by Rick Johansen

Have you ever thought about the process of writing an autobiography or a memoir? Neither had I until I began writing a form of the latter. There was no point in even thinking about the former, given my hazy recollection of names, dates and so a memoir it is. I have a golden rule for getting through things that tend to bring forth emotions, things like funerals or just difficult situations. I plan to the Nth degree how I will get through an event, like having to speak at funerals, and run through an exhaustive list of possibility situations that might unsettle me. Usually, it works. In writing a memoir, albeit which I appreciate no one will be even remotely interested in reading, I did no such preparation for the memoir and it feels like I’ve been hit by a freight train.

A memoir, according to Wikipedia, is ‘any nonfiction narrative writing based on the author’s personal memories’ so – guess what? – I’ve been dragging up a shed load of personal memories, many of which are troubling and, the odd one or two, harrowing. And it’s surprised, no, shocked me.

I’ve done personal stuff before, obviously, including essays on mental health and generally speaking I’m quite comfortable with that. While I had to keep it under wraps during my school and much of my professional life – I had to because it showed weakness and vulnerability, especially in the eyes of some work managers (British Red Cross, anyone?) – I’ve come out big time since I started this blog a decade ago. I don’t care who knows what a basket case I am. Writing about the personal family stuff, well, that’s a different ball game altogether.

I write mainly from the heart, as opposed to the head, because that’s what works for me. My process is to write while ideas are coming into my head. There’s no plan, no template, no notes to draw on. What you usually see is the first and only draft. But all this family stuff. By the time I finished a long writing session this afternoon, I was all but overpowered by brain fog, with feelings and memories that had remain hidden away for decades. I didn’t expect that. The pre planning I use in other circumstances doesn’t work with writing for the memoir.

There I was, writing about my mum, dead for 25 years, and my dad, 13, and the words stopped coming. The emotions were not so much about they were no longer here, because I’m well used to that, but entirely selfish, all about me and the effects on me as a result of a dysfunctional childhood and early adulthood.

Weird memories began to surface. As I thought about the basis of my memoir – it is not a conventional one, but I don’t want to spoil the fun by giving the unconventional nature of it, at least not yet – things came back that had lay dormant in what’s left of my brain for maybe 50 years or more. Piss-taking at school about not having a father. It must have been water off a duck’s back at the time, or maybe it was somehow compartmentalised. Lots of other memories, flickering images really, tiny glimpses, into a world that were long closed down.

Everyone, goes the cliché, has a book in them. Hmm, I’m not sure about that. Most people don’t even try for whatever reason and my first effort, it was to be admitted, was not exactly Paul Theroux style travel-writing. I’m not sure that that difficult second book will be any better than the first, given that I don’t have a proof-reader or editor but it will be different from the usual memoir-type book.

I’m hoping that the visions I am creating for myself will also be seen by my loyal reader because I don’t think what I have written so far is actually too bad. It’s tougher than I thought but so far it has been worthwhile. And now it’s time to empty my head once more, as another freight train comes down the track to hit my emotions again.

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