The hard work of memoir yields rewards for the writer

I had one of those emotional breakthroughs writing my memoir last week. That happens with memoir. We’re recounting a scene or event of our past, and the act of re-conjuring it forces us to look at it in a new way.

The line I was working with came from my diary:

My record for the year was 15 fouls and 19 points. Not too bad considering we never made more than 16 points in a game.

Reading that line about my ninth grade basketball season in the cold reality of adulthood, I wondered why I had so many fouls. I remember purposefully running into girls while they were dribbling and karate-chopping their arms while they were shooting. I was ruthless. I don’t remember any strategy, only meanness. Clearly, losing game after game brought out the worst in me.

Meanwhile, in my real adult life, I’m frustrated with my fitness routine. I got proof of my lack of upper body strength 10 days ago when a trainer declared my strength ranked as “poor” for my age. Not that was surprised. I hate lifting weights. It’s boring (excuse). I don’t see results (excuse). It’s hard (excuse).

So as I pondered my lack of results on the basketball court 30 years ago, I made the connection: Playing basketball was hard for me. Schoolwork? Easy. I chalked up good grades like most teen-agers track new favorite bands. But achieving results with physical effort? Hard. Losing practically every game? Excruciating. So when basketball was difficult in ninth grade, I resorted to the equivalent of approved physical violence: Committing fouls. Commit enough fouls, and you’re kicked out of the game (that happened to me more than once, and I remember feeling relieved I wouldn’t have to finish the game). I could blame someone else for my failures (“dumb refs”) instead of digging deep to do better on my own. And since I couldn’t rack up points, I found some pride in racking up fouls.

I’ve adopted that attitude of avoiding what’s hard in more than my workout routine. In fact, I’ve often said to my Beloved “if it ain’t easy, it ain’t meant to be.”

Questioning that perspective (and a hundred other life philosophies) makes writing memoir worth it. And I hope I can enlighten my readers along the way.

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