nonetheless.
I have long meant to start up a memoir series, despite the fact that I dislike the word “memoir.” I use it because everyone knows what I mean, but the word comes off as snobbish, like it’s implying something deeper than “stories about myself.” I took a Memoir Writing class in college*, and every published author we read in that class had to hit you across the face with a theme or driving core to their autobiographical story, which just comes off as gimmicky. Nobody’s life is cleanly structured around an overarching (and marketable) philosophy.
I just want to tell stories—in this case about my life. Not because my life is particularly interesting but because I know it inside and out, which means I can’t put off writing it by claiming I need to do more research. Also, I need blog fodder.
For the longest time I was going to call this series PMTK, and it was going to start like this:
I am a Pastor’s/Missionary’s/Teacher’s Kid. On their own, each of these titles comes with a reputation; naturally, my mother and father decided to saddle me and my two older siblings with all three.
An even older version of this has been in my head for a long time. I have a Word document titled “PK,” last saved on 3/15/2017 2:20 PM, which reads:
I am a pastor’s kid. I try not to admit this right off the bat – not because I’m ashamed, but because everyone’s got an opinion, most of which are negative. (The wildest people I’ve ever met were pastor’s kids! Well. Thank you for noticing). I definitely don’t admit this to my hairdressers; rookie mistake, because every single time they respond by shamefacedly confessing that they don’t go to church like they should and then forget how to talk to me like a normal person. My mother has it worse, because while most people don’t ask what my father does, “what does your husband do?” is a standard small talk question, at which point my mother has to admit that she’s a pastor’s wife and they immediately cross themselves, like they’re either proving their worth or just straight-up trying to ward her off.
The fact is, pastor’s kids tend to fall into two camps: goody two shoes or angry rebellion. I have a theory about this, and it all comes back on our fathers.
The .doc file contains one additional sentence, but we’ll get to that later.
At this point, having come up with a plan to write my memoirs stories about my childhood, I put it off. Yes, there is a category tag that has collated a number of blog posts labeled “Memoirs” here on TheStoryFolder, but there’s no plan or chronology to that madness. A third of them are complaints about United Airlines. Another third is photocopied homework from elementary school and college. And one post is titled: “There is no entry in Microsoft Word’s thesaurus for the word ‘snot.’”
But here I am at last, because I came up with an even better title: Half-Finnished. PMTK may serve as the straight stake for my growing years, but I’m still a work in progress and half Finnish on my mother’s side. If you’re going to start your story, start with the roots. And with a play on words.**
As to the final sentence of that old Word document, it pretty well sums up Half-Finnished’s prologue:
This was actually just a really long and unnecessary setup for the actual story I wanted to tell today.
* Also, my professor insisted that you can tell when someone has made up their memoirs, especially via fake dialogue. Here’s the thing: not necessarily. While poorly written dialogue does stick out like a hack Photoshop job, write something well, call it true, and people will believe it. At that point it takes research – or consternated family and friends – to prove you’re a con.
**And after trying out Halfinnished, HalfFinnished, HalFinnished, until you reluctantly admit to yourself that the hyphen keeps the title from looking like you’re writing about some guy named Hal Finnished. My brother already makes jokes about my author name being Al Schultz.