Writing Autobiography/Memoirs - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 1 Old 03-31-2008, 02:09 AM - Thread Starter
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I hope that mothers here in this sub-section on "creative writing," will permit a father/step-grandfather to participate occasionally. I have been working on autobiography and here is a section.-Ron Price, Tasmania

Cultural determinism, Lloyd deMause argues, can account for only some of our behaviour and our life. "The environment," "the culture," being the pervasive, all-embracing, entities that they are, I can keep pretty busy analysing this complex explanatory matrix and how my life is a bi-product of it. But this matrix does not cover the whole story. Indeed, inner meanings and motivations, relationships and parenting, must be seen as a crucial, if not 'the' crucial, focus of causation in your life and mine, particularly insofar as autobiography is concerned.

This is the certain and central core of any attempt to secure a real and illuminating autobiography, as far as the DeMause thesis is concerned. It is not my intention here to go into detail on these aspects of my early life. Hopefully, I will do so at a future time. I will examine, too, in more detail my relationship with my father, my mother, my grandfather, my extended family, specific friends and the Baha'i community which gradually became an important part of my psycho-social life from the age of nine onwards. In the process it may be that my autobiography and those of others, other minor figures like myself, will tell future historians more about our times than the lives of major historical figures. These common and familiar aspects of my experience can serve as a helpful entry-point for any study of the fine structure of Baha'i experience, as a source of primary materials for any attempt to integrate the intellectual and the institutional narrative, the personal and the community aspects of this emerging world religion.

But no matter how extraordinary or how ordinary individuals like me turn out to be, we all have mothers and fathers, extended families, interests and activities and they appear to enter into history in much the same way, pulsing with the most ordinary needs, drives, and passions. Those for who these normal aspects of lifedo not exist often have a far more interesting story because it is away from the norm.

How useful, then, a detailed description of these aspects of my life may be to those now living or in the generations ahead is, it seems to me, questionable at best. There has been an explosion in histories of the family in the last decades and I’m not sure I want to add one more study to the pile.
The field of developmental psychology suggests strongly that there is more to an explanation of human behaviour than simply self-interest or idealism. There are many powerful human feelings other than greed and devotion to a Cause that shape our lives and we must explore these feelings if we are to explain our lives to any significant extent. I feel that my autobiography has only partially dealt with these factors, thusfar. Perhaps society is the flawed product of both an evolving and flawed psyche and the evolving and flawed units of social organization in which we are all enmeshed. Certainly an examination of my early days will, must, deal with these flaws.

I have just reread my notes on motivation and attitudes from a psychology course I taught in Perth in the early 1990s. I could very well examine, say, each of the dozen major theories of motivation summarized there and see how they apply to my own life. It seems to me, following deMause, that it would be useful to understand the psychological origins of my behaviour and specifically the content and psychodynamics of my negative memories. It is difficult to unwind the attitudes, beliefs, values, motivations, negative memories and see my life in a developmental perspective, one that is psychosexual and/or psychosocial. The exercise is, to say the least, complex. I have examined this theme to some extent elsewhere, both on my website and in this autobiographical account focusing as I have on Erik Erikson and his model of human development.

DeMause argues that the sense of 'self and other' is one of the most creative achievements of humankind over the last several thousand or hundreds of thousands of years. It has taken humankind millennia to accomplish this sense of self, this sense of identity. From a Baha'i perspective this internal, this ego, this 'self-sense' must also include a sense of the physical environment, the human environment and the environment of unknowns dealt with by religion and philosophy among a range of humanities and social sciences. This sense of self is acquired through the actualizing of potentials, an actualizing that occurs through the acquisition of competencies in several areas: psycho-motor, perceptual, cognitive, affective and volitional.

I should go on to say that, underpinning this sense of self, is a philosophy that Jordan and Streets call "a philosophy of organism." Creativity guided by purpose and expressed by two fundamental capacities "to know and to love" is the basis of this philosophy. This is part of the rationalization of the vision that is at the core of the Baha'i teachings. The integration of knowledge and belief and the transformation of experience into attitude is also taking place here within the framework of this philosophy. These are all part of the underpinnings of my philosophy, a philosophy which tries to give "logic and coherence to what"1 I see and do and helps provide the rationale and standards of explanation for what I see that counts in my world. It is my world view, my Weltanschauung.

One of the obligations of the storyteller, the bard, the poet, is to tell his own story, tell who he is and tell it intelligibly. He has to share his own story, his interests, his perspectives, his needs, his loyalties, his beliefs, his loves, his frustrations. For all he has is his story. Some writers tell their story through novels or short stories; some through poetry. In addition to this narrative, I write what is openly autobiographical poetry. This is how I tell my story. I would not bother to write if all I was doing was providing sophisticated entertainment, but what I am doing is many-fold: clarifying a commitment, capturing an inward, private world for public consumption, probing the mystery of artistic creation, explaining me to myself, expressing human life at a deeper, more intense, clearer-sighted way than I ever could in my daily life, recounting a lifelong spiritual pilgrimage, inducing change, explaining the turning points in my life and in life and trying to arrive at a just characterization. People can find out much more deeply in my works what, for the most part, they could never find out from me in real life.

The titles of each of my booklets of poetry, over fifty now, are drawn from recent experience in the Baha’i community often in connection with the Mt. Carmel Project. What is happening on Mt. Carmel, I often feel, is very much something that is happening to me. For community, shared community, is largely and most intimately experienced alone, no matter how much of the experience is shared in group interaction. In this poetry the reader will see how I people my solitude, how I am alone in a crowd and how I achieve that degree of virtue proportional to what I am worthy—always an unknown quantity--but one can try to take account, guesstimate where one is at. The writing of autobiography is one way of doing that guessing, taking that account. I must be resigned, indeed we all must be, to the possible and fearful disclosure that indeed in time, even in my last breaths, I might take the wrong spiritual turn thus making a life, my life, replete as it has been in many ways with victories, swallowed by defeat.

The art of writing autobiography is partly the art of knowing what to leave out and it is the excitement of finding a form for the material. The form, the perspective, the style, that is this third edition evolved so slowly I had just about given up hope. It was a lesson for me in the great truth that in "one's art of craft one can't afford to be impatient."

Studies of introspection and self-perception "fail to appreciate the complexity of establishing the accuracy of a self-judgment." It is undoubtedly a complex business. One advantage that narrative has is that one's identity is carved out of a mass of interacting entities and out of a social construction of reality. My identity has so many sources, a bewildering variety. And what this autobiography does, among other things, is to show the man, the evolution of the man within the poet that I am, that I have become.

Apologies for going on a bit too long.-Ron Price, Tasmania
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