Artwork by James C. Christensen
Many things are beyond your control, but how well you represent yourself is up to you. The world is your stage—you play more than a bit part in life’s drama, and you perform your role better than any actor ever could. You have entertained and inspired others to act. Sometimes your life is a comedic farce, other times it’s a cathartic tragedy. Often it’s a tragicomedy whose deceptive simplicity proves tricky to portray. The best scenes have made you and your life’s audience wonder whether to laugh or cry. With others, including those who came before, you’ve written and revised the script. You have the world’s attention—what will you say when the curtains lift?
Memoir, a masterpiece made from scenes of your life, sets the stage for profound communication with your audience in a way that water-cooler small talk cannot. You are both actor and director calling the shots, deciding which scenes to highlight and which to scrap as outtakes. Your story is not fit for some black-and-white obituary, uninspired eulogy, or generic screenplay. It requires more than the stuffy, stoic nostalgia of flipping through a photo album. It requires the performance of a lifetime. But it doesn’t have to be long or overly dramatic to leave a mark. The Roman playwright Seneca mocked fools who “take pride in living to advanced old age, since as with a play, so with life: what matters is not how long it is but how well it is performed.” Life writing has power to move audiences in times and places far away.
If left unperformed and unrecorded, however, your lifetime of characteristic actions and reactions will not teach or benefit your partners, protégés, and posterity. Grown children may remember scenes from their formative years, but few have backstage footage of the lives of their grandparents and parents. What wouldn’t you give to see a short play that would tell you everything (or at least give you the gist) about their lives before, after, and while you entered the stage? If the script hasn’t been written yet, what’s stopping you from creating or commissioning it? What better gift than a memoir from a child to her parent or a maestro to his mentor?
Your well-performed life inspires pride and emulation. But just because you can be the lead in your own life does not mean you will be. It’s up to us “poor players” to accept the role and do justice to our part.