My husband is a biographer. He's written about 75 books about people, both dead and alive, who have led interesting, vibrant lives, and made huge contributions to society. It's always easier when they're alive, or if they've left autobiographies of some sort.
I collaborate with Dee on these volumes. We do some on-site research together, and I listen as he processes and draws conclusions from all the gathered information. He interviews dozens of people, pours through diaries, letters, documents and papers, and then writes the manuscript, putting the story in context with historical events and settings. I edit and do a bit of re-writing.
Right now I'm working on a project, condensing 500 pages of interviews and text into a more manageable 200 pages for a first draft. It is so informative to see a life close up, recognize the people who made an impact and how, see the consequences of choices and weigh the importance of decisions. It allows me a chance to examine a person's philosophy. I become a sociologist and a psychologist, studying enormous circumstances that impacted generations, and tiny events that shaped a unique personality.
I've discovered that the only difference between a fascinating, significant life and one that is unknown and trivial, is whether it's been recorded. In other words, everybody's life is exceptional, influential and instructive, but it has to be written down for others to learn from it.
If you died tomorrow, how would someone write your biography? Your kids and grandkids, and maybe even people who have no personal connection to you would benefit from a story of your life. Have you left letters? Scrapbooks? Journals? Photos? Would anyone know you were the bald two-year-old screaming on your great-grandmother's lap? Does the picture of President Kennedy indicate that you were the photographer? Could anyone tell that the love letters signed Poopsie were written by you?
How did you feel about the Viet Nam War? Where were you when the space shuttle exploded? Did a particular teacher that convince you to go to medical school? Was there a friend responsible for your fear of spiders?
The people who read Dee's books are always excited about the personal stories. For example, if an immigrant wrote about his travels from Germany to New York City, his family can read that he was sick the whole trip, and that his brother died on the ship, that his name was changed on Ellis Island, and that he sat on a suitcase for hours wondering where the milk and honey was.
If the personal story hasn't been told, Dee relies on journals written by people who sailed from Germany to NYC about the same time. It would be like someone looking at a 1971 yearbook, and then imagining what your high school experiences were like. When that's all there is to work with, it's good for a flavor of the times and fashions. But your own marked up yearbook, coupled with a few English essays with your views, saved with your diary and college letters would depict your personality, your hopes and dreams, and give a much more personal account.
That's one reason for this blog. I'm writing my autobiography. It's not chronological, (or even logical much of the time,) but it's what I would tell somebody about myself if they had time to listen. I think we learn from each other's triumphs and mistakes. We're encouraged by each other's failings and mishaps, and we are buoyed up by the way others get through the every-day-ness of life.
I don't concentrate on my warts. But I don't photo-shop them either. I know I repeat myself, and re-learn the same lessons. I draw new conclusions from old circumstances, and rediscover how events shaped my ideas.
When Dee writes the histories of communities, old buildings, businesses and families, he collects memories from many individual sources. Interestingly, the same events are often recalled very differently. The perspective changes depending on who is telling the story. Someone who was a child might remember a room as being cavernous, while a grown man would remember it feeling claustrophobic and crowded. That is true of a personal history, too. I remember my parents in different ways than my siblings do. It's great to have a collection of memories to get a broader view.
Dear Abby said, "Experience is a wonderful thing; it enables you to recognize a mistake every time you repeat it." She also said,"If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we'd all be millionaires."
Dee profits from the experience of others...literally. He gets paid. I'll never be able to afford him, and he'll never have time to do my biography for free, so I've taken it into my own hands. It's one of the blessings of blogging.
They say your biography is written on your face. Since I don't see most of your faces, I'm learning about you from what you say and how you say it in your posts. I'm getting new perspectives from your comments on this, and lots of other sites. In fifty years somebody will be writing history, philosophy, sociology and psychology texts using the material that was written on blogs. I don't want to be left out, personally.