Friday, March 12, 2010

Transforming Memoirs into Books

First published in Steven's Window, a column in The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea. Friday 12, 2010, p.5.

I read through my memoire I had written some years back. I am transported back in time and space. A memoire is a personal history or autobiography. I keep journals of my life for as long as I remember. I plan to publish some parts of my journals as a way of sharing my experiences with others as well as to inspire others to write. Writing a personal memoire is fun.

Many of us go through significant moments in our lives without ever recording them. These experiences remain in our memory until we cease to remember anything at all. Keeping a personal journal is one way of recording our thoughts, visions, plans, actions, reactions, and emotions felt at a certain moment in our lives. The memoire is also useful in capturing on paper an event or moments we want saved for a long time. Without a memoire we unable to have a total recall of the details of our experiences whether charged with positive emotions or negative outcomes.

As a writer I keep a journal every day. I write at least one to two pages a day. What I write in my journal is dictated by the events of the day or the events yet to arrive. I write before I sleep or as soon as I wake up early in the morning around 4.00am. At least I spend one hour between 4.00am and 5.00am writing in my journal. Without doing so I feel left out in the cold.

A personal memoire is like a friend or a confidant I talk with everyday. The best part of it is that the journal does not talk back or interrupt the flow of thoughts and ideas. It listens and records every word, thoughts, emotions, and ideas. The personal memoire is a personal record of my life. Keeping a journal is a therapeutic exercise in maintaining sanity, when the world is too difficult to deal with. The journal keeps a permanent record of visions, plans, and strategies of a person. A memoire is a book of personal memory.

At lot of what I publish were first written down as journal entries. Using these original thoughts I then weave them into the kinds of stories I want people to read.

I am now preparing to publish the journal I kept between September 2007 and May 2008, the time I lived and worked in the United States. It was also the time the US Elections Campaign trial was on. I followed with keenness the meteoric rise of the first black President of the United States of America. The race for nomination between the First Lady and now Secretary Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama infected many of us at that time. For some reason I have always felt a pull towards the Democrats, even in the days when I was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota between 1994 and 1998. To make sense of the man destined to be the first African American President in the United States I bought The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. I read the memoire with a sense of purpose and reflection on the future.

For the sake of making sense of my rumblings about keeping memoires and publishing it later, a sneak preview of my memoire is given below. At 10.00pm on the 24th of September 2007 I wrote:

“The first time I came to the United States was when I had turned 30. I was young, adventurous, ambitious, and excited about new experiences. I had always wanted to come to America since 1986. At the time I had written my goals out in a small pocket notebook which I carried around with me. Exactly as I had set myself out to do, I did. With goals in my pocket I became a success story.

Getting what I want or where I want to be begins with writing my goals down and working towards them. The goals I have written down in the past had all been achieved. If I didn’t have any goals I wouldn’t be here. I told myself that if I could be anybody I want to be I became that person. I told myself that I can do anything successfully and I saw that it’s done.

Now teaching in the United States was also a goal I had set myself up to do. Here I am teaching and enjoying my life as a scholar in the USA. I have now set a historical milestone in Papua New Guinea as the first PNG professor of English in the USA.

As far as I can see, this is the point in my life that has taken a giant leap. Working as a professor in the United States is the best break I needed to fully explore my full creative, intellectual, and academic training and life. Back at UPNG I felt useless and had no motivation to do much. My performance level was very low. I felt lazy and unproductive. I felt that I was losing my true self.”

I returned home after a year to the same de-motivating environment I had left behind. From the memoire one can revise and recast one’s plans and strategies based on the success and failures of yesteryears.

Now preparing the memoire for publication, I asked myself whether my personal memoire is of significant interest to anyone, but myself and my children. Most entries in the memoire are straight forward, but there are others too sensitive or unfulfilled wishes not ready for exposure and public scrutiny.

Those writing their autobiography or thinking about converting their personal memoire into a published book should consider such issues, questions, and short-falls before exposing themselves. Great autobiographies inspire and encourage readers to fulfill their own life’s journey.

Autobiographies and personal memoires help steer people on the right track without losing sight of their destinies. Papua New Guinean leaders must publish books based on their experiences to inspire our young people.

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